Drivers are much more than the cars they drive
difference. What they are supposed to do is to make a tool for a human so he can race. We want to see people racing cars, not the other way round, right?
It is not just the car that is measured, now. The driver has had to accept that his performance is subject to extraordinary scrutiny, whereas in the past all they had was what he said – that and the lap time. Now, incontrovertible data rules… unless you are Fernando Alonso, apparently.
Race tactics too, are a science. The driver has little hope of guessing what the setup or race strategy should be. The engineer will effectively tell the racer how best to drive and to what lap time. This is no doubt a move in the right direction for the engineer, who knows what his car would be capable of if it weren’t for this bio-illogical humanoid machine-tool operator.
And drivers are so emotional, prone to outbursts of frustration, rage and irrational thoughts on physics – not Spock-logical, like engineers. I’m not sure, but I don’t think there is a driver out there who could self-engineer any more. I’d be surprised. He’d need a PhD in about six different subjects.
So what do they do in today’s engineering meetings? Look at data, I guess. Try to make the squiggly lines less squiggly? Try to copy the squiggles of the other driver?
My view might be unfashionable, but I think of driving as a purely subjective experience – more art than science. I have never seen a graph that reects my experience of leading a race or getting pole. The moment that art is controlled by an engineer with a computer, for me, the driver becomes an errand boy.
There has always been a tension between the quantiable machine and the unquantiable human. And long may it be so. The sporting drama is created by the weaknesses and fallibility of humans. This is why we celebrate those who come close to perfection in sport and the arts. It is the miraculous mastery of such difcult disciplines that inspires us so. And what is the point of a driver if all he does is what he’s told? Surely a racing driver is someone who does not do what he is told?
A favourite lm of mine is The Right Stuff. It tells the story of the early US astronauts. They all started as test pilots, ying experimental planes to and beyond their limits. When they were picked to become the rst humans in space they were considered mere specimens, with no objective other than to serve (and possibly die) for the good of their country.
But they were more interesting characters than that. They objected to being seen as cattle or cargo. They fought to get windows (can you believe that!) and controls, and a job to do, to gain some inuence over their destiny. In short they took pride in their work. They had self-respect, a sense of how they could present themselves honestly to the adoring world, and more than a little ego. They literally took control of the space programme. They didn’t like the idea of just being ‘Spam in a Can’.
It must be hard for a team to hand over responsibility for all their hard work to a driver who is barely in his 20s, but top drivers can handle the responsibility. That’s what makes them so impressive. As Kimi famously said, ‘Leave me alone. I know what I’m doing’. I think we love that attitude, don’t we?
Hamilton with chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin: “I don’t think there’s a driver out there who could self-engineer any more”