“Now I know why these cars are so hard to drive…”


Dur­ing a nor­mal test ses­sion, the air is con­stantly lled with the crackle of an en­gine ex­haust note. But now there is an alarm­ing si­lence – and a van marked ‘in­ci­dent ve­hi­cle’ is trundling down the Sil­ver­stone pit­lane.

No­body is ex­actly sure what’s hap­pened, but Sky Sports TV com­men­ta­tor and for­mer F1 racer Martin Brun­dle has stopped cir­cu­lat­ing in a 2015-spec Force In­dia and has not re­turned to the pits. The scope of the prob­lem is not im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent: it’s not clear if it’s a straight­for­ward tech­ni­cal prob­lem or whether he’s crashed heav­ily.

News lters through that he’s okay and has had a half-spin, break­ing the VJM08’s front wing on a wall in the process. Within a few min­utes he’s back in the garage – shortly be­fore the car is re­turned on a at-bed trailer – and a crowd forms around him try­ing to es­tab­lish what has hap­pened. The team’s race driv­ers, Ser­gio Pérez and Nico Hülken­berg, lis­ten in as he dis­cusses the dam­age done to the front of the car.

“Take it out of my salary. That’s what the driv­ers say when they crash, don’t they?” he says, smil­ing ner­vously. Then he re­marks to Ser­gio: “You were ve years old the last time I crashed a For­mula 1 car…”

Since he went air­borne – at the wheel of a Jor­dan at the sec­ond cor­ner of the 1996 Aus­tralian GP – a lot has changed within the connes of a grand prix car. In re­cent years there’s been the switch to hy­brid, tur­bocharged 1.6-litre V6 en­gines, with elec­tronic brake bias con­trol, DRS, eight gears, brake-by­wire, ERS and a mul­ti­tude of steer­ing wheel elec­tronic func­tions to master. Brun­dle ad­mits he’s never been as chal­lenged as he has been to­day. Think mod­ern day F1 cars are easy to drive? Think again.



It’s a typ­i­cal spring morn­ing at Sil­ver­stone: bright and sunny, but chilly. There is just one garage in use in the old pit­lane to­day. Force In­dia are us­ing up one of their lm­ing days, which are of­fered to ev­ery team to give them chance to ob­tain mov­ing and still pic­tures for pro­mo­tional pur­poses. Run­ning is lim­ited to just 100km, to stop the day be­com­ing a true test, and Pirelli pro­vide a cou­ple of sets of tyres of an un­known com­pound. On this oc­ca­sion, Force In­dia are us­ing the Na­tional congu­ra­tion at Sil­ver­stone, so at Beck­etts the track turns right onto the Welling­ton Straight, past the BRDC Club­house, around Lufeld and past the old pits. At around 1.6 miles in length, it means that only 37 laps are per­mit­ted to­day to stay safely within the 100km (62 mile) mark. It’s self-po­liced, but the FIA could ask to see all the data if it felt the rules had been breached.

De­spite the lack of di­rect com­pe­ti­tion, a For­mula 1 out­ing is still strictly run to clockwork pre­ci­sion. At ex­actly 09:00 hours, the Mercedes en­gine in the back of the Force In­dia is be­ing brought up to tem­per­a­ture, ready for Brun­dle’s in­stal­la­tion lap. Martin en­ters the garage in Force In­dia over­alls, car­ry­ing his in­stantly rec­og­niz­able white and red hel­met. For the rest of the day he’ll al­ter­nate be­tween both reg­u­lar race driv­ers’ hel­mets for the team’s pro­mo­tional needs. He’s here with a full pro­duc­tion unit from Sky Sports F1, to lm a se­ries of fea­tures on var­i­ous as­pects of driv­ing a 2015-spec F1 car, which will be broad­cast over the com­ing races. As a re­sult, the VJM08 is tted with a num­ber of GoPro cam­eras – which will prove to be some­thing of a prob­lem as the day pro­gresses.

Brun­dle, 55, is strapped into the cock­pit and grips the steer­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the tur­bocharged power he’s set to un­leash with his right foot. With hun­dreds of func­tions avail­able to him on the steer­ing wheel, he ad­mits that he’s been study­ing a crib sheet with all the con­trols listed on it: a bit of late-night home­work to get up to speed with the re­quire­ments of a mod­ern­day F1 car. He has also been train­ing for the past three months, although just be­fore he steps into the car he ut­ters some­thing a cur­rent driver

wouldn’t nor­mally say: “I’m re­gret­ting eat­ing that sausage sand­wich this morn­ing…”

Over the next few hours of the morn­ing ses­sion, Brun­dle is in and out of the pits, blast­ing the Force In­dia around Sil­ver­stone. The cold tem­per­a­tures, in com­bi­na­tion with the short track congu­ra­tion, make it hard to get the tyre pres­sures and brakes into a de­cent op­er­at­ing win­dow, but he’s en­joy­ing him­self.

