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British Grand Prix 2010: Silverstone a tough track to master in simulator

British Grand Prix 2010: Silverstone a tough track to master in simulator
I am not expecting the Red Bull contract to drop through the mailbox any time soon, let's put it that way.

By Tom Cary, F1 Correspondent
Published: 6:30PM BST 07 Jul 2010
F1 British Grand Prix: Silverstone a tough track to master in simulator
Start your engine: Telegraph F1 correspondent Tom Cary in the Red Bull simulator Photo: RED BULL
British Grand Prix 2010: Silverstone a tough track to master in simulator - Telegraph

My first experience of an Formula One simulator lasted five laps, took in nearly every inch of tarmac and blade of grass on the Silverstone estate – sometimes twice in the same lap, often in reverse – and would probably have burnt out the clutch of even the hardest-wearing F1 machine had it been for real.

That said, and this does my profession no credit whatsoever, I would still have qualified on the front row for Sunday's British Grand Prix alongside Mark Webber, such was the (slightly worrying, if truth be told) driving ineptitude on display from Fleet Street's F1 correspondents.

Webber clocked a best time of 1min 35.8sec around Silverstone's newly configured Arena layout, wearing his socks, while I managed 1-58, the only journalist under two minutes.

One of my colleagues spent an entire lap in second gear, while another's ambition far exceeded his talent; veering off the track at Chapel he launched his car up in the air like Webber in Valencia a fortnight ago, although fortunately he did not land on his head. "You didn't even have any shitboxes to avoid," was the Australian's wry observation.

While simulator technology has "a way to go", according to Webber, the feeling of driving in one is nevertheless a cut or three above your average PlayStation games console. For a start you are raised six feet in the air on hydraulic arms, which rock and roll according to the track's contours and the smoothness, or otherwise, of your technique.

For another, you are sitting in an F1 cockpit. If you have never sat in one before and you are over 6ft, I'm sorry to tell you that elite motorsport is probably not for you. Squeezing into the tight confines of the RB1 (the technology actually simulates the current RB6 but the cockpit dates from 2005) you are suddenly aware of how cramped the space is. My shoulders are wedged against the sides and as I slink further and further into the seat my feet appear to be well above my waist. I am almost lying down.

Perhaps surprisingly, Webber has completed "only about 15 laps" of the new Silverstone circuit in the simulator – which he will experience for real for the first time in free practice on Friday – and is typically blunt regarding its usefulness.

"Simulators are not the real thing," he warns, "they have a way to go to catch up, but it's good to get a feel for the new corners. I didn't realise, for example, just how tight the second left-hander is at the Arena complex."

With that nugget banked I rev my engine, but getting going proves more difficult than you might think. Andy Damerum, my 'race engineer' who is sitting six feet behind me in front of a bank of screens providing him with all of my telemetry (brake bias/understeer/oversteer/throttle), tells me to start whenever I am ready.

Fifteen seconds later I am still stationary on the start-finish straight trying to find the biting point. "Are all the lights flashing?" Andy asks. They are. "The anti-stall has kicked in. Re-engage the clutch and try again." Right-oh.

Finally I am off and picking up speed, heading for the first right-hander: Copse. Picking up speed is no problem. Once you are moving, the gearbox becomes automatic and you can shift up and down with a flick of your fingers. "Sixth gear now," says Andy, "the downforce will glue you to the track." He is right.

I sail through Copse with the hydraulic arms lurching into action, pitching me sideways, and head on towards the classic Maggotts-Becketts-Copse complex. Too fast. I am on the grass and the traction has gone; my steering wheel is reverberating wildly.

And so it goes. By the end of my five laps I am exiting the track less often and beginning to think there might be a career in this for me if I cut my legs off at the knees.

Then Webber jumps in and beats my best time by 20 seconds. "Don't give up the day job," he offers.
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