Ask the Driver ~ by Paul Charsley: Is driver crucial to car development?

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ask the driver paul charsley

There was a discussion on the main page about how much input a driver has to car development. Everyone has the impression that Schumacher was exceptional and “made” Ferrari.

Can a driver take credit for directing the development of a good car or do they just give good consistent feedback but its really all up to the engineers. Do you think the conventional wisdom about Schumacher is true or is it overdone?

Royce Amatique

Hi Royce,

Well, as we have talked about on a few of the podcasts, the role of a great test driver is to be able to replicate his/her driving lap after lap so that the engineers can quantify the changes to set up and new upgrades ( or downgrades depending on how the testing goes) in technology i.e. wings, gearboxes, engine, tyres etc. this job is done by the Luca Badoers of the world.

Now the goal of a racing team is obviously to get the car to go as fast as possible within the walls of reliability, consistency and adaptability regarding fuel loads and temperature changes etc. The engineers can judge, to a degree, if a part works or doesn’t by data and lap times of course, but even in these times of high tech abacuses and slide rules, car set up and development is still what is called a black art, and many factors that can not be seen on a print out can effect the competitiveness of any car. Just look at BMW this year, they made a huge engineering mistake and it took nearly all season to figure it out and fix it.

All F1 cars would feel completely different if you were lucky enough to drive them back to back ( just ask Fisi) so a driver can play a huge part in the direction a team goes in as far and development. The great drivers of this world will indeed ask or demand that the team go to work on certain aspects of the car that they feel will enable him to go faster and for longer (always a good thing) be it aero balance, mechanical grip, high speed stability, low speed maneuverability etc.

All these avenues will take time and money so the better a driver is at picking out these deficiencies, the quicker the car can be turned around or made more dominant. Schumacher did not just jump into the Ferrari and win, it took some time and that time was him working with his new team to get the car better, overall and to his style ,so he was able to go on to achieve what he did.

If a strong willed driver can rally a team behind him he can truly steer the focus of the team to get the car to work perfectly for him, sometimes to the detriment of his teammate (just ask Brundle, Lehto, Irvine)
So yes I do think that he had a big part in development just like Senna, Prost , Lauda did before him.

Thanks for the great question!

Paul

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