Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor FatHippo
About a year ago a few friends, who wanted to run a 24h race in preparation for the 24h Of Nürbugring on the Playstation, invited me to join their team.
Now, I will gloss over the entertainment value of needing two team-mates to hoist an eleventy ton Hippo out of a way too small Recaro race seat during driver changes, but in the end I collected a good five hours of virtual track time. That would be all jolly well except that my lap times were almost 45 seconds off my teammates’.
Well, all three of them are proven winners in gamers circles, while I retired from ‘competitive Playstation racing’ about 6 years ago, so I was always going to be lucky if the lap times ended up in the same time zone, but even on the 24h track (Nordschleife + GP track), fourty-five seconds is a lot.
The problem was not too hard to pinpoint – I usually navigated Wehrseifen and Ex-Mühle backwards or sideways. Both methods are considered a trifle ineffective in drivers’ circles. I was po’ed, because I’ve driven those two corners a few hundred times over the years on the real track in some pretty scary cars, but somehow I couldn’t navigate a high-downforce JGTC Nissan GTR through it on the Playstation.
That was, until the team leader, a finalist in Nissan’s GT Academy, told me that I should leave a lick of throttle on under breaking, which in driving terms is completely bonkers. But he insisted that the real thing needed the same treatment, so I tried – and ended up in the Armco. Thankfully on a Playstation that’s a non-lethal predicament.
After several laps I sort of got the hang of it – lo and behold – suddenly my line through those two corners looked more like ‘slightly rusty Hippo’ instead of ‘bastard love child of Drunken Elk and Crazy Frog’. I could also carry at least 20 kph more out of Brünnchen as I didn’t have to aim for the apex through the side-window anymore. Lap times dropped by over 20 seconds.
So I started paying close attention to the HUD (head-up display) displays during F1 broadcasts and there were two people, who used the same method quite extensively – Seb Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen. Now there’s a surprise – the two drivers who fell into a bad slump this year and the two, who quite often cited brake problems.
The new brake-by-wire malarkey, where a computer decides, how your pedal input is translated into a combination of ‘engine breaking’ to recuperate energy and ‘conventional rear breaking’, has given problems to all drivers, but the two, who could be seen balancing throttle and brakes simultaneously the most, seem to have problems to adapt.
I re-watched the Japan GP after reading Horner’s interview with Auto Bild, during which he admitted that RB could not really find a proper setup for that braking computer for a long time and I wondered, why drivers like Ricciardo or Alonso seem not too affected by the diminished ‘feel’ for the brakes.
I had to go through several races, after Japan brought little enlightening, to find HUD’s of Danny in the first place, but thankfully there were plenty from Alonso. Watching the Spaniard immediately reminded me of Senna, who didn’t bother trying to stabilize the cars proactively. He waited until they started to become unstable and then stabilized them using the throttle without the brakes. I saw two from Danny and he operates the same, although at only two occurrences the statistical viability of that observation is arguably not the best. He also seemed to use either brakes or throttle.
So in the end it looks that Räikkönen, Vettel and to a degree Grosjean seem to be impacted the most by the tricky braking system that no team has yet properly mastered. The three all relied heavily on the delicate balance of applying brakes and throttle at the same time to maximize the effect of the EBD/aero and stabalise the car before it becomes unsettled. A settled/balanced car is also easier on its tyres.
Granted it doesn’t look spectacular, but it was effective – until the new brake-by-wire came along.
It will be interesting to see if those drivers come back to old form as the teams start getting the hang of adjusting the breaking system to give better feedback. Especially Räikkönen looked a lot better at Hungary than at any time before in the season – and he didn’t complain about the brakes.