Like many motorsport enthusiasts, I’d always dreamed of driving a real F1 car on a race track. It was a dream that I never really believed would become a reality, until I heard about iRace. The guys at Lotus Renault GP have created what can only be described as the most amazing opportunity to drive one of their cars and literally be an F1 driver for a day – I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity!
So, last Tuesday evening I touched down in Budapest Hungary to be met by a fully kitted out member of the Lotus Renault GP team who was waiting to take me to my hotel. Dinner followed with a simple briefing on the program for the following day, starting at 6am!
As the sun rises the next morning I’m on my way to the Hungaroring, 30 mins outside central Budapest. The sun is shining and temperatures are forecast to hit 26 degrees – and NO rain, perfect! Just after 7am and I’m settling into the motor home. My locker already has my name printed on the front and a full racing kit awaits me, including underwear! Everything is perfect, even my helmet has my name printed on the side, as does my own personalised drinks bottle and kit bag – very F1.
The first of several detailed briefings followed, first I was going to get some laps in the Formula Renault giving me an opportunity to learn the track and get used to a single-seater with a full down force package. I’d only ever raced Porsches and Daytona karts so driving one of these mini F1 cars was going to be a very different experience – and it was! After about 15 laps it was off to see the race engineer and review the telemetry which was very revealing, a bit too revealing! I needed to be much more aggressive on the brakes, get the power down earlier, change later, brake later and basically go much quicker!!
After a visit to the physio to release all my tension (primarily caused by the race engineer in the previous session!) it was time to do another 15 laps in the Formula Renault, at race pace this time! I wasn’t going to hang about and no longer cared about preserving my tyres or being kind to the brakes, I was going to show that race engineer that I was good enough to be in their F1 car, if it killed me!
The braking was violent, the acceleration was brutal and the corner speeds were incredible due to the amount of down force grip available. A review of the telemetry afterwards showed that I had been ‘reasonable’ and had satisfied the engineers that I would be OK stepping up to the F1 car. So, after another briefing and physio session, I was finally cleared for my F1 drive.
The F1 car is a complex piece of engineering with lots of lights and buttons and NO starter motor! So the next session was all about the start procedure and being fitted into the car – and it is a very tight fit! Feet are practically level with my head and I can just about see the top of the front tyres but I’m assured this is all quite normal.
After lunch, there’s a final briefing then off to do some reaction training on this weird piece of equipment that is basically a steel frame with lights all over it. The lights come on randomly one at a time and you have to touch them to make them go out. I managed 67 in one minute, more than 1 touch a second so I was quite pleased with myself until I learnt that an F1 driver would do at least double that!
Finally, I’m told to prepare for my F1 drive and I can literally taste the adrenalin! The car is beautiful but at the same time intimidating, and its waiting for ME! As I climbed in I could feel the nerves combining with sheer excitement, I was about to fulfil a lifetime ambition – and everything was perfect.
A normal road car ticks over at 1000 rpm and revs to around 6000rpm. The F1 car ticks over at 5500 rpm and revs to 18000 rpm. As they start the car from outside, I blip the throttle and it comes alive, 750bhp from this awesome V10 is now directly under the control of my right foot. As I head down the pit lane, the noise is incredible and it’s about to get even better. Changing down for the first corner the engine is singing, its deafening but somehow not loud enough for me, I want more.
Turn 2 arrives in the blink of an eye, turn 3 even quicker. Now I can put some power down and blast my way through to blisteringly quick turn 4, the grip level is truly staggering. I’m trying to remember everything the engineer told me but it’s all happening so quickly I can barely take it all in. I’m through the chicane before I’ve caught breath and blasting up to the hairpin. Finally, I turn the final corner and the prized home straight is beckoning.
I’ve seen Massa hit 300kph down this straight and I want to do the same, but I’m going too quick to even look! As I change down from 6th to second for turn 1, I savour every note as this beautiful engine sings like Pavarotti! I’m in full control of an F1 car and I’m loving every second. I don’t want it to end, I’m just getting used to this car and what it can do when the chequered flag comes out. One more lap and I’m in, I make the most of every corner daring myself to go beyond my limits, I probably didn’t even get close to the car’s limits!
I roll up to my garage, the grin is stretching from one ear to the other as my mechanics congratulate me, probably for not smashing up their car but all the same it felt good, it felt fantastic! I have spent the day as an F1 driver thanks to those wonderful guys at Lotus Renault GP. Full respect to the F1 drivers and full respect to Lotus Renault GP for allowing me in to their amazing world to live the dream, if only for a day.
Chairman, Daytona Motorsport