Driv­ers are much more than the cars they drive

F1 Racing - - DAMON HILL -

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 reects 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 quantiable ma­chine and the un­quantiable 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 difcult 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 inuence 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”

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