Focus on winning: how sim racing made Verstappen a complete driver

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Max Verstappen will participate in the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans next weekend. This Saturday the event will kick off with qualifying and the race will start on Sunday. The Dutch driver is no stranger to sim racing, as he often visits his simulator between race weekends. In addition, it will be the second time that the Red Bull Racing driver will participate in the virtual event.

Many people don’t understand it when they hear it, but when Verstappen comes home, he immediately dives back into his simulator. Formula 1 drivers are already stepping into the simulator at their teams’ home base to get to know a circuit and find a setup for the upcoming Grand Prix weekend. The brand new world champion will therefore not be so quick to step into a virtual Formula 1 car in his spare time. The driver dives into the cars of other classes within motorsport and takes specific advantages from them.

Besides the fact that Verstappen uses it in preparation, it is also really a hobby. Often enough, the rider can be seen laughing, screeching and roaring on various online streaming services, sim racing with friends. Most drivers prefer not to think about Formula 1 or racing after a Grand Prix weekend, but Verstappen prefers to wake up with it and then go to bed with it again. Yet it does not affect the driver’s focus.

Verstappen does not know the word lose

In an interview with David Coulthard, Verstappen has already gone deeper into the subject of sim racing. The former Formula 1 driver was surprised when the Red Bull driver said he was in the simulator in his spare time. “More racing?” the Scot wondered. Verstappen had a good explanation. “It keeps me sharp and ready to start the next race weekend. I can then look at the setup a bit, but I mainly keep testing myself.’

The Formula 1 driver therefore tries to learn from the people he races. Verstappen sees that the sim racers have the technique of real drivers. ‘They have no experience in ordinary cars, but they apply exactly the right technology. I also see them a bit as a frame of reference. I try to push myself further to be as fast as them. I’m sure when I get into a car in real life I will be faster, but in sim racing they are very, very fast.”

Verstappen also admits that it takes him a little longer to be able to drive at the limit in the simulator. According to the Dutchman, the entire preparation for sim racing takes forty to fifty hours. In his own words, this is mainly due to his mentality. ‘I just want to win. I don’t want to arrive at an event and look like an idiot. It may all take me a little longer, but I’m sure I’ll be faster than everyone else as the weekend progresses. That gives me a lot of motivation.’

Intensity of sim racing helps Verstappen in Formula 1

Verstappen has displayed an excellent mentality throughout the season. In the media, the driver appeared calm and did not seem to be able to be fooled. Anything that was an afterthought was ignored. Verstappen was focused on racing and especially winning. About fifty of the 52 weeks a year he focuses on driving a car in the best possible way. For many drivers it will sound exhausting, but for Verstappen it works.

“I won in real life and also in the simulator I won a lot of races,” Verstappen continues. The single world champion is on a team called Team Redline, with which he drives some sim racing events. Verstappen sees that the intensity between a real and a virtual race does not differ much. “You just go full throttle every lap. You have to take it very seriously. You have to work very well together and listen carefully to your teammates, because sometimes they have a better setup. You also have to keep thinking about the strategy. For example, if you have to drive for 24 hours on the Nordschleife, that is mentally very hard.’

Simracing requires a lot of concentration, especially in the long run. The benchmark for Verstappen is to drive every lap perfectly, so everything is measured perfectly. This mindset of Verstappen during a sim race can also be seen during the Formula 1 weekends. The Red Bull driver is highly concentrated every weekend, but is busy with a lot of things during a race. The United States Grand Prix is ​​a perfect example. Verstappen was battling Lewis Hamilton for the win, but he was aware that Sergio Perez was a key pawn in Red Bull’s strategy. At the same time, Verstappen was clear in his laps. The Dutchman is concentrated, but also concerned with his environment. He keeps track of that every time in the simulator.

Sim racing is therefore especially cognitively very taxing for the drivers. The benchmark for Verstappen is pure perfection and that requires utmost concentration. Racing also relies on muscle memory. What feels good in the car? Where are the braking points? When should I submit? To what extent should I submit? The driver continuously gets used to the circuits and to the feeling in the car. Racing comes naturally for Verstappen, because he always keeps it up.

Verstappen’s untouched muscle memory

However, Verstappen is not diving into virtual Formula 1 cars. The driver shows his powers especially in GT cars. Apparently an unwise choice, but Verstappen defends his preference. ‘I also try to improve myself in my spare time and that helps me in real life. When I get into these cars, I learn a different way of driving in myself. I really benefit from that.’ It is difficult to believe Verstappen’s words directly, because a different way of driving naturally affects the muscle memory. The differences in braking power, downforce and shifting are big, but Verstappen, and also someone like Lando Norris, do make the difference.

For many drivers, even more racing next to the Grand Prix weekends sounds like an outright nightmare, but Verstappen is taking advantage of it. During the season, the Dutchman continuously works on setups, muscle memory and his own focus. Many people in Formula 1 have already said that the Red Bull driver feels one with the car and the cause may well be the sim racing. For Verstappen it is something that works. Racing, and especially winning, is a driver’s hobby and he clearly took advantage of that last season.

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