Before I set off on my Blog rant I need to put a few things in perspective – just so you don't all think I am a complete fruitcake.
I am 53 and first went to Le Mans and an F1 race in 1986 – so a late starter shall we say. However, with rose tinted spectacles I do believe I saw motorsport at its peak – Group C, no chicanes at Le Mans, 1000bhp with no traction control F1 cars, Gerhard Berger spinning the wheels of his Benetton at 180mph in 5th gear in qualifying... the very best of Formula Ford drivers – The Brat pack of Julian Bailey, Perry McCarthy, Martin Blundell, even Murray Walker was great.
Gerhard Berger 1986 Belgian GP.- Source motorsportm8.com
Group C Jaguar
So why am I raising these historical gems? It is because I cannot decide if I have suddenly become so far out of touch that the next sport I look at should be tiddlywinks – The launch of "McLaren Fastest Gamer" left me cold and I wanted to look at this and some more recent changes in motorsport.
I would be the first to agree that standing still in motorsport is actually going backwards – never are the NMA team not looking for more performance, better aero, a quicker process in a pitstop etc - so I felt I must find out more and find out whether a gamer could deliver for your F1 team as a SIM driver rather than replacing Fernando or Stoffel.
On the plus side you have a specialist that may have been gaming on very ordinary equipment for years (I think that the first driving games appeared in arcade format in the early 1970’s) and that driver is at the very peak of what he can do with that piece of kit. He, or she of course, will have modified the race car with every single option available to them. They will know what difference that makes to the handling, to the straight line speed and they will have built up a knowledge bank commensurate with the kit they are using – but is it a transferable skill I want to ask? When I thought harder and did my research I found all the reasons why the answer is a very loud YES!
It was not always like that though – starting with former Williams F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve – he of the baggy race suit, unkempt appearance and Kimi Raikkonen levels of public speaking for those of you that don’t remember back to the last century! He brought the value of gaming into the open by stating that he had managed to get fastest time at Spa in 1996 straight out of the box by learning the track from a new F1 game; thus not wasting time by getting up to speed much quicker. It has to be said, of course, that he was prodigiously fast in a very quick car anyway so is that really a YES?
Certainly a better YES has got to be the Nissan GT Academy driver Jann Mardenborough – he was the 3rd winner of the Gran Tourismo virtual to reality competition. He beat 90,000 other entrants to the prize and has obviously delivered on his promise as he is now a full time member of the Nissan squad. These two of course were both drivers and the offered position as the prize is for the fastest gamer to become an even more competent computer and simulator specialist.
Whilst I don’t have any direct "No" examples, I can point to many past reported comments from F1 team managers downwards that say "It didn’t translate from the sim to the track" or "what felt right there [in the sim] doesn’t feel the same here"
Frankly, this is where I missed the trick – I was still thinking last year, two years, 5 years ago when these comments were made; this is now so far from the truth that I was astounded and embarrassed at my ignorance.
Simulators now are extremely effective in set-up, driver training, new part validation and race strategy. With computer power being so huge and components so small a SIM doesn’t need its own warehouse to be effective. Laser scanned tracks and validated vehicle dynamic models mean the drivers can be within hundredths of a second of their lap time when compared both virtually and actually. I looked at what the airline industry does in simulation now and it has to be said the pilots in training and retraining have a lot more responsibility for life than a single race driver! They have been using SIMS for years and very effectively teaching their old and new pilots the nuances of each individual airport without the risks involved but in the most lifelike manner imaginable.
It isn’t all positive all of the time though – the much quoted Ferrari windtunnel debacle where the output was all wrong shows that the info going into the model must be correct or the info coming out will be unusable (Were Ferrari using the SISO approach? Ed). This shows that the SIM driver is only a small part of what is actually going on here from an engineering point of view and why engineers spend many hours validating their models before use.
So when did this all start to happen? - For sure the Resource Restriction Agreement in F1 accelerated teams in finding ways to find out more about their cars as quickly as they could – no in season testing and windtunnel use restrictions left teams with cars they didn’t ever get the best from – but in reality, as computing power became greater it was inevitable that this route would become valid and the output would have real and immense value to the teams. Every F1 team now uses SIMS as does industry in their road car manufacture.
Maybe it was the word "Gamer" that didn’t suit me and made me think this new McLaren initiative is also a marketing and publicity ploy? At first I thought that the prize of being a SIM driver for the team was the equivalent of being a test driver in an era of no testing – how wrong I was and I am pleased to go on record saying that!
Now don’t get me wrong, McLaren absolutely need something to put a shine back on the name that seems to have been dragged through the weeds for far too long (do you know it was 1998 when they won their last team championship having seemingly been omnipotent previously). The flagging F1 audience is a concern for all parties and McLaren seem to be attempting to widen their appeal with the online world where they are already known well through their cars involvement in existing racing games. Are they looking at a new road car sales angle or are they looking to give better value for their already beleaguered sponsors?
I don’t know but in RonSpeak, if I were to ask him, I might get "This initiative is a primary interface with a new generation of highly motivated and specifically skilled McLaren fans, all of whom can help McLaren return to their rightful place in the Pantheon of F1"
So it seems that I am now a reformed Luddite – a technophile if you will. Where did I put that Atari game thing I had once? :)
Roger Grimshaw - NMA Tutor.