F1 builds simulator to trial new race formats


Sophisticated simulation and esports professionals could be the future for F1 to trial and test new formats to create exciting racing

2020 F1 Mugello, Tuscan GP

New tracks and modifications to existing ones could be tested in a new F1 simulator

Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Formula 1 will begin trialling new race weekend formats — such as a reverse-grid qualifying race — from the end of next year, using a purpose-built simulator.

After facing opposition from teams who have been reluctant to trial new concepts, the series is looking to prove them virtually before introducing them to grands prix.

Professional esports drivers, signed to F1 teams, will be used to model different formats, which may include new starting arrangements, as well a reverse-grid qualifying sprint.

The simulations will also be able to and improve current procedures — such as the safety car restart that caused a pile-up at Mugello.

“We’re building a virtual testing environment for sporting regulations which I hope towards the end of next year, we’ll have the ability to test all sorts of things,” said Pat Symonds, Formula 1’s chief technical officer.

“We run our esports series and from that, have a number of elite racers that are pretty good, and they do behave like professional racing drivers. On one hand, we can’t ask professional racing drivers to sit down and run 50 safety car restarts for us so we can analyse the statistics from what happened because they’ll get bored.

“Equally, it’s not correct to do that with a kid in his bedroom because that doesn’t give the correct answer either, as much as we want those kids to engage in the esports environment. But in the middle are the esports racers and they a capable of doing it.

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“In our board room in Piccadilly, we’ve got this fabulous artwork of the start at the Nürburgring in the 1970s, four cars on the first row, three on the second row, four on the third row. To have a look at things like that, you can only do it in a test environment.”

The hope is that it will all combine to produce a better spectacle on track. The 2022 cars will be the first real showing for the data-driven process but Symonds is confident that the methods used by F1 will produce the intended outcome and improve the show.

“I think that we will see that we’re moving in the right direction. It’s taken quite a while to build some of these tools; the virtual testing environment it’ll be late next year by the time we’re really starting to use that and by then we’ll have found things we need to be improving on it. 2022 will be a development year with that, ’23 will be the year when it gives us some good directions.”

Symonds says he is keen to trial new and innovative formats using the pro line-up to test and tweak potential and existing regulations, with typical simulation not able to give a clear indication of what might play out on track in reality.

In addition to the virtual testing environment, F1 is currently working with a sophisticated overtaking model and simulator, with artificial intelligence able to simulate race scenarios thousands of times however it won’t be relied upon exclusively, as Symonds explains.

“To have a look at things like that (race starts), you can only do it in a test environment, you can’t do it physically. You can’t do it just using simulation because it will just tell you the obvious thing if you start cars closer together they’ll arrive at the first corner closer together.

“What that doesn’t give you is are you going to ruin the race because you’ll have nobody left in the race after so many accidents or are you have some exciting things happening on the first lap? It’s a very sophisticated sim racing environment.”

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