Formula 1 Insight

Viewing the Future

There were two big stories over the weekend, both of which I am going to ignore. The first, the disgusting display of xenophobia put on by the Spanish crowd at Barcelona, has been debated elsewhere and there is general agreement that it must be stopped now before it infects F1 further; there is little left for me to say except to add my agreement. And the second concerns Bernie's threats of removing the Australian GP from the calendar, something that annoys me so intensely that I had better let that one stew a while before saying anything that I might regret later.

Bourdais and STR2B
Sebastien Bourdais - can he see where he's going?

Instead, we could take a look at the "shoulder pads" the cars are wearing this season, those bulges on the sides of the cockpit expected to fend off any flying David Coulthards that might decide to use your car as a landing stage. It looks doubtful to me that they will give adequate protection in the event of such an accident, since the driver's helmet still protrudes above the bulges, but perhaps the idea is that a good clout to the helmet will knock the driver down into his seat and so ensure his safety. I will take the FIA's word for it in this case, anyway, and accept that they are a step in the right direction.

What strikes me more forcibly about the bulges is the effect they must have on the driver's vision. Anyone who has played an F1 simulation game on a PC or console knows that the great difficulty with them is the lack of peripheral vision. Without the visual information from the sides that we get in real life, it is extremely hard to assess position, speed and attitude of the car at any given moment.

Strangely enough, this makes the video racing game a close replica of the real thing as experienced by the race driver. Over the years, his vision has been whittled away until now he is expected to drive the car at its limit while looking through the equivalent of a mail slot. The full face helmet was the first to affect the driver in this way, although its influence upon peripheral vision could be lessened somewhat by turning the head slightly in the desired direction. The drivers got used to it.

The next thing that happened was the disappearance of the windshield. This had never been something that the driver actually looked through; it was too low for that and functioned more as a wind deflector that bounced the airstream over the cockpit and so prevented the driver's head from being buffeted around too much. But the invention of the airbox dictated that aerodynamics around the driver's head become more sophisticated - it was imperative that air be directed into that scoop and the windshield was interfering with its easy passage.

So the driver was moved lower and the windshield became token at first, then a painted facsimile, until it disappeared altogether. But the important point for our purposes in this article is that the driver began to disappear into the body of the car.

When aerodynamics insisted that the nose of the car be raised, his vision became even more limited. Suddenly he was looking out over a flat section of bodywork that drooped down slightly only beyond the front suspension. No longer could he see the road a few yards in front of the car - he depended now upon his view of the top half of the wheels and a sense of where the road went next, gained more from memory than direct vision.

And now we limit his vision even further by placing the bulges on either side of him. It is inevitable that a car attempting to pass will have to be right alongside before entering what remains of the driver's peripheral vision. That might cut down on arguments of which car was ahead at the entry to a corner but only because the one in front had no idea that the other was there at all!

What surprises me in all this is that, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no hint of disapproval from the drivers, no complaint that vision has become so limited that the car is impossible to drive. Clearly, the will to race in F1 is strong enough to overcome such objections and each generation accepts the handicap of decreasing vision as a fact of life.

I do wonder where it will end, however. Will they have to lay the driver down head first in the end and give him a little slot in the nose to peer through? Or maybe they should forget the real world entirely and put a screen in front of him, a television screen fed by inputs from various points on the car. Or they could feed the TV input straight to the pits and the driver could sit in the motorhome, driving the car through a hand controller.

Oh, wait a minute, that's called a video game, isn't it? Except that this is F1 so we dress it up with the much fancier title of simulator. I can see it now: the Simulation GP of Singapore, 2017, points counting towards the World Simulation Drivers' Championship! Oh, brave new world, let me not look too closely - limit my vision, please!

I don't really see how the higher cockpit sides are cutting any more vision away than the drivers have already lost.

Like you said, with the helmet, peripheral vision is already minimal.

Personally, I think the real problem lies in the sorry excuse for wing mirrors that wibble around so much, it must be impossible to see behind.
Date Added: 04/02/2008
"...both of which I am going to ignore."

regarding the first point, thank you, i've read far to much sensationalist 'journalism' for one day. although i was almost hoping you might have a good thing to say about the FIA and their actions today!

regarding the second, i can't wait :)

onto your main point. f1 car's still have windshields, they're just very small strips nowadays. and the important point you've missed here, is that the guy in the lead doesn't need to look sideways or behind, so if drivers have a problem with visibility... they need to go faster.

Date Added: 04/02/2008

It's certainly true that the helmets have done the major part of robbing the driver of his peripheral vision, F1Minute. But not that I said this could be remedied to some extent by the driver turning his head slightly. If he tries that now, he gets a nice close-up of the shoulder pads!

