02. Experts Corner

Discovering an Extra Gear in Motorsports

May 18, 2021

Motorsports are all about pushing the very limits of man and machine. As a Mercedes AMG F1 Team Leader Engineer since 2013, I know that a huge amount of time, expertise and money are committed to ensure racing cars performance at their best. But for the person inside the car, not so much. Likely a lot of the success of drivers or pilots comes from them nurturing their own talent. As a Formula BMW race driver myself, I've been searching for ways to find an extra gear of motorsports performance. Here I'll cover why the cognitive dimension of racing is so important, and why discovering NeuroTracker has accelerated my career development.

Honing Performance

Achievements in F1 are mostly earned in preparation for racing. Obviously, a lot of work goes into the car, but the driver is the most important part of the car,, and their preparation is paramount. So on top of all my engineering, I actually focus a lot on ways to develop myself as a driver. Aside from physical exercises, this includes things like simulator training, race video review and track performance stats analysis.

There’s a lot to think even before you start a competition, but one thing that is critical is being mentally sharp and on top form when the race begins. If you're not fully prepared, you're not racing!

Discovering the Racing Benefits of NeuroTracker

As I’m a person who’s very interested in personal development, the first time I tried NeuroTracker I was very intrigued. That led me to look into a lot of the sports science research done with elite athletes. The rapid benefits from training told me there was something potentially very useful here. So I jumped right into using it for myself and quickly started to realize that speeds I thought would be impossible for anybody, became surprisingly achievable with training.  That was a great realization.

One of the first things that struck me in terms of the training transferring to the track, was for peripheral vision awareness when you’re trying to maintain situational awareness. Typically, when you have several cars around you, your attention is constantly overloaded. It’s not simply a case keeping an eye on different things, but predicting multiple racing lines and driver behaviors to anticipate overtake opportunities and threats, or to avoid crashing.

With NeuroTracker training I found that I needed to rely less on actually looking at many different things separately. Instead, I could monitor a whole load of things going on at the same time. The upside to this is being able to confidently push myself harder in competition.

NeuroTracker in the Race Simulator

Not many people realize that race drivers regularly push their cars to the limit, but rarely push themselves physically or mentally to the limit, simply because the risks are so high on the track. Using physical dual-tasks like exercise bike to elevate heartrate is one way to allow me to overload myself both mentally and physically to simulate the pressures of the track and develop resilience under fatigue.

Unlike on the track, I can push myself safely to my very limits, and also it really helps that NeuroTracker scores show when you are actually adapting to these kinds of demands.  This concept led me to experiment if I could get more out of my racing simulator and NeuroTracker training by combining them. In the video below I introduce how I integrated the NeuroTracker training directly into my race simulator application.

Taking Things to the Next Level

This approach follows the NeuroTracker dual-task methodology that’s been studied in research, but in this case, the dual-task is the exact same training I would normally do. The goal was principally to push myself beyond the normal limits of simulator training, but it also works the other way with NeuroTracker.

As you can see in the video it’s extremely difficult, which mirrors research done combining NeuroTracker in a jet plane simulator and live flight. This is why I lowered the number of targets tracked, but again I’m adapting quite quickly with training. It’s opened a whole new real estate for self-improvement that’s highly specific to my performance needs.

One way this has impacted a key aspect of my driving skill, is that I now have the confidence to keep my gaze centered around the horizon of my race line. This is where it needs to be in order to optimally position the car for each upcoming corner - which is why it’s one of the key things stressed in professional driver training. That said, it’s also very difficult to do under the pressures of chaotic high-speed racing. So often you find you just have to focus things around the car.

Leading the Formula Palmer Audi championship

This increased ability to confidently look where I know I want to look, rather than where I feel I have to look, really paid dividends. First on the simulator and then on the race track, I saw drops in lap times as a result of better racing lines. When you dedicate yourself to betterment, yet find it increasingly difficult to keep making strides, it can come as a Eureka moment when you discover a new way to untap your potential.

Follow James Wingfield Racing

I’m really excited to apply this form of cognitive training to racing and take it as far as it will go. If you’re interested in motorsports performance, then you are more than welcome to join a like-minded community and follow James Wingfield Racing. I’m also more than happy to engage in discussions or provide advice on anything I have expertise in.

James Wingfield Racing | YouTube

James Wingfield Racing | Facebook

Lastly, here is an interview I did recently with the NeuroTracker team.

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