Mon, Jul 11, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Hamilton eschews practice on ‘souped-up PlayStation’

NY Times News Service

Course marshals remove Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton’s car after his crash during qualifying for the European Grand Prix in Baku on June 18.

Photo: AP

If Lewis Hamilton does not win the drivers’ title this year in his dominant Mercedes, a clue as to why he failed might prove to have come in a talk he had with journalists before the European Grand Prix in Baku on June 19.

The previous Sunday, he had triumphed in the Canadian Grand Prix, and two weeks before that, he had won the Monaco Grand Prix. In three races, he had reduced the 45-point lead of Nico Rosberg, his teammate, to just nine points, and for the first time in the season, Hamilton appeared to have regained his full confidence.

He even revealed to the media that he had not prepared to race on the new tight, fast circuit through the streets of Baku with the same diligence as the other drivers had on the simulators at their team factories.

“I did eight laps,” Hamilton said. “And I had learned it already. It took me five or six to learn it, and then I already did the best lap time, and I couldn’t beat it after that.”

That same day, several other drivers said they had driven at least 10 times as many laps as Hamilton on the simulator.

Sebastian Vettel, the only driver still racing in the series who has won more drivers’ titles than Hamilton’s three — Vettel has four — said he had driven nearly 100 laps on a simulator.

Formula One teams have used simulators as a regular part of car and driver development for the past decade and a half. First among them, the McLaren team began developing a simulator in the late 1990s, partly because the team understood that Ferrari had an advantage with its own test track near its team factory in Italy.

However, it took years before other teams — including Ferrari — followed McLaren’s lead. That happened when teams began to face testing restrictions imposed by the International Automobile Federation as a cost-cutting measure.

All the teams quickly began developing simulators and using their own software to mimic track and car functions. The concept originated in the aviation industry, where flight simulators have long been used to develop flying skills and aircraft.

Formula One teams are constantly developing their simulators to make the racing experience more realistic.

The driver sits in a cockpit that resembles that of a Formula One car. The cockpit is perched on hydraulic pylons programmed to replicate the sensations of driving around each track on the racing calendar, as the view on the screen proceeds along the track.

It is impossible to simulate the g-forces that are experienced in a real car, but padding can be inflated to push the driver’s sides to mimic the sensation of cornering.

In a simulator, the driver generally wears his helmet and racing clothes, communicates with engineers, receives instructions and comments on the sensations.

The driver even hears the sound of gearshift changes, as the simulator uses data collected by cars during races to mimic the entire experience.

However, Hamilton said these costly and advanced technological tools were nothing, but “a souped-up PlayStation.”

“The simulator is not very good,” he said. “It’s a very bad computer game, basically.”

Formula One teams spend vast amounts of time and money developing and using simulators to train new drivers and help regular drivers. Most teams also use test drivers to operate them.

Gary Paffett, a Briton who raced successfully in several series and test-drove Formula One cars from 2001 to 2013, was hired this season by the Williams team to focus solely on driving the simulator.

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