As I understand it, the mirrors have been virtually useless ever since the wide rear tyres came into being. But they must perform some sort of service (they're okay for inspecting the state of the rear tyres, I believe), since Renault went to the trouble of relocating them from the sidepods to the body of the car this year - apparently they vibrated so much on the pods that the drivers couldn't see anything at all in them. But we're agreed that they give little warning of a car coming up to pass.
Date Added: 04/02/2008

Call that tiny lip a windshield? Well, I suppose you could stretch a point...

"Doesn't need to look sideways or behind" - I grant you that it's rare for the leader to be challenged these days but it does happen on occasion. And then it must be quite useful to know from which side you're being attacked. After all, how're you going to block him otherwise? ;)
Date Added: 04/02/2008

I forgot to mention the possibility of my saying something nice about the FIA. Now come on, Sidey, why would I break the habit of a lifetime, why ruin a perfect record? You really must stop indulging in these flights of fantasy, you know! :D
Date Added: 04/02/2008

Steven Roy
I have heard the theory espoused that taking the mirrors off the cars would help safety. The theory being that if a driver doesn't know he is about to be overtaken he can't block. Sorry he can't make his 'one legitimate move'. To use a Roebuck phrase what would Gilles have made of the idea that one blocking move was OK?
Date Added: 04/02/2008

To be fair, Steven, the "one blocking move" rule was introduced to stop drivers doing it again and again, not to suggest to them a new way to stay in front. But you're right that Gilles would have been horrified!
Date Added: 04/02/2008

Number 38

This article reduced to remarks about mirrors?

Karts have no mirrors.
Most mirrors do NOT 'wibble' (much)........
turning one's head IS permitted!
Shoulder pads.........what next USAC sprint car roll-over cages?
The one inch high windscreen is a foolish detail left over from
page 231, sub-section B, paragraph 3.4..88
Let's face it with all the aero control over the car there's little directly at the driver. That would be measured as pure drag!
And I need to correct 'sidey' just a bit, your remark clipped from above: " if drivers have a problem with visibility... they need to go faster." Correction, they need to LEAD.
I raced for 30 years, learned to use mirrors early on and found myself using them perhaps 25% of the time. A sharp convex mirror is extremely useful as it amplifies a following cars size indicating you're pulling away or loosing ground.
especially useful when cars (like F1) have similar performance. Ah.......but then we've got BLUE FLAGs to tell us what to do !!! Ha Ha

Date Added: 04/02/2008

While writing this one, Number 38, I pondered on what alternatives there were to protecting the driver against a Coulthard/Wurz type of accident. What if you extended the bodywork just beneath the air intake, over the driver's head and then supported it with a couple of struts at the front? Then perhaps a strut or two at the sides and he's protected with no need for shoulder pads.

And then I realized I'd re-invented the Sprint Car cage... ;)
Date Added: 04/02/2008

Hi, sidey and f1minute! Must-comment-Monday? :P So, who's Christine and who's "me"? :)

As for Clive's topic, I also wonder how they see what's around them. Team radio? :)
Date Added: 05/02/2008

journeyer, christine's easy to spot, she uses capitals :)

hopefully clive didn't mind us descending on his site. it's amazing how few f1 pages actually allow comments. i hadn't noticed until yesterday that most opt out with a small forum tucked away somewhere. also a few require a login, which is a shame.

number 38, you are of course correct, but you clearly knew what i meant.

Date Added: 05/02/2008

Mind? Without readers, I'm talking to myself and you know what they say about people who do that! Descend as much as you want, Sidey and Christine!

The existence of a comments system is what defines a blog, as far as I'm concerned. Those that offer a forum instead, I regard as sites, not blogs. The whole point is interaction between writers and readers - blogs are a joint effort to reach understanding, not an opportunity to publish opinions unchallenged.

This may be different from the original purpose of blogs (they began as personal diaries) but everything evolves and becomes something other than the inventor's original intent - just look at F1 as an example.

Registration before comment is sometimes a necessary evil. I understand when it is forced upon the blogger and will register if the blog is good enough to demand comment. But there is no doubt that registration is a disincentive to comment and should be avoided if possible.
Date Added: 05/02/2008

Simulation Grands Prix?

We're almost there. A while back I did a piece on the guys behind the Sim Touring Car Cup "a dose of unreality" -

It's early days, but if the health and safety brigade have their way....
Date Added: 05/02/2008

Hah, a friend and I were doing simulation GPs after every real GP back in the early eighties, Patrick - using Scalextric cars and miles of track to re-create the real thing. The thought that safety concerns might eventually force the drivers to run the race from the comfort of the motorhome is too awful to contemplate...
Date Added: 05/02/2008

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