Voice of the #F1 Fans: Brake by wire: Is it nobbling some drivers more than others?

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.

Brembo 3The 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.

52 responses to “Voice of the #F1 Fans: Brake by wire: Is it nobbling some drivers more than others?

  1. Just sounds like a load of excuses to defend someone’s fav drivers, when both have said the fly by wire braking is fine.

    I’ll find the quotes if need be.

  2. Also you forgot to mention someone who relies on the feel of his brakes massively for his speed, as he generally brakes later and harder than most. Lewis!!!

    • Rosberg was having problems with the brakes at the start of the season until the test in between the Spain and Monaco GP. And guess what: Hamilton has said on occasion that it is Rosberg who brakes the hardest out of all his (former) teammates.

  3. It’s not really good enough though, is it?

    I’m a RAI fan and pretty neutral to VET. But they are top flight pros. No if’s or but’s. When you are going through the categories as a youngster, your car changes dramatically every single season. Often changing mid season. What it takes to win changes dramatically every season. I think of my own exp.

    -Shifter Super Karts
    -Formula Ford and various random tin top races.
    -Formula Three and various random tin top races.

    And the competitor level increased from club to district to state to national level with two international level races at the AGP in Melbourne and Indy on th G’Coast. I never made it overseas properly.

    My point is I have seen the drivers who did well in one category and not another and I have seen guys who were just quick all the time thought the categories and levels of comp. Guys like Will Power who shouldve been in F1

    I won races in all categories. But what it took to make the car go quick was massively different each time. Yes you had a style, but it was within a window of what the car really needed to get the laptime and how you approached a corner was defined as such. But within your little window, you had some preferences to eke out a few tenths here and there.

    I really think that’s just not good enough if true regarding RAI and VET. But secondly it makes me think in fact that’s not really the reason (braking) as they’d have adapted by now. I think there is more to it tbh.

    • Well, how long does it take to reprogram your muscle memory? I said before that I thought it would take Vettel between 3-6 months, possibly the quicker end of the scale for his capacity for adaptation. There were signs in Malaysia that he was beginning to get it, and again in Hungary.

      I agree in general – most quick drivers adapt in the first half of the season and are bang on the top pace by the end of their learning years, even Hamilton or Hulkenberg. The better they get, the less time this takes… Kvyat has been impressive, and Max Verstappen can almost seem to do it instantly! But he also has double the usual ‘racing genes’…

      • I would add that my own experiences match this.. in my competitive sim-racing, I managed PBs early on, with a lack of control, e.g. Magnussen in Melbourne. Then, after 9 months now I can get up to WR pace in certain combinations that prove suited to my style. After about half of that time the control started to come back.

        But I’m more ‘Max Chilton’ than Kimi or Seb… and a contemporary of Bottas (who has beaten him in Karts, Olli Pahkala) went from brand new to iRacing to winning a WDC race within 1-2 years – that’s top level adaptation, and the type of skills that will win the GT Academy.

        • Interesting…

          I have used video racing games and racing sims, but never competively in an organised way.

          For awhile i was dubious about the genuine cross over to real life that is claimed. The games I have played are way, way off IMHO. F12010 on PC for example and various Forza and GranTurismo games on consoles.

          There is just no ‘feel’ to me, at all. You have to ‘listen’ or look for smoke animations to see if the car is under steering for example. Any by the time you do, the car has been under steering for a few seconds. On top of that, I find you can use full throttle on almost all games way quicker and earlier than ever would be allowed in real life. Point and squirt and knowing the games physics exactitudes tends to be the skill that awards success.

          It’s all reactionary driving for me in particular. I cant proactively drive the cars digitally but that’s just me.

          But I see massive development in the gaming world. I would be interested to see how sim racing really overlaps to real life racing. Can you point me in the direction of the championships you race in. And can you give me a feel from your perspective.

          I am uber intrigued by it all.

          • Long post disclaimer.. basically you are right. It’s getting competitive.

            We all have to start somewhere – and for me it was F1 ’97/Gran Turismo/Colin McRae Rally on Playstation, with GP2 on PC. These are all directed at general fans.. sim-racing is a genuine attempt to recreate real life physics.

            I started with GPL in 2006 – if only that instead of GP2 in 1998 (it’s like delaying your start in karts..). Reviews said it was ‘too hard’.. probably because it takes skill to drive competitively, as the first sim to have a natural driving feel at high speeds.

