Does Sim Racing make F1 Drivers Faster?

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In a quote last month, Johnny Herbert claimed that Lewis Hamilton’s results are due to his lack of sim racing experience. Is this true? And what does sim racing actually offer F1 drivers?

Image credit: Mercedes Benz Group Media Formula One

It’s no secret that the once dominant Lewis Hamilton is struggling in this new era of Formula One racing. For the first time in his career, 2022 was a winless season for the seven-time champ. With George Russell alongside him at Mercedes, he is no longer looking like an unbeatable force.

Last month, a pair of Sky Sports F1 pundits decided to comment on the racer’s current lack of success. Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert both recently claimed that Hamilton is losing the outright pace he once had. But it’s the latter that believed he knew why.

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Johnny Herbert claims Lewis Hamilton lacks the simracing sixth sense of other F1 drivers. Image credit: Newspress

Chatting with the Evening Standard last month, Johnny Herbert spoke about Hamilton’s lack of pace. In the interview, he determined this was due to his lack of a sim racing “sixth sense.”

“The biggest difference now is that the majority of the young generation of great drivers on the grid have something that Lewis has never been comfortable with […] which is the sim stuff. It adds a sixth sense”
Johnny Herbert explaining Lewis Hamilton’s lack of recent results

It is certainly true that those at the front of the Formula One field today are mostly involved in sim racing. However, claiming that Briton’s lack of prominence in sim racing is to blame for his poor results may be jumping to conclusions. So how can F1 drivers actually benefit from sim racing?

Sim Racing F1 drivers​

The older F1 drivers such as Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso may not publicly show sim racing much love. But, younger competitors like Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris have seemingly become figureheads for the hobby.

Early on in his career, Norris grew his following through his Twitch streams and online racing accolades. This continued throughout the 2020 lockdown when fans of the sport fell in love with the so-called Twitch Quartet. The McLaren driver often joined Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon in various sim racing titles.


Today, this trend has mostly died out as Formula One is filling drivers’ calendars once again. Norris does the odd event with his content creation company, Quadrant but the remaining three of the quartet are now unseen in sim racing spheres. One driver that has remained faithful to the art of virtual racing is Max Verstappen.

The Dutchman now owns an esports team, managed by the Redline organisation. He frequently joins this setup for major endurance races on iRacing and even took part in Le Mans Virtual this year. Whilst vocal about the many flaws of the hobby, the two-time Formula One World Champion’s passion is clear to see.

Calming Benefits of Sim Racing​

He is certainly passionate about the online competition of sim racing. During an interview with David Coulthard after winning his first World Championship, Verstappen claimed that sim racing is his way of relaxing.

But what does Max Verstappen actually get out of sim racing that he can use in his full-time job of dominating F1 races? And could Lewis Hamilton copy Max’s strategy to find the pace Herbert so clearly thinks he’s missing?


In this same post-Abu Dhabi 2021 interview, Max claimed that he feels sim racing helps him to push himself. Be it by watching what his Team Redline teammates do or by working on setups, he suggests that the fact of pushing himself to find speed on the sim gives him the motivation to push harder in his Red Bull F1 car.

Verstappen also frequently mentions how sim racing enables him to stay focused and, more importantly, to stay sharp. This was the main attraction for drivers joining the sim racing world during the pandemic and ensuing lockdown in 2020. Whilst they don’t learn new ways of driving from competing in the odd online contest, they can stay that little bit sharper between racing events.

So ultimately, saying one loses real-world speed by not frequently driving in-sim is perhaps inaccurate. However, what certainly is true is that sim racing allows F1 drivers to stay focused. This means that despite a week’s break as has been the case with the cancellation of the Imola GP, a sim racing-versed driver will jump in the car in Monaco without wasting laps to get in the zone.

F1 Driver Race Craft​

Elsewhere, with competition being so even in sim racing, we are often forced to pull off daring overtakes. Race-long wheel-to-wheel battles are far from uncommon in virtual racing so race craft is a big part of the hobby. If you can’t fend for yourself in a side-by-side situation, you won’t get results online.

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Sim racing can help drivers practice race craft. Image credit: EA Sports

Surely with opportunities to dial in one’s race craft rare in the real world, this may be one of the largest benefits F1 drivers can get from sim racing. Verstappen and Norris are certainly two of the most impressive drivers to watch fight on-track. Whilst many will call in to question the moves this pair makes, no-one can deny the skill on show to place their car to perfection at all times.

Even the dubious lunges seen between Verstappen and Hamilton in the infamous 2021 season would have required immense skill. To be as late on the brakes as possible without over-shooting the corner is impressive. But to be able to do that seemingly every race may just mean that the experience of pulling off similar moves online helped the Dutchman out.

It’s great to see that F1 drivers are joining the sim racing party as it allows fans to compare themselves against their idols. Furthermore, seeing world class names competing online brings credibility to the industry. Whilst there are clear benefits for real world racers to join the virtual ranks, one mustn’t confuse this with a total transferability of skills from one form of racing to the other. Much like horse riding isn’t the same as MotoGP, F1 isn’t the same as switching on the F1 game.

