The simulator is a key part of the development process across the world of motorsport, but none more so than in the world of Formula One. With a packed calendar, limited track time and the margins for success measured to the thousandth of a second, teams are working tirelessly to try and gain even the slightest advantage. The role of simulator driver is, therefore, critical to the continuing progress at the heart of each team, and racing driver Charlie Eastwood is part of a core team at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team working to secure further success. It has, up until now, also been an extremely secretive programme, as teams work hard to make a jump on the competition.
Charlie is among a select group of highly accomplished racing drivers, including former Formula One driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Anthony Davidson, who are based at the factory, using the team’s Driver-In-Loop simulator. This allows the team to trial setup changes, new technologies and design ideas, in as close to real life as possible. Using sophisticated lidar-scanned 3D track maps and detailed virtual models of the car, Charlie and the simulator drivers can run through extensive testing to understand how things will work for drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in the real-world environment.
The Northern Irish racer has made a name for himself on circuits around the world, and 2022 has seen him competing in endurance events at both Daytona and Spa-Francorchamps. He also currently leads the LMP2 class in the fiercely competitive European Le Mans Series as part of the Pro-Am line-up for Racing Team Turkey. However, it is off track where Charlie has turned the most laps over the past 18 months, working with the Brackleybased champions, helping the team to secure their 8th constructors’ title in 2022 with the W12, and helping to develop this year’s W13 title contender.
As with his real-world counterparts, Charlie’s role of a simulator driver spans before, during and after a Formula One race weekend. He works with the two race drivers and the team’s engineers to fully understand set-up changes and the feel of the car, helping to gain a thorough insight and understanding of it. Ahead of the race weekend, the drivers will have been in the simulator and will have set a baseline for the car. From here, Charlie’s role will be to continue to help making progress. Feedback and data from the free practice sessions will be fed into the simulator, and Charlie and the team work to further enhance the set-up and balance of the car. These simulations allow the team to work through multiple set-up options, quickly and efficiently, and a new set-up can be fully tested prior to any changes being made on the car.
By working closely together, running simulations, and operating with a clear flow between the virtual and real worlds, allows the team to fully understand where improvements can be made, ideas can be tested, and results can be simulated before the car heads out on track. This ensures that every lap during the limited track time is gaining the most relevant data, helping to drive the team forwards.
Explaining his role further, Charlie commented:
“It is amazing to be the simulator development driver for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team. It was a slightly surreal moment, initially, when I got selected back in 2020 but very quickly it became natural, and we got stuck into work to make the car faster. More than anything, it’s an amazing learning experience working with some of the best drivers and engineers at the pinnacle of motorsport, at arguably one of the best F1 teams ever! I try to soak up as much information as possible, and it has had a great effect for my real-life racing, learning more around vehicle dynamics, setup and driver feedback.”