            Its maker Dave Kaemmer was always cutting edge, since the early 90s (Indy 500/NR 2003), and now he’s produced iRacing, which runs a ‘world championship’ in the 2009 Williams F1 car. His new tyre model is 1 year from completion and will be an industry standard for years to come… he’s just included tyre curing/degradation.

            There is also Assetto Corsa, whose creator Kunos helped Ferrari start their sim work (who were miles behind when they finally started), producing Ferrari Virtual Academy. Plus, rFactor 2 is out soon, while companies like Cruden give an idea of the depths that the F1 teams go to, which are gradually seeping into the sim market. Someone like Chilton still trains regularly on sims to improve his driving.

            I drive in top GPL leagues purely for the fun of it (the latest Willow Springs round requires Perez-like smoothness to keep the tyre from degrading like in 2011-13) – but for paid competition of the highest levels, iRacing is definitely where it’s at. There’s about 25,000 members driving each month, while the top 5 get cash prizes up to $10k~.

            Greger Huttu, Hugo Luis, Atze Kerkhof are the regular top 3, while there are lots of young flying Finns, so if they could all drive IRL we’d have Finnish domination IMO, like Kimi/Bottas multiplied… GT Academy winners like Bryan Heitkotter were iRacing DWC drivers that entered for the prize of funded real racing.

            Olli Pahkala was Bottas level in karts, Bottas is almost top F1 level in real life, Pahkala is now Bottas level in iRacing WDC… Huttu, Luis and Kerkhof are like the simulated versions of Raikkonen, Alonso and Schumacher in the mid-00s… and Huttu doesn’t even have a car or driver’s licence!

            @SIS From the sounds of it, you would get up to speed quite quickly, for as you say, sim-racing is basically a visual-focused version of real life (feel-based), with the feel only coming through the Force Feedback in the steering wheel.

            If you can adapt to the loss of bum-feedback as primary driver, which is a lot easier to do in sims than in arcade games, then your real skills will come to the table, and should help you adapt quicker.

            Jann Mardenborough, for example, had real world skills but no cash, and used sims/GT to develop while he could not run for real… the best will be able to transfer development between both worlds.

            E.g. Stoffel Vandoorne, Tom Dillmann, Emil Bernstorff, Richie Stanaway all have done this – Stanaway won the iRacing Pro Series when recovering from his broken back at Spa FR3.5 – to qualify for the WDC. He was as good online as he is IRL.

            So, these guys you can even race online – and then they will be making it to F1 pretty soon. Vandoorne blew people away in FSR (independent F1 ‘world championship’ using rFactor), and the videos are still up on his YouTube channel, alongside his McLaren junior team successes!

            PS. There is a Lewis Hamilton account at iRacing…. from 2011, when he had his slump… result? 1 race, 1 win, from the back of the grid, complete with fastest lap…

          • Dale Earnhardt Jr was also the top ranked Oval driver on iRacing for about half it’s lifetime (since 2008), and won the first ‘world championship’ NASCAR race… since he left it, he’s now out of his real life slump and contending for the real NASCAR title..

            It could be that even driving these sims too much can take away from real world speed i.e. your muscle memory adapts specifically to the sim physics over the real world! That’s how real they feel.. Vettel did this rather well in the RB simulator, to hone his technique with the EBD. So it depends on the sim accuracy as well.

            But for keeping your eye in…. Vandoorne is 3rd in GP2, while Stanaway is 2nd in GP3, so perhaps it also depends on the driver and how quickly you can adapt back to the real world (for top drivers, this is probably no issue).

      • Whatever it is, part 2 2014 is critical for both RAI and VET.

        More so VET as he is younger, has many more years to go and this IS the formula going forward for many years.

        All thus being said above, I think his pure pace was actually slightly better than RIC’s at Hungary, so that’s positive for VET fans. In time that will translate to results. He seemed “on top” of the RBR, working it out proactively over the weekend practices and quali’s.

        RAI has a history of operating in a super small performance window I think. He has a history of adaptation gestation periods. Alonso has just probably exacerbated the gap.

        • He’s had better times the last couple of FP2’s, but they haven’t yet translated to better results. FP2 times in general not correlating as well this year.

  4. Meh, it’s pretty clear that brakes are not what put them on the backfoot.

    Kimi can’t get the tyres to work because they are pretty hard this year.
    It’s been a problem for him through his entire career. Next year will be probably better IF Ferrari starts listening, but I wouldn’t count on that.

