As you know, ahead of the British Grand Prix, I visited the Science Museum in London, where Shell V-Power had assembled the Ferrari F1 simulator, and had invited the media and the Shell V-Power Network of Champions to meet with Felipe Massa. It was the first time the simulator had been in the UK, and Felipe was there to show us what it does and to talk about his work in the simulator ahead of a Grand Prix weekend.
The British Grand Prix may have now been and gone, but with the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend, it’s still as timely as it was back then to talk about the simulator and our meeting with Massa.
In an open Q&A session, we got the chance to talk to Felipe about his time in the simulator, and here’s what he had to say…
On a scale of 1 to 10 how realistic is the simulator to the car?
“I think it is very realistic, but it’s always a simulator, there’s so many things you cannot do like you see on the track – so many things regarding the weather, because it’s not just if it’s raining or not, but also the wind – so many things – it is a simulator, but when you need to work for development I think it works very well.”
Michael Schumacher famously gets motion sickness, is that something you suffer from in the simulator?
“Many drivers have some problems driving the simulator. I had it in the beginning a little bit, but just on the first laps when I started in the first corners, I felt a little bit strange but then it was normal. Even now sometimes when you start the first corners, first lap, you don’t push so hard because it makes you feel a little bit strange, but then it’s fine, but many drivers, they cannot drive the simulator.”
How much time do you spend in the simulator before a race?
“Just before a race I spend 2 days in Maranello (in the simulator), but in total I have no idea – a lot! In one day in the simulator you drive much more than what you drive on the track. When you don’t want to do anymore (using a particular setup) you press the button and go back to the garage and when you want to start again (with a new setup), you just change the settings and you start again, so you gain a lot of time, so for example when you are practising and you need to change something in the car you need to go back to the garage – it takes a lot longer compared to the simulator, where you just change the settings, which is quick and you go back out again, so you are running a lot, doing a lot more kilometres in the simulator compared to the track.”
The simulator back at Ferrari is linked in with the same telemetry data that the engineers have while they are working with the drivers, so it replicates the real F1 garage. While developing the car for the track, they try it out first in the simulator, and the engineers see the same telemetry data as they would if they were on the track – which is crucial when testing is so limited. Many different things about the real car can be simulated, so it’s really important for development.
Formula One is a great demonstration of science – you work a lot with the engineers to help develop the car, just tell us a little about your relationship with the engineers and how you work with them to help develop the car?
“We work a lot with all the engineers on track and in the simulator. We need to understand how a Formula One car is working – when the engineer is talking to us about what is new, what is not, why this piece is different to the other one – we try so many things in the simulator and there are so many things we also try on the track – we need to understand. We know more or less how it’s going to be in the car before we drive it as well, so I think the driver needs to understand every single part of the car and I think this also makes the developing quicker.”
Tell us a little bit more about what a difference these days, particularly with the engine freeze, that a partner like Shell can make to Ferrari.
“Remember in the past that you are testing almost every day – racing the week after 3 or 4 days of testing, and the week after, racing again. So, it is different to the situation now. I remember when I started I had an engine for qualifying, another engine for the race, another engine for the practice, so you were developing things for that session, and now it’s a bit different, you have 8 engines for the championship, you need to do 3 races with the same engine, with practice and qualifying together, so it’s completely different. So our job is even more important to make the development of power, reliability and everything, including the fuel, the oil – that is why the job is even more important now then in the past – we see an incredible job in our development.”
Finally, this season has been unpredictable to say the least, is that frustrating, or do you see it as an opportunity to grab a win?
“I don’t think so, for sure, I’d love to be there fighting on the top of the championship now, but I think when you have a competitive season, where you see many different cars fighting with little difference, it is also nice for the drivers, it’s fun. You’re fighting all the time – the race passes much quicker than when you are driving alone. It’s also much more difficult for the drivers because you’re fighting all the time with different drivers and I think it’s fun, not just for the people watching but also for us.”