I had the opportunity to do a couple of laps strapped in a 3-seater F1 car, as part of my day at the track driving a single-seater. And I loved it, although the only thing I could think of was “I really hope I’m not gonna crap myself”, for the 2 long minutes it lasted.
The car that would carry me and another passenger to a likely fiery death was a heavily modified Larousse LH93, with the Lambo V12 replaced by a more compact and reliable 550bhp-Cosworth V8 and two holes in the sidepods. And I do mean holes, as there wasn’t much more than that to accommodate human passengers: no seats, no tiny screen to help with the massive rush of air, and barely enough room for me to fit in. Just two holes and a set of harnesses. But what a way to die!
If you read my earlier post about that day, you know that I found the track slightly terrifying. And that was in a puny Formula Renault, driven by a noob.
Driver was Nicolas Schatz, then five-, now six-times French Hillclimb Champion. Here’s what his day job looks like:
Dude has no fear.
As I climbed into the beast, I gave my dad, who had done this a few years ago, a mixture of a “please help me” and a “witness me, shiny and chrome” kind of look. As I was waiting for my turn, he had told me:
“You’ll see, I don’t know if you’ll enjoy it. It’s not something you enjoy. It’s an experience. I’m not sure I want to do that ever again.”
Suffice to say confidence was over 9 000.
It got worse when they started the engine. The deep rumble and the intimidating vibrations came from few inches from my right leg, and that’s not exactly reassuring.
As the driver slowly pulled away, I gradually tensed up, the realization of what I was about to go through slowly dawning on me. And suddenly, this horrible thought, the kind of things only my weird-ass brain would come up with in such situations: “Oh no! What happens if I shit myself?” Try to understand, I was in white overalls, and the vibrations were traveling directly from the engine to my bum to shake up my insides.
As we left the pitlane, I saw the man that had our lives in his hands waving at someone. I remember thinking “DUDE! Don’t let go of the wheel! We’re gonna DIE!”
And then, he went through the gears and entered Turn 1.
This is when I realized that there was nothing in this hole to keep my hands from flailing all over the place. No wheel, obviously, but also no strap or handle. Nothing. Really, strapped as I was, only my core was held in place: my legs and arms were free to move around, and my head would prove to be much heavier than I thought it could be.
At that point, he was only driving gently, to bring everything to up to temp. He had done a couple of two-laps sessions before, but they had to shut the car down between the runs and so everything had to be brought up to its operating window again.
But my scared little brain wasn’t bothered with such technicalities. Because you see, at that point, still warming everything up, we were going much faster than I had ever managed in the Formula Renault. And I was already impressed by the G-forces pulled in that little thing.
About halfway through the lap, he decided that everything was good, and he went for it. And it quickly became physically difficult. Every part of my body wanted to go away, do things on their own. It became impossible to breath in the corners.
After the terrifying forces involved in taking the last corner almost flatout, we got propelled down the straight. Buffeting made it really hard to see anything. But the good thing was that because we were going so fast (around 150-160mph), this didn’t last for long. And soon, we got way past my braking point in the FR2.0. I got livid, thinking that we had to brake from these immense speeds to the apex in a very short distance.
I was not “disappointed”. But again, because braking is so effective, it doesn’t last for long. Turns 1 and 2, on the other hand, seemed to last for ever. Organ-rearranging forces that I had to sustain for more than 20 seconds without a break, my poor head getting flung left and right as we went from one corner to the other, barely lifting off the throttle...
My face was in pain. Have you ever watched olympic weight-lifting? I had the same red, tensed look on my face, teeth clenched in what was more the expression of true physical brutality than fear. That part, the first sector of the track, was the worst.
The driver was going for it, too. As I was just behind the front left tire, I could see it work under load, small bits of rubber flying in the middle of the corners, the sidewalls wobbling in the last corner. Once, in a small be difficult braking zone, the rear moved around a bit, and I watched as he quickly caught it back in line. He was quite literally giving us a run for our money.
Soon we came back to the last corner, and he eased off the throttle to gently come back to the pits. Two laps went over quickly, less than 3 minutes. But I was shaken and stirred, to the core.
This was, without a doubt, the most brutal thing I ever did. Entering the world of Speed and G-forces, I had to leave behind what I thought physics could inflict upon a human being. It really is something you cannot imagine if you’ve never done it.
After the first corners though, I wasn’t scared too much (apart from the crapping myself thing — thanks brain!). And I’m a man who hates rollercoasters. But I think this is different: even though I didn’t have control over anything (including my limbs), I still knew and understood what the driver did, because I had driven the track before. Also, the forces are almost never vertical, like they are going up and down a rollercoaster. So yeah, in a way, it’s much worse than a rollercoaster, but it’s also much more bearable.
And I’m glad I did it. Because now, I enjoy watching F1 that much more. Think about it: the car we were in was uncompetitive when it was new, 20 years ago. And that was before downsizing the engine and adding two more people two carry along. It would get annihilated by Carmen Jorda in a GP2 car. And two laps were pretty much unbearable for me. How tough are these guys? How mindblowing are the forces they experience? I really can’t even think about that without shaking my head in disbelief. I’m not sure I’d do it again, but it’s really something I’ll never forget.
And I get to say I’ve been around a track in an F1 car. Which is sweet.