“I just feel so at home sit­ting in the car, look­ing over the top sur­face of the mono­coque. It’s a won­der­ful feel­ing. It’s you, the car and the track,” he en­thuses. “It re­minds me of the rst time I drove a Tyrrell around here in 1983 on a cold, crisp, per­fect Sil­ver­stone day.”

Brun­dle im­me­di­ately gets into the metic­u­lous de­tails of his ex­pe­ri­ence as he talks about the throt­tle re­sponse of these new tur­bocharged en­gines in com­par­i­son to the pre­vi­ous­gen­er­a­tion nor­mally as­pi­rated 2.4-litre V8s. In par­tic­u­lar, he men­tions the travel length of the throt­tle pedal: it’s cur­rently 65mm and some teams now have as much as 75mm. When he was rac­ing, he says his pre­ferred pedal length was 47mm, while some were as short as 28mm.

“There is a lot of throt­tle move­ment go­ing on, but the de­liv­ery is so lin­ear that you don’t ever get the mas­sive feel­ing of boost that you would on an older tur­bocharged ma­chine,” he says. “You can only tell it’s a turbo be­cause when you lift off you hear the tur­bine whirling and suck­ing and it has a lot of torque com­ing off the corners.

“But I’m sur­prised at how well the car op­er­ates. You turn the steer­ing wheel and it in­stantly re­sponds; it’s so driv­able. Of all the mod­ern cars I’ve driven in re­cent years, they’re all nessed to a point where mak­ing the car func­tion is not that difcult.” Un­til, that is, you’re asked to do more than just drive the car…

Since he broke his an­kles in prac­tice for the 1984 Dal­las Grand Prix, Brun­dle’s left foot hasn’t been par­tic­u­larly strong, and through­out his ca­reer he braked with his right foot. But now his right foot is held on the throt­tle pedal by a stir­rup, which means he’s forced into brak­ing with his left. While brak­ing, he was also try­ing to change the bias with a ro­tary switch on the steer­ing wheel. He ac­ci­dently turned it the wrong way and locked up the rears. By switch­ing it the other way, he locked the fronts on the fol­low­ing lap. It’s one of a mul­ti­tude of func­tions now avail­able to the mod­ern F1 driver and gave Brun­dle a greater in­sight into the way the likes of Lewis Hamil­ton and col­leagues the op­er­ate.

“When you watch Lewis di­alling up dif­fer­ent brake bi­ases be­tween corners while he’s on a qual­i­fy­ing lap, I now get how ef­fec­tive that is,” Brun­dle notes. “He dances with the but­tons, which is odd be­cause it’s not a me­chan­i­cal

change; it’s a change of elec­tri­cal per­cent­age. I can’t imag­ine do­ing that while driv­ing wheel to wheel with some­one else, and then be­ing told to re­turn to a de­fault mode en­gine set­ting.

“That’s why these cars are harder to drive. You never used to have to think about any of that. Your fo­cus was on the track, your com­peti­tor and the strat­egy, and you had all the time in the world to fo­cus on the main chal­lenge of driv­ing an F1 car on the limit. Now, you have to man­age all these sys­tems as well. It’s very close to over­load.

“Per­haps it’s the same old story. Those driv­ers who use less of their ca­pac­ity to race the car have more ca­pac­ity to make the most of the tools, whether that was Senna in an ac­tive McLaren or Schu­macher with his dif­fer­en­tial set­tings.” The need to un­der­stand how you can man­age the con­trols of your car to your ad­van­tage in com­bi­na­tion with be­ing cau­tious on the throt­tle mean it’s easy to make a mis­take, es­pe­cially if you’re run­ning on a very worn set of Pirellis.

“I spoke to a num­ber of driv­ers be­fore to­day, the likes of Valt­teri Bot­tas and Jen­son But­ton, and they all said to me: ‘Be care­ful with the throt­tle.’ And they’re right – that’s why the throt­tle travel has dou­bled since my day.”