    Vettel just misses his exhaust fumes. We saw it in 2012 till Newey fixed it and got the car stable and planted again. This year there is nothing to fix, it is what it is. Gotta take the bull by the horns and drive the bejesus out of it.

    • Interesting….Has F1 ever seen a driver so dominant because of a particular technique and driving style – with a sympathetic designed car?

      • Since you wrote this comment, I have pondered it and then pondered it some more. Did a small amount if research. The only driver that might, very loosely, fit that bill could be Senna.

        The lion share of his driving success, his poles, wins and all his titles came at McLaren’s golden period during the years of 88,89,90,91. Four years of pure domination, where McLaren won all the titles and a huge amount of races. Without that four year cross over, Senna would have little overall.

        It would be logical to think McLaren also continued, especially after 89, to tailor the car “sympathetically” to suit Senna. Like when RBR realised in yr2 of their domination (2011) that it was better chasing Vettel’s preferences than Mark’s.

        Come 92/93 with significant electronic reg change and moving to Williams in 94, a car change, he struggled didn’t he?

        Outside of that admittedly loose comparison, I can’t see any bigger driver/engineer specific/driving style specific explosion of success as long as Vettel’s. But it should be remembered Vettel didn’t ever have a team mate who came runner up in any year. Without Vett, it’s clear Mark would have lost to Alonso twice and Button once. The same isn’t true for the McLaren golden years…

        -please be gentle-

        • In 2010 Webber would almost certainly have won.

          If you consider the significant point scoring races for RB where Vettel finished ahead of (or collided with) Webber, and move Weber up accordingly, you get –
          Mal: second to first Plus 7 points
          Turk: third to first Plus 10
          Sing: third to second. Plus 3
          Jap: second to first Plus 7
          Braz: second to first Plus 7

          Removing Vettel hardly benefits Alonso at all, if you look at where he scored his points.

          That win would almost certainly have influenced the way the car subsequently developed – though I suppose one might argue that the Red Bull would therefore lost some of its advantage over McLaren and Ferrari, so you are possibly right.

          There again, the car was so dominant in 2013 that an undemoralised Webber without a dominant teammate would probably have beaten Alonso anyway.

        • senna didn’t struggle, williams had just produced an unbeatable car, while he was stuck in a hopeless mclaren. but, as i mentioned in another post, senna’s legend was cemented after his dominating years, because he dragged that hopeless mclaren to places it didn’t belong. so far, i haven’t seen vettel drag that red bull anywhere. and senas domination didn’t come from a particular tecnique and driving style that fitted the cars design, it was the classig f1 package of top level driver in a dominant car.

          we could maybe say michael schumacher might come close, in regards to the supposed superior tyres he got during ferraris dominant years, as well as the benetton car that was deemend undrivable by everyone but him. but that would also be a very loose comparison.

  5. Fat Hippo – It was always said that Schumi was one of the early exponents of this, with the Ferrari reliable enough to handle the strain. When Hamilton came in, I would try and see if he was doing this, and indeed some of the cars would regularly do this around that time.

    When you think about it, it makes sense as to why Vettel/Raikkonen/Grosjean were standing out in 2013, while now it is switching to Alonso/Bottas/Ricciardo, given such a switch in braking equipment.

    The best way I can describe it in GPL is that it utilises a physics flaw to provide “variable brake bias” in real time – i.e. you control the brakes with your left foot, and can move the brake bias with your right, to provide optimal braking at braking and entry phases.

    This could also help you to manage tyre temps, as degradation is the only lap time hindrance – a bit like 2011-13 Pirelli era, although the brake bias was only hand-adjustable for each corner individually.

    The EBD had it so that you would increase rear downforce, probably to get more turn and then quicker acceleration on exit as well right?

  6. From my personal observations, it seems Sauber struggle with it more than most with Lotus a close second. The 4 drivers associated with those teams have on numerous occasions seen spotted reversing through corners they are meant to taken in a nose 1st orientation.

      • I hope you don’t think it’s my posts. I am critical of RAI and VET for an inability to adapt if indeed Hippos theory is true. I found Hippos article really thought provoking. And always well written.

        I simply think braking is part of it, but not all of it exclusively. I think the low downforce, hard tyres, huge low end torque are big factors for both. All these can equally have a big impact and it’s hard to tell precisely which is the bigger issue.

        • Not particularly – but I thought it an interesting article which deserved more serious consideration.

      • Like for instance Keke Rosberg, who was a monster in the NA cars but never really got to terms with the turbo variety? And he had less major rule changes in one season.