Do you think F1 drivers benefit from sim racing? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!
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About author
Angus Martin
Motorsport gets my blood pumping more than anything else. Be it physical or virtual, I'm down to bang doors.

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True! Hamilton has less ability to adapt to a new car, thing that sim racers do everydays.
 
"Much like horse riding isn’t the same as MotoGP, F1 isn’t the same as switching on the F1 game."

Might not be the same, but it might be a little bit closer than horse riding is to !MotoGP
 
Nope. By the time a driver is F1 level, they are probably as fast as they are going to get. They have had years of top level teams evaluating every move they make in a car. Even the sim they use for training is different from the sim we play with.

People point to Max. Lando and Charles as how the younger generation is using sim to enhance their skill. Nope, they are just having fun.
 
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Premium
I assume Johnny Herbert is talking about race engineering simulators and not the toy simulators we play with.
 
No, the drivers already have learned all the technique and craft they needed to learn in the 15 years prior to F1 and first 3 seasons in F1. That said, simracing helps them to keep sharp, to keep their edge in long periods without real racing. Simracing can also help them with racecraft, because the more people you race you have a bigger database in your brain about what people statistically tend to do in very edge cases, that may give them a very slight edge to non simracer drivers. It may give them a slight edge with setup work and adaptability, but at that level every single driver is almost maxed out at every skill of their craft. Those guys are the elite of the elite.
 
Sim racing will not make them faster, but it may make them quicker. For the past 25 years many RL race drivers have stated sim racing helped them learn tracks, especially street circuits where practice time is quite limited. And this aspect is particularly useful for F1 since their tracks are scattered all over the world; a driver will learn the car from possibly thousands of laps at the home test track, but may have less than 100 laps to learn a track just before a race.
 
I assume Johnny Herbert is talking about race engineering simulators and not the toy simulators we play with.
People often overestimate the professional grade simulators.
Pro sims, commercial sims, they all function on the same basic principles.
The only difference is the custom physics and gigantic hydraulics.
But they both share the same fundamental flaw - they can't replicate the real G forces and above all, the FEAR factor.
That's why it will never be the same, and that's why there will always be racers that don't like sims.
Even Schumacher didn't get along with it, and I kinda dig that.
You can have the greatest equipment in the world, but without fear, your mindset and driving style are completely different.
 
Premium
Yes,
No,
Maybe!

I think it very much depends on the driver and how they decide to use sim racing. I don't think there is any way to judge how they would impact a particular racer.

It might help one to learn a track, or to get familiar with some other characteristic of driving. Another driver might find it messes them up. Another might use it to test out ideas in a less hazardous environment. One might do it just for grins and have no impact.
 
Premium
Betteridge's law (of headlines) is an adage that states "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." The sweeping generalization refers to the poor journalistic practice of writing sensational headlines in the form of a question in order to compensate for the author's lack of facts.
 
Premium
The Metla law of headlines is if its a real world consideration then the combined might of Racedepartment forums is the last place I'd ask...

This sweeping generalisations relates to the great unwashed knowing everything and nothing all at the same time and willing to be vocal about it.
 
No, the drivers already have learned all the technique and craft they needed to learn in the 15 years prior to F1 and first 3 seasons in F1. That said, simracing helps them to keep sharp, to keep their edge in long periods without real racing. Simracing can also help them with racecraft, because the more people you race you have a bigger database in your brain about what people statistically tend to do in very edge cases, that may give them a very slight edge to non simracer drivers. It may give them a slight edge with setup work and adaptability, but at that level every single driver is almost maxed out at every skill of their craft. Those guys are the elite of the elite.
I fully agree. I don't think they are learning new stuff in terms of actual racing.

I do however think the race craft is as real as the real thing, like you said.

So it probably helps keep you sharp to a degree but to claim Hamilton is slower just because someone else had simracing is kinda bold.
 
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Hamilton is slower because he's aging.

It does seem the simulator is keeping Daniel Ricciardo out of a job though. Apparently he's not fast enough in it compared to Max and Checo.
 
I agree that simracing can keep the drivers sharp, especially with all the restrictions on seat time they now have, also I agree very usefull for learning the layouts of new tracks prior to actually racing there in anger.

Is it the "reason" Lewis is slow, nope. As some have mentioned his age will slow him down slightly (although everything I knew about age and reaction times was destroyed when Button got the world record for that reaction test!). But the main reason he's not as successfull now is the car, when he was winning he didn't Sim and when Max was not winning he still simmed. The only difference is Max now has the better car, nothing to do with his simming.
 
I don't think sim racing is going to help with their skill base. What it's going to do is let them practice race craft and experience lots of situations that may only happen once in a lifetime in the real world. They get to drive along side people with lots of experience, little experience, people who will do things that aren't expected. They get to see driving behaviour and build up a lot of experience.
I'd say that sim racing is like learning race theory, it's getting to experience lots of situations without the cost or time or money that goes into doing it in the real world.

It may only add 0.1- 0.2% of an advantage to any real world situation, but at pro level sports 0.2% of an advantage is the difference between winning and losing.
 

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