My first impression is just how snug the F1 car feels from behind the wheel. I’m lying in the pre-moulded seat, knees bent, looking over the foam-lined long nose in which my legs are resting. The pedals feel both chunky and dependable. Following the slightly disturbing drill of the external starter motor, the extremely delicate 2.4-litre Renault V8 is roared into life. The modern 1.6-litre turbo F1 car doesn’t sound this good, although inside I hear only a faint, constant thumping noise through the silencing radio earplugs.
As the tyre blankets are pulled off and the jacks go down, the chief engineer instructs me by team radio how to get the car rolling: hold the dinky clutch paddle behind the wheel, release it extremely gradually to get the wheels rolling and keep it there while gaining some momentum – then add some throttle and shift into second using the right paddle. As I’m leaving the pits, my heartbeat seems to reach its climax already: I’m driving a bloody F1 car. I take it very easy through the first couple of corners, which include an S-shaped double chicane leading onto the back straight.
After that, time to punch it. I respect the strict directive to “never shift up below 10,000 revs” by whipping it up all the way to 17,000rpm through each of the six available gears. The last 1000rpm and seventh gear are reserved for use by professional race drivers only, as are the button- activated kinetic energy recovery and drag reduction systems. Still, I make sure to shift up only when the coloured light bar on my wheel is completely lit–accompanied by a subtle yet clearly audible electronic beep over the intercom.
The acceleration is incomparable to anything I’ve experienced before. Not so much at low speeds, where it seems to lag a tiny bit – possibly due to the traction control, for guest drivers. But the way this machine keeps raising its speed past 80mph is staggering, most notably through medium-speed corners. It doesn’t feel daunting to get around corners at all, in part thanks to the power steering. In fact, it’s quite comfortable. The ride is far more sophisticated than the rumbling and shaking Formula Renault 2.0 car, for instance. The only ‘distraction’ is the invisible force that keeps attempting to rip my helmeted head off my body as I reach speeds of up to 170mph on the straights.
Braking is more of a challenge.