I have not personally ever raced cars. Of course I fancy my driving skills, and, like most people, am sure I am better than average, but only half of us can be right…
But watching the Shanghai Grand Prix this morning, I had a thought. Now this thought may be well known to race drivers the world over, but in all my years of listening to Murray Walker and his colleagues I never heard them discussing this. So perhaps the thought is highly original and clever. Or perhaps its thoroughly wrong!
So this is it: the racetrack can be divided into two parts, the parts that are engine (acceleration) limited (i.e. where the pedal is to the metal) and parts that are ‘grip’ limited (accelerating/braking or lateral/turning or a combination thereof).
I spent the afternoon playing with the kids, but when I should have been preparing to catch one or other at the end of a death defying flying fox manoeuvre, I found myself trying to think of exceptions to my hypothesis.
What about the approach to a corner, before you start turning, I thought? When driving round town, I commonly coast into corners with my foot off the pedal, and no G-forces to speak of. But then in a race, would you coast, even for a moment?
I think not, you would keep your foot flat until the last second then hit the brakes, with ‘coasting’ only lasting as long as it takes to move your foot 6 inches.
So ‘late braking’ is not just braking late, it’s pushing at the boundary that exists between two parts of the track.
This concept should let driver know when to just put the foot flat (and relax!) because the engine limited boundary is fairly safe – it simply can’t be exceeded, whereas the grip limit, if exceeded, will end badly.
It should also guide the racetrack designer, they know grip limited sections are more stressful, and that the transitions from one limit to the other are ‘interesting’.
Now, half way though the movie version of Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”, I realised my hypothesis needed a big tweak. Racetracks also have bumps, debris, oil slicks and sometimes rain. Not to mention, those other pesky cars. These all mean either limit could suddenly apply at almost any time, any place on the track. So the division of the track would never be precise, only a guideline.
However, I restate the hypothesis: one limit should always apply, if it doesn’t, you could be going faster…
Someone please shoot his down..