Driving fast is important in motor racing. Many people believe that top level racing drivers have superior reactions to others and that this is why they can drive faster. My view and research would indicate that this isn’t quite the case.
This is therefore the first post of what I plan to be a series of articles exploring the subject of how to drive fast(er). The aim is to start to unravel some of the mystery and help those interested improve their performance.
Perhaps it will be helpful to define what driving fast means, in the context of motor racing.
What driving fast means in motor sport is being able to pilot a vehicle around a set course, in less time than your competitors.
To complete the course in the least time, competitors need to use all the available potential their vehicle can give them.
I will discuss what goes into defining vehicle potential in a future post, because there is a lot too it. Plus if you understand the important dimensions well, then there is an opportunity for you to gain an advantage.
For this article, I just want to focus on the driver and how fast drivers manage to get the most potential from their vehicles.
So, to drive fast in motor sport you need to complete a course using all the potential your vehicle has to offer, and in less time that your competitors.
There has been a lot of research and study on reaction times. This is a nice literature review for those interested in the subject.
Essentially though, it is my view that to drive fast you need more than good reaction times.
Here is a video showing Formula 1 racing driver Jenson Button using a kind of reaction training machine.
What you can see is that his (poor!) engineer is not as good as him. But what this isn’t proving is that Jenson has better reaction times than his engineer, even though that is the message they are looking to get across.
This example is showing that Jenson’s engineer is not as good at finding the button that is lit-up. From what we can see in the clip, once he does see the button, his reactions are pretty close to Jenson’s, in my opinion.
This machine is trying to develop peripheral vision and, to some level, hand-eye co-ordination.
What does help in driving fast?
OK so if it is not pure reaction times, what is it that makes someone able to drive faster than someone else.
My theory is that being able to drive fast is about being able to imagine the experience and then adapt this imagination as you’re driving round.
Anthony was particularly impressed with Sebastian Vettel’s apparent ability to do this.
Visualisation is only part however.
In my view, I believe you need to be able to imagine the experience, during the experience.
The better and fast you can get at doing this, the less effort and less reacting you need to do; in effect you just have to react to the differences between what you believe you’re about to experience and what actually happens.
This makes things much easier.
It is perhaps one of the reason why people who train a lot give themselves a better chance of doing well, because they have had so much more experience of different situations that they almost don’t have to instinctively react to anything.
One realtively well recieved piece of research within the Sporting community that backs up my theory is in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. He discusses a 10,000 hour rule, where to truly excel you need to train for at least 10,000 hours.
In summary, to be able to drive fast you need to be able to imagine the whole experience you will feel behind the wheel.
This involves visualisation before the event but also, critically in my opinion, the ability to refine this imagined experience, during the actual event.
Commonly the ability to do this is understood to be because of superior reaction times. In my view, this isn’t the case.
I believe the fastest racing drivers are reacting to their imagination of what they think will happen, based on their continually adapting vision and on previous experience.
If they do this then they only have to react to differences between what is happening and what they believe they’re about to experience; it is more a case of trimming than some superior “talent” or reaction ability.
You often hear the importance of “seat time” mentioned in racing circles. I tend to agree with this, as long as you’re building an appropriate experience set. That though, is another topic for another day.
To develop one’s ability to do this, short of 10,000 hours in a racing car, would be an interesting research study:
How do you develop a better ability to construct future experiences in your head, then to quickly recall and modify those imagined experience based on actual events, and changing your actual actions based only on a reaction to the differences between them.
I’d welcome peoples views on this.
What do you believe it takes to drive fast?
Any specific questions, please ask.
Pace Insights is a start-up based in Warwick, UK. We are building a next-generation platform for easier high performance data analysis and management, specifically for the motor sports market.