The Ideal Line
The first in a series looking at basic Formula One terms and expanding on the Glossary.
This week: R for Racing Line
The racing line is the imaginary line on which the circuit can be driven in the fastest possible time. Essentially, the tighter a corner, the slower a driver has to take it but by using all the space on the track the turn can be reduced. Finding the perfect racing line is a combination of the braking point, the point that the driver turns-in to the corner, the racing apex and finally positioning himself for the next corner.
The Classic Racing Line
The classic racing line aims to carry maximum speed round the corner by taking the turn in a single arc with the minimum radius. The apex is therefore close to the centre of the corner as shown below for a simple 90 degree turn. Of course, the actual apex of the corner may not be visible to the driver as he approaches the corner and so it may all be down to judgement and learning the corner rather than actually aiming for a specific point:
Applying the Power Early
However, carrying the highest average speed through a corner may not be the quickest way around a track. With the acceleration available to a Formula 1 car it may better to turn-in later and take a late apex, especially if the turn is followed by a long straight. This means the driver has a tighter turn-in and so is slower through the first part of the turn but as the radius of the turn increases, the driver can apply the throttle earlier and exit the corner with more speed. Speed which is then carried through the rest of the following straight as illustrated before for the same 90 degree corner:
Taking The Corner
The line sorted, it’s time to take the corner, accelerating all the way up to the braking zone. Then brake hard, trying not to lock-up the tyres, simultaneously dropping down to the ideal gear for accelerating out of the turn. Off the brakes again and turn-in to the corner. Now is the most important part of the corner – from the turn-in through to the apex the tyres are at their peak demand for lateral grip and now is not the time to put additional demands on them by accelarating. The driver reaches the apex, perhaps putting the inside wheels on to the kerbs – it’s not a problem though as the weight is shifted on to the outside tyres which are doing most of the work. So past the apex, reducing the steering lock, feeding in the power and out of the corner.
It’s also important to think ahead. The next corner will also affect the apex as it is the exit speed from the latter turn that has to be maximised for optimum lap time. Considering the simple right-handed turn above, for example, if the next bend is a left-hander the driver will want to be positioned over on the right-hand side of the track for it, and therefore a later apex through the first turn is necessary. Alternatively, if the second corner is another right hander an early apex is required.
With a hairpin corner, the apex can be about three quarters of the way around the corner in order to give maximum exit speed:
Finally, it should be noted that the ideal line also depends on the track conditions and the characteristics of the car. A good example is Turn 8 at Istanbul Park were drivers take a slightly wider line in order to avoid a bump on what should be the ideal line. There may even have to be a compromise between the perfect racing line and choosing a line that the driver can better defend from a quicker car behind.