There’s one thing most boys dream of when growing up; even all the way into their adult years; and that’s driving a Formula 1 car. This year, Infiniti Australia, the technical partner of Renault in the Formula 1, invited us to the South of France, the home turf of Renault Motorsports for this rare and unparalleled experience.
Preparation for Formula 1 Driving
I would be lying if I said I was entirely calm, to be honest, the nerves had the best of me. Not to say I was scared, rather, a combination of excitement and fear of the unknown. The previous night’s sleep was full of tossing and turning; as it turns out, I wasn’t alone. It’s not every day you get to pilot a Formula 1 car, in fact, it’s incredibly rare. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.
As we rose from our hotel suite in Le Castellet at the crack of dawn, we headed to the racetrack for the day ahead. It started with a briefing, preparing us for the Formula 1 drive.
The morning was intense, exercising our body and mind. It can be a difficult thing to relate to professional drivers. It’s really so much more difficult than one could imagine. Killer instincts and split decision making are what makes a driver great, but there’s also a huge physiological strain on the body. We learnt how the pilots trained, which is almost entirely year round and goes well beyond the racing season.
We undertook some games to enhance our reaction times, as pictured below. The lights flash randomly and you need to tap them when they appear, kind of like a grown-up version of Wacky-Gator. My top score ended up being 88 in 1 minute, while professional drivers can score up to 120+.
Warm Up in Formula 4
The driving commenced with some ‘’warm up’’ laps in a Formula 4 car. Think of it as a Go-Kart, on steroids. Incredibly agile, stiff and raw as anything. From my understanding, it’s like what the Formula 1 cars were like in the early days. Here we had the chance to really push it. Wide open tracks in groups of 4.
Afterwards, we reviewed our time on the track. The engineers could tell exactly what we had been doing, with razor-sharp precision. We were stacked up against professional drivers, in terms of speed, braking, acceleration and gear changes. They could tell whether you braked too early in the corners, or whether you accelerated too hard out of them. Whether you were supposed to be in 2nd gear around turn 5, or 3rd gear. It was a truly impressive sight and garnered a deeper level of car racing than ever imagined.
While your average joe blow might think Formula 1 is an individual sport, they couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the driver only accounts for the last couple percent. The team, from the engineers, strategists and managers, are what makes championships. This is something until which, you see in person, seems insignificant.
The Formula 1 Experience
When I put the earbuds in, helmet on, my world shifted. Here I was, about to undertake something which very few do. As I sat in the cockpit, the team manager asked through the radio, ‘’everything good?’’ I gave the thumbs up, and we rolled out into the pit lane.
As I engaged in the first gear while releasing the clutch millimetre by millimetre, I could feel the power I had underneath me. When I left the pit lane, nothing could stop the smile, ear to ear.
Reaching hyper-speeds down the two straights and breaking harder than I ever thought was possible, this beast could take whatever I was ready to give it. Being thrust back in your seats with enormous amounts of G-force, pulling the steering wheel into your chest so hard just to attempt to reach maximum brake power. There was a new found admiration for the physiological strain Formula 1 drivers endure.
Hot Laps with Jack Aitkens
After experiencing the Formula 1 car, we jumped into a Renault project car, built only for the racetrack, with Renault Junior and 3rd driver Jack Aitken. This was truly mind-blowing, seeing a world class driver around the same racetrack as us; and what he could do with the car. One thing I really took from this day was that race titles are won with the brakes, and not the accelerator.
Renault & Infiniti
With Daniel Ricciardo joining the ranks at Renault next year, the future seasons ahead are promising. We can’t wait to see what the team has planned. The team manager, Cyril Abiteboul, has promised Ricciardo their full support in building an engine and car that’s fit for a world champion, relaying the trust that Daniel has put into the team at Renault.
It has been an absolute pleasure working with Infiniti Australia during this experience.