      • Much like Webber’s tilt at glory was derailed by blown diffusers and self-destructing tyres.
        I see no problem with the idea that some drivers suit some sets of rules / equipment more than others.

          • The best drivers of all time needed the best car too to win the title and some not so great ones never won a title despite having a dominant car for years.

          • “best” is an era specific thing. “all time best” is an endless / pointless / entertaining pub argument.
            As F1 has pushed the limits on all kinds of technical fronts and the car / driver combination has become more critical, the idea of these guys being the best drivers in the world is less and less likely to be true. “Most specialised in the world” is a more defensible claim.

          • But let’s put it this way, if the hippo would have written this under an alias, would it have the same amount of negative reactions?

          • Not really. But Saying 20 drivers are getting on with it, but 2 in particular are really struggling is most interesting…. Particularly when they are both world champions….

            Even WDC’s get beaten by team mates when they’re on the wane….

  7. Judge !!

    Firstly sorry Hippo, but I come to this site because factually it’s awesome, you can probably see I’m regular every day, but I can’t believe you allowed this utter fanboy bollox to put up on your site, it belittles a great website.

    • It’s up to you to critique it….. Properly… And these pieces come with a huge health warning as they are entitled, “Voice of the fans”, so what do you expect….

    • Jamie, you have all the right in the world to write a ‘voice of the fans’ of your own to prove me wrong. That’s more helpful than just hurling abuse at other people’s writing. It’s called a community. We are not here to serve your wish for entertainment. The site lives from your participation. too

      • Sorry hippo, my reply was writern in anger.

        You have writern many good articles, but this isn’t one of them. You have just writern an article to defend your favourite drivers under thinly veiled article about the new braking systems.

        It might as well of been about dilithium crystals, as it was all pseudoscience used to explain why your favourite driver is still the greatest.

        Does this mean anyone can title an article with a random part of the car, and then proceed to say why their fav driver is getting their ar*e handed to them.

        Eg I could write one; does an unstable rear on a car effect more drivers than others, then write a long winded article on how Button is the fastest driver out there and how it’s the shortcoming of the car that is the problem.

        I hope you see what I’m getting at, their are forums for my driver is better than yours, by all means do articles about the new braking system, and I’ll happily read them, but don’t turn them into a fan boy rant.

        • Jamie, it is your right to disregard it as a fanboy rant, although I’m afraid you’d have to disregard half the archive as most of it is a huge honking ‘Webber, Webber über alles’ orgy.

          When two world championship winners who 12 months ago were still winning, suddenly ‘forget how to drive’, I think it is viable to speculate about the reasons. Some of a bumhurt disposition simply say they’re just rubbish, while my theory is that they simply suffer from the diminished useability of the braking system. At least in one case of those two drivers, the same theory was already expressed by his team, so it’s not entirely mine to begin with

          • Is it as straight forward as, they now have a different team mates, who are just quicker.

            Anthony Davidson suggested Kimi is driving as fast as before, difference is he paired with Alonso now.

            And maybe Danny is just quicker than Vettel.

            No rocket science, no braking magic, just plain and simple, they’re not quicker than their team mates.

            By all means be a Vettel fan, just like I’m a Button fan, but like me you will at some point have to accept you’re supporting a little above average F1 driver who got his hands on the best car, the only difference yours got hold of his for 4-5 years instead of 4-5 months, and at the start of his F1 career so none of weaknesses had been exposed yet.

          • At the start of his career Vettel drove a BMW and then a Torro Rosso. Both were not the best cars at the time.

            If you really think that Räikkönen is that much slower than Alonso, you have not the faintest idea about F1. You don’t need to be an expert to see that he’s not as fast as last year and the same goesd for Vettel. Maybe some would like that he is merely mediocre, but I don’t buy into that theory. A mediocre driver does not win in a Toro Rosso and the fact that both RB wins went to Danny was at least in Canada sheer luck, because the team released Vettel into traffic. He has not been consistently slower than RIC and if RIC really is faster remains to be seen. So far he had barely any mechanicals and except for the first race pretty much everything went his way. That grin of his could vanish quite quickly if he has to deal with two or three races in a row with a car that explodes in his face.

  8. Great read Danilio, and thank you for giving us information from personal experience (sim racing) to explain possible reasons for the fact some drivers are struggling this year.
    Now it’s time to dust off the logitech FF steering wheel and see U’s on the virtual track…. Brrrrrrmmmmm

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