This guide provides you with the steps to take, and what to look for when approaching a new track from scratch!
There is information in every step. The most important thing is that you layer-up and layer-on the information, such that no detail has been missed; and your depth of understanding increases with every step.
STEP 1: Track Map Review
The track map review is one of the most important stages in which you want to identify the following:
1) Which way does the track go, and therefore which tyres are going to wear first?
2) Where is the pitlane entry and exit? Is it a short pitlane, that bypasses some of the track, whereby more than 1 pitstop could be a possibility?
3) General track features – does it look fast and flowing, or tight and twisty. Can you segment the track into distinct segments of similar characteristics, for your memory?
4) Technical Corners: Do you have any double apex, esses, chicanes, hairpins or long corners to note – and how might you setup the car for those corners? In the Malaysia circuit shown below, you should be able to identify: 3 decreasing radius corners, 2 hairpins, and 1 double-apex corner.
5) Where are the DRS detection lines, and where are the DRS activation zones (if applicable)
6) Where is the Safety Car Line, if it is not the start finish line?
STEP 2: Onboard Review
The purpose of the onboard review is to build on what you’ve observed in the track map, and to gain more information regarding the general flow and nature of the track. Find an onboard video online (YouTube, Facebook, etc). You should be looking to get a general feel for the direction and speed of the track, as well as other critical details which you should keep and eye out for. These could include:
– Is the track as-fast or as-twisty as you thought in Step 1 above?
– Are there are challenging areas?
– Are there any risky areas?
– What is the grip level? Does it look like there is good grip? Do you see corners that are flat (full throttle)? Or do you see a lot of locking up / short shifting / progressive throttle introductions, etc. which indicate low track grip?
– Are there any bumps to note?
– What line does the driver take, and does it look correct?
– Which kerbs are being used? And which kerbs are being avoided?
STEP 3: Simulator Practice with a Specialist Coach
Your first laps of the circuit should be in a simulator. This is going to give you the best chance of hitting the ground running once you get out on-track for real. The idea with simulator practice is that you get familiar with the flow, rhythm and timing of the track (for example, the brake and turn-in points, the shift patterns, etc.). You should be trying to find some consistency as you circulate, and develop your coordination of your inputs as you get to know the flow of the track.
This step is recommended to be undertaken with the help of a professional specialist coach. This is an opportunity for you to improve with your coach, who can help you with:
– Your racing line
– Identifying any handling issues and setup recommendations
– Analyzing your data & telemetry to ensure that your inputs match the speed and downforce of the corner, and
– Ensuring that the right techniques are being implemented in any technical corners.
STEP 4: Track Walk
The track walk is an opportunity for you to observe the detail of the track. Here you’re interested in identifying:
– The corner cambers: Lay down on your stomach, and look forward at the corner. Which way does the corner camber?
– Dips and crests: Walk off to the side of the track, and look at the track from a perpendicular perspective (as if a car was to drive past you). What do you notice about the elevation of the corners?
– Kerbs: how aggressive do the kerbs look? Which ones look usable, and which ones look too high? How does that align with what you saw in the onboard review, and what you felt in the simulator?
– Dangerous areas: Are there any dangerous areas? Have a look at the run-off zones, and work out where a mistake would be acceptable, and where a mistake will end your session.
– Track grip level: How does the track feel under-foot if you were to slide your foot along the track surface? What is the aggregate size in the asphalt? Is it a smooth track that might induce graining / sliding, or an abrasive track that may promote physical wear & blistering?
– Racing Line: Is there a visible rubbered-in racing line, which could be slippery in the wet?
– Paint: Are there any white lines, car parks, or painted areas that could also be slippery in the wet?
STEP 5: First Laps
I always recommend taking it easy on the first few laps to assess the grip level and find that rhythm / flow that you were able to find in the simulator. This is crucial in street circuits.
Track time is precious, and mistakes are going to set you back too much time as well as cut your confidence.
If you want to try pushing for those last few tenths, you can do it later-on and in the final stages of Practice 3 when:
– You already have a good understanding of the grip level,
– The car setup has gone in a good direction, and
– The track is cleaner and much grippier.
Keep in mind that if this is Monaco or a street circuit, it’s important that you bring the car back in one piece after every session. A mistake going into qualifying is going to hurt your confidence.
Confidence is key, and building trust with the car and track progressively is the right way to move forward.
In your first laps, feel free to touch the kerbs that you were unsure about in the track walk in order to feel their compliance.
You should also do some long running determine which tyres degrade first, and how quickly, as predicted in the track map review.
I encourage you to be a problem solver when it comes to your line and the car setup. Keep an open-mind, and try navigate and iterate through any problems that you come across.