Not only that, but sen­si­tive aero­dy­nam­ics play a crit­i­cal role in the bal­ance of a cur­rent F1 car. Over­see­ing the Force In­dia’s run­ning to­day is Oliver Knighton, the team’s test engi­neer, who dou­bles up as a strate­gist at race week­ends. Also watch­ing are two old hands. One is for­mer Wil­liams engi­neer Tom McCullough, and the other is Force In­dia’s long-time team man­ager, now sport­ing di­rec­tor, Andy Steven­son. The lat­ter re­calls Brun­dle driv­ing for the Sil­ver­stonebased team, in their Jor­dan guise, back in 1996.

“In that year I re­mem­ber Martin was tough to work with,” says Steven­son. “He would put


Brun­dle with Force In­dia sport­ing di­rec­tor Andy Steven­son, an old col­league from his Jor­dan rac­ing days

a lot of de­mands on us be­cause of his pro­fes­sion­al­ism and metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail. It also didn’t help that he hated that car…”

McCullough spots the GoPro cam­eras at­tached to the Force In­dia, one deep in the front wing, the other on the rear. “Be care­ful,” he warns. “And he was right,” says Martin af­ter­wards. “I should have lis­tened to wise old Tom.”

As the front wing, oor and rear wing are in­ter­re­lated in terms of airow, any ad­di­tional de­vices play havoc with the bal­ance of the car and the GoPro in the val­ley of the front wing – in com­bi­na­tion with Brun­dle’s right foot – quickly takes the car around into a half spin while ex­it­ing Brook­lands, re­sult­ing in tens of thou­sands of pounds worth of dam­age. The GoPro cam­era is dam­aged, too.

“I was just start­ing to push a lit­tle bit harder and once you’ve in­jected the rears with bat­tery and en­gine power and you have all that energy go­ing through the sys­tem, it’s very easy to light up the rear tyres,” says Brun­dle. “I can see why driv­ers spin so easily now be­cause you’ve sent that power down the sys­tem and you can’t stop it. So I turned into the slide and it kept slid­ing. In a way, while it was a bit em­bar­rass­ing crash­ing into the nose, I’m ac­tu­ally glad I did it. I un­der­stand what is go­ing on a lot more.

“You can spin on ev­ery lap and any lap; I think in the last years of the nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gine it was hard to do that. There is a sur­plus of torque over grip now and added to ev­ery­thing go­ing on with the steer­ing wheel, these cars are much more men­tally chal­leng­ing. I can now see a skill that I didn’t see be­fore in the 2.4-litre era. With the blown dif­fuser you could oor the throt­tle and drive it out of the cor­ner. You can’t do that now and you have to creep up to the grip lev­els. I re­ally re­spect driv­ers fol­low­ing a Safety Car pe­riod when the tyre pres­sures are low, or half-worn or in damp con­di­tions. I can re­ally un­der­stand the chal­lenges they face.

“The main thing from to­day is the amount of shift­ing with eight gears. There’s a short rev range and I was short shift­ing to dull the power and ev­ery time I needed to do any­thing else I was shift­ing as well. Con­stantly.”

All too quickly, the 37 laps are over and Brun­dle’s run­ning is at an end. But not be­fore he’s played with fea­tures such as the DRS, and per­formed a clutch bite­point nd (see side­bar, p80). You sense he would have pre­ferred a few long runs, rather than these short blasts. He was sufciently com­mit­ted into Copse for one Force In­dia me­chanic to joke: “He’s quick. We should sign him up.”

Not many re­tired driv­ers get the chance to re­turn to F1 ma­chin­ery, and this was a full-blown con­tem­po­rary F1 car, driven at full chat on part of a grand prix cir­cuit. The off proved he wasn’t hold­ing back, and he can al­ways deny it was him: “The only sav­ing grace from the shunt was that I was wear­ing Hülken­berg’s crash hel­met, so it looks like he’s crashed,” quips Brun­dle.

Rac­ing driv­ers. You just can’t keep that com­pet­i­tive spirit sealed up, no mat­ter what era they’re rac­ing in…


The bro­ken nosecone of the Force In­dia VJM08, (left) af­ter Brun­dle put it into a half-spin and the car struck a wall

Al­most 19 years since he last raced in F1, and af­ter three months of in­ten­sive train­ing, 55-yearold Sky Sports F1 com­men­ta­tor Martin Brun­dle gets his first taste of mod­ern F1 turbo power

Brun­dle finds the lin­ear de­liv­ery of the longer throt­tle means the 1.6-litre V6s lack the kick of their turbo pre­de­ces­sors

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