Really interesting day yesterday at iZone Driver Performance with Michael Claessens, a young Formula 4 driver I have been working with on both coaching and career management for a year or so now.
Based at Silverstone, iZone is essentially a very high tech simulator operation, but founder and renowned driver psychology expert, Jon Pratt, has expanded the offering to coach all key elements that make for a complete racing driver.
These include fitness, mental preparations, media skills and so on, but chief among the iZone principles of performance is a prioritisation of 'vision'. It sounds obvious that vision should relate to the ability to drive a fast lap, but the devil is in the detail. Where precisely are you looking? When? And how long for?
I've told many a client until I'm blue in the face to "look through the corner" and that, "what your eyes see your hands will follow" but you can never really be sure the extent to which the instruction is implemented. Until now...
iZone hook drivers up to a laser eye tracking system using a Google Glass-esque gadget that locks onto the pupil and monitors its movement. With big red cross hairs then overlaid onto a video recording of the driver's laps it provides an astonishing insight into exactly where the driver is looking at every moment, and instantly explains many fundamental flaws in technique that otherwise may be attributed incorrectly to more innocuous issues.
For example, in Michael's case he was struggling with oversteer on the exit of Clearways, the final corner at Brands Hatch. Simulators being the hyper-sensitive buggers they are, this lead to a number of early spins. Normal coaching advice might be to, "be more progressive on the throttle" or, "open the steering to unload the car" - neither of which are the root cause of the problem. The eye tracker instantly revealed Michael was simply looking in the wrong place at the wrong time - specifically not looking early enough at the exit and, once there, focusing his eye on an exit point that was simply too tight.
Implementing improved vision habits is done with the help of a laser point. Taking advantage of the unique luxury afforded by a simulator, Jon would sit at Michael's shoulder while pointing the red laser dot on the screen to indicate where his focus should be at all times. Complemented by a few encouraging comments such as, "Look UP-UP-UP-UP", lines soon noticeably improved, smoothness increased, and even after just an hour or two, significant chunks of lap time were found.
Implementing this for real will of course be a challenge and, just as in the sim, will no doubt necessitate a 'deconstruct in order to reconstruct' philosophy, but having illuminated the topic so powerfully, I have no doubt that Michael will now think first about perfecting his vision before worrying too much about oversteer.