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?
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.
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.
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.
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