If you’ve ever watched Lewis Hamilton or Kimi Räikkönen blast around the Formula One circuits in Singapore or Monaco and thought to yourself, ‘I could do that,’ guess what? You can.
Virtually, that is. But it’s pretty damn realistic.
ARE YOU AS GOOD AS YOU THINK YOU ARE?
As great as we all believe ourselves to be when it comes to driving, most of us would concede that Formula One drivers truly are in a league of their own.
These elite athletes are surrounded by dedicated trainers and cutting-edge equipment, allowing them to get the very best out of their finely tuned racing machines.
All this means that any hopes of getting behind the wheel of an F1 car and competing on the track will be dashed for that vast majority of us, no matter how good we think we might be.
So, when MAN LONDON was invited to Lets Race, ‘the UK’s most advanced full-motion Formula 1 simulation centre’ just 5 minutes from London Gatwick, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put our skills to the test.
As with any track day, the session is initiated with a compulsory safety briefing. This comes in the form of a video narrated by none other than legendary F1 commentator, Martin Brundle, who guides you through the basics of operating the simulator and the associated dangers.
Once you’re done with the briefing, you will be led into the area that houses Lets Race’s 10 state-of-the-art racing simulators; it’s big, it’s cold, it’s dark, and the route to your simulator is lit with sleek floor level lighting.
BE PREPARED TO BE HUMBLED
By the time you slide into the cockpit, attach your steering wheel, and see the tarmac of Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on the screens before you, you’ll begin to understand the appeal of this experience.
Next is a a humbling 15-minute practice session, in which you will inevitably crash multiple times.
Once you eventually manage to navigate out of the pit, the buzz that you get when you put down the pedal and hear the engine scream or when you feel your back end wobble as you take on a tricky corner, is undeniable.
Every statistic, every bit of analysis, every pointer given to you by your instructor becomes invaluable in beating your best time.
THE SIMULATOR IS A VIDEO GAME ON STEROIDS
Now, there’s no refuting the fact that you are essentially playing a video game. Granted, it’s much more sophisticated than the steering wheel plugged into your console at home, and it uses software modelled on that used by the pros, but there’s just no way even the most advanced simulators can recreate the forces generated when your car spins out at 200mph.
With all that being said, when it comes to the ‘real thing’ – timed laps if you’re alone, or a live race if there are other drivers with you – you will almost forget that you’re in a simulator.
The motion of the vehicle, the movement on screen, and the deafening noise all combine to make it an extremely enjoyable and immersive experience.
Once you’ve completed your session, you’ve let your heart rate settle, and you’ve climbed back out of your cockpit back into reality, you’ll have a new found respect for the top class drivers.
You’ll be grateful for the air-conditioning, and you’ll realise that Formula One racing is hungry work.
Happily, the onsite restaurant, Blacks Burgers, offers a decent range of burgers and a selection of bottled beers, making it one of the few venues in the world that doesn’t have a problem with you drinking and driving.
When you think about it, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that you don’t get thrown around every time you crash.