Astronaut Tim Peake takes on the Red Bull Racing Simulator Challenge!
Deep in the bowels of our Milton Keynes factory, the simulator room is a valuable asset both for developing the car and allowing our drivers to familiarise themselves with racing circuits and do the bare bones of setup work before getting anywhere near the real thing. It's a professional tool and absolutely not a whistles-and-bells Playstation used for having fun.
...of course, if driving single-seater racing cars isn't your day job, then it could be the most fun, not to mention one of the best experiences, you'll ever have. That's the idea behind the Simulator Challenge. We put people into the simulator and invite them to lap the Red Bull Ring, to see how they measure up against a lap time set by David Coulthard who, not entirely coincidentally, is pretty good on our home circuit, having been on the podium five times and won the Austrian Grand Prix in 2001.
Some of our challengers are pretty comfortable in the cockpit – ex-racers like Eddie Jordan and Christian Horner have had a go – while for others it's been a proper step into the unknown. We were interested to see where Tim fitted into the order of things. He confesses to never having been karting – but as an astronaut (and Apache helicopter pilot) there's absolutely nothing we can teach him about simulators, power delivery or precision control – but how different is it? How does accelerating hard downhill out of Remus in an F1 car compare to blasting out of Baikonur aboard a rocket? Can barrelling through fifth-gear Rindt Corner at 180km/h compare to orbiting Earth at 28,000km/h aboard the International Space Station?
Surprisingly, it can.
"Being here and getting to jump in an F1 simulator – that's definitely the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition," said Tim. "I could stay here all day!"
As a test pilot, Tim's not unaccustomed to spending his days in a simulator – but ours is a little different to that which he's used to, though similarly high-tech. The car responses are authentic, the range of motion is multi-axis and mapped from the real car. The tub is an accurate representation of an F1 survival cell. The steering wheel is very much the real thing and the harnesses tightening under braking to simulate the g-force. The experience is as real as possible, down to blasting air at the driver to recreate buffeting under acceleration.
"It feels remarkably like the inside of a Soyuz space capsule, actually," said Tim. "It's not quite the same foetal sitting position – I've got a bit more room to stretch my legs out – but certainly in terms of left and right, very much like a Soyuz!"