What it takes to go fast

One of the things that’s very difficult to know is how a driver keeps doing what they are doing race in race out. The feeling of complete danger doesn’t seem to stop them from going out there so how do they do it?

Modern Formula 1 is very different than it was in the old days. Thanks in no small part to Max Mosley and Prof. Sid Watkins many drivers now seem to feel that they are playing a video game where nothing can really hurt them. This cognitive dissidence is probably healthy for a modern Formula 1 driver. The idea that while the sport is dangerous which makes it cool it’s only dangerous for other people. This is especially easy as it has been, thankfully, a long time since a driver has been killed.

Formula 1 drivers, in my opinion, now fall into three groups:

1. The drivers who will go out and do the crazy thing knowing it’s crazy but want it to be as safe as possible when they do it: Michael, DC, Webber and Montoya. Eg. American Grand Prix last year, the tire company had told them that the tires were unsafe to drive. And while DC worked hard for an alternative solution right up to the line, he was still asking on the radio as he went round on the parade lap if there was any way he’d be allowed to race.

2. The full cognitive dissidence boys, Alonso, Kimi, Sato. It doesn’t matter to them, in their minds if the races becomes safer or less safe because bad things don’t happen to them. They do, of course, these particular three have all been in bad crashes. But that doesn’t stop them from knowing each time they go in to a corner: “I’m going to be okay”.

3. The last group contains just one man: Jacques Villeneuve. He’s probably nuts but he’s the only one who seems on the surface to actually relish it when it’s less safe. He of course has history because his father was killed in a Formula 1 race and weirdly this seems to have taken him the other way to the rest of the Formula 1 fraternity. Perhaps it is because unlike everyone else who has had to learn about the danger once they are already out on track and trying to win – Jacques had to conquer his fear before he got into the car.

All of this leads us to the British Grand Prix this weekend which will have some of the fastest cornering speeds ever experienced in F1’s history. Now in true James Allen stylee lets just listen to what Jacques has to say about it and started with those that had been complaining:

“Maybe they should stop driving F1, we just raced in Monaco, no one complained and it was great. There is a small amount of risk but it is tiny. In the past there used to be 100 corners in a season with that amount of risk, and 50 with more risk than that – and now there’s just three during the whole season. It’s no big deal, just lift – you don’t have to go flat.”

Okay so, so far so chastising of the others. Now listen to him psyche himself up to not do what he’s just advised the others to do:

“It has the type of corners where you have to go beyond your human limit, not the limit but your personal one, where you reach the corner and your foot wants to get off the throttle, and you have to tell it to stay flat. That’s the most exhilarating moment in driving a race car. Copse is flat on new tires and low fuel, which makes it exciting. It’s a little bit like Eau Rouge used to be – a corner that you know is flat, but it’s hard to bring yourself to actually do it flat. But you know it, every lap you go ‘OK, next lap it’s flat’, but somehow each time your foot comes off the throttle. That’s what makes it exciting. I haven’t done it flat yet. I went in flat [in testing] and went off the track. I didn’t crash, just went wide. But it will be flat this weekend. Other people have done it flat I think, and when I mean flat I mean not braking with your left foot, because that’s not flat! The thing is that the way the cars are made now, with traction control and everything, it’s hard to go off. You can go off but it’s a lot harder than it was in the past. I don’t expect people going off, but you never know.”

I think that paragraph there gives more away about the psyche of a F1 driver than most other interviews I’ve ever seen. He’s almost saying “I want to go flat but know I can’t. But if other people are going flat then I must be able to do it because there’s no way there’s going to be somebody out there who’s braver than me”!

About Alex Andronov

Alex Andronov is a writer who lives in the UK. He is currently working on 7 novels, 5 film scripts, 2 plays, 2 TV series, 1 history of the United States, 1 travelogue and trying to find some focus.
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