The biggest misconception about racing drivers is that our job involves piling through corners as fast as humanly possible. It doesn’t. I’m not sure many of my passengers would have agreed when I took them for a ride as The Stig, but cornering is about compromising.
In its simplest form, there are three overlapping phases of cornering: braking, turning and accelerating. To plan these phases you must make a visual assessment of the approaching bend to gauge the sharpness and direction of the curve, then plan the appropriate speed and line for dispatching it.
You continuously update your view of the corner, road surface and situation as you approach the braking zone. You squeeze the brakes, release pressure as you turn in, all the time looking through the corner to chase the vanishing point.
The vanishing point is the furthest point of the road ahead that you can see and is a good rule of thumb for matching your speed to the corner. When your viewpoint is extending through a corner at the same rate as your speed, it means the corner is opening with you and matching your speed. If the vanishing point stops moving it means that the corner is tightening up and you’re going too fast.
On the track, we say that the next corner begins before the last one finishes. In other words, we keep one eye permanently on the horizon so we can plan the next turn well in advance and ensure we are driving into clear space. Anticipation is another way we ‘slow down time’.
Taking a corner well depends on a number of factors, but these are all governed by a single principle, which is rhythm. Once you get a handle on the right way to position yourself for a corner, it becomes a way of life. Bad positioning will make the car inherently unstable because it will fight you all the time.
Timing the driving moves closely resembles some of our finest moments on the dance-floor. As with dancing, when you get it right it requires minimum effort so you can focus further ahead.
Racing drivers use the rhythm of a circuit to develop a system that guides them from one corner to the next. We call that system the racing line, and although every driver has subtle preferences, it is a universal language for describing the way to maximize a machine’s stability through a curve.