Sebastian Vettel On The Essential Racing Skill

By Tom Martin

October 26, 2016

Formula 1 was recently in Austin, and we had a chance to hear an interview by Steve Matchett with four-time world champion and Scuderia Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel. In it, Vettel talks about the importance of braking. 

We have noticed in working with non-racers and novice drivers that the significance of braking is often under-appreciated. There is a lot of talk about "how fast can it go?" and horsepower and such. When we point out that, actually, braking is where a lot of the passing is done and suggest "your mom can floor it as well as you can", people look at us like we're slightly daft.  

We'll go so far as to say that until you get it in your head that braking is a key skill, you'll never be a really fast driver. But, even though we're in the driver development business, don't take it from us, take it from Vettel:
"You want to brake as late as possible, so you can stay longer at full throttle." 
"The amazing feeling once you start driving a formula one car is the power of the brakes. I mean, the acceleration, yes, there is a lot of horsepower, a lot of torque. But really what works your brain is hitting the brakes: how quickly the car stops and therefore how late you can brake."
"And, also if you look at performance, if you look at lap times, as a driver you can gain a lot of time on the brakes or you can lose a lot of time, so the technique of when you brake, how hard you brake and then how you modulate the brake pedal and therefore the brake pressure, and how you modulate the brake balance front to rear, is very, very important."
"There is a lot of time being gained under braking so you want to be sure that in practice you learn how to brake as late as possible. Usually you stamp on the brakes very hard initially because you’ve got a lot of downforce, but  the tricky thing is when the car slows down and you lose downforce and therefore you have to come off gradually and modulate because there is simply less grip, less overall downforce pushing the car into the ground. That last third spent on the brakes, when you are already turning in, you are deep into the corner already, yeah, I would say that is one of the most important bits in racing."
Now, we will say this is an oversimplification, because there are braking strategies that don't involve braking as late as possible or don't involve threshold braking. But, of course, in a quick interview, Vettel can't tell us everything he knows about braking in every type of corner and under various qualifying or passing conditions. The point stands, though, that braking is "very, very important."