While they’ll finally get a chance at the real deal this weekend, numerous F1 drivers have been preparing for the Grand Prix of Europe by running countless laps on computerized simulators.
Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez are among those who have been using simulators to try and get a leg up on the actual Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan before reality sets in and they’re driving on the actual circuit in their cars on Thursday.
“We had a (Baku) session on the simulator, and that’s about everything you can do,” Grosjean said in a media release. “The simulators are getting better year after year, but it’s still not a real race car.”
But using a simulator also provides teams with a few additional options to establish setup baselines and the like.
“There’s a lot you can do with a simulator, which is great, but nothing is as good as being in the car out on track,” Grosjean said. “On the simulator, you can try a few different set-up ideas for direction. You can also try different philosophies and updates you’d like to try on the car later in the year and before you prepare them for actual racing.
“The more experience you have as a team, the better prepared you are for new tracks and different layouts. On the other hand, no one knows what to expect from Baku, so that’s going to be interesting for us.
“It’s certainly a circuit that’s very different from everything we’ve been used to. We’ll have to see how it goes in real life. There are very long, straight lines and a lot of 90 degree corners with low curves. There’s a very high section up to the castle and down again to the last corner, which will be quite interesting.”
Gutierrez agrees with his teammate.
“The simulator has been very important [in preparing],” Gutierrez said. “It’s been quite an experience. Baku is a very challenging track and I really enjoyed it (his time on the simulator). I’m looking forward to getting there in person.
“I feel that it will be a bit more [of a level playing field], but that doesn’t clear the fact that as a team we have a bit less experience overall. That makes it complicated to predict things, because when you have more information and more experience, you can make better predictions.
“It will be interesting to get to know Baku and its characteristics and see where we stand. No matter what, we’ll approach it in a positive way and try to extract the maximum amount from our car at this new circuit.”
Baku is unlike anything Gutierrez has ever seen.
“I cannot compare it to anything,” he said. “From what I saw on the simulator, it’s a completely different racetrack. It’s really going to be quite a challenge, and I think that’s going to make things interesting for everybody. I liked it in the simulator, so I hope it’s going to be like that in reality.
“I didn’t know anything of Azerbaijan before the race was announced, but then I did a little bit of research to try and learn about the country and Baku. I’m looking forward to seeing it and enjoying the area.”
Although this is a new track, and all teams should theoretically be on the same page, Haas F1 Team principal Guenther Steiner says some teams will have an advantage regardless.
“The big teams have more information because they go and get more information,” Steiner said. “Normally, they are better off because they’ve got more people to get prepared. They will always have an advantage, but at a new venue like Baku, sometimes you can get lucky.
“You take the corners and the grip level and you just pick pieces of other circuits, but there isn’t one specific area where you could say, ‘We can do the same thing here that we do there.’ Baku will be a learning experience for everyone.”
And finally, the simulator can be put aside for the real deal.