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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 17:13 GMT
Revealed: What it is like to drive an F1 car
By David Garrido
Newsbeat sports reporter

Newsbeat has gone behind the scenes at McLaren to find out what it takes to drive an F1 car. We have had exclusive access to their headquarters in Surrey on a crucial day in the quest to build the best Formula One car. Racing starts again in March. We have been talking to Gary Paffett, one of the two test drivers for the team.

McLaren F1 car

How do you become a test driver?

"It was my passion very young to be racing and I started racing go-karts when I was eight. It developed from there. I did eight years of that and started racing single seater racing cars when I was 16 and was very successful. Then I went up through the ranks and eventually McLaren approached me and offered me a job as a test driver."

How do you become a race driver?

"I'm trying to find that out because I'm still a test driver! It's very difficult to be a race driver because there are only 22 positions on the grid and there are thousands of drivers trying to get those places.

McLaren's vital statistics
Number of races - 631
Grand Prix victories - 156
Formula 1 Drivers' World Championships - 11
Formula 1 Constructors' World Championships - 8
Pole Positions - 134
Podiums - 417
Double Wins (1-2s) - 44
Fastest Laps - 135
"I think as a test driver I'm in a very good position. I think you have to demonstrate that you are a fast driver, a very consistent driver and you understand most of the technical parts of the car. Most of all I think it's about being in the right place at the right time when a seat becomes available."

You're also in German touring cars. How does that compare with single seater cars?

"German touring cars (DTM) are different but they are the closest thing to a single seater. It's a purpose built prototype car. I raced for Mercedes in the DTM and it's a series I've raced in since 2003 and I won the championship in 2005.

Gary Paffett
Gary Paffett has been a McLaren test driver for three seasons

"The cars, although they are very different, they are still racing cars which handle fairly similarly. The DTM car is nearly twice the weight of a Formula One car so it's a lot heavier. It hasn't got as much brake horse power but they're not too different and I've been changing from one car to the other for a couple of years now so I've kind of got used to it. But the Formula 1 car is still the most demanding to drive with the amount of G Force you get and the speed you're at."

Have you had any embarrassing moments or crashes?

"I've had a few crashes. Normally crashes aren't that embarrassing because it comes with the job. In testing sometimes you're testing new components that haven't been tested on the car, so it's very difficult to know what's going to happen. Crashes are the thing we really hate to happen and sometimes it happens in strange ways.

Some of the biggest crashes have happened during testing. But things very rarely go wrong these days
Gary Paffett
"In testing, it's something you really have to avoid because you lose so much testing time while you're repairing the car or getting it back on the track and that time is very valuable to the development of the car. So you really have to avoid it as much as you can.

"Sometimes it does happen. Even though we're testing you have to push the car to the limit to find out what the race drivers are going to have to drive. It just comes with the job I guess."

What exactly goes on at McLaren Technology Centre and what is the level of technology here?

"It's the highest technology you will find in motor sport. Everything from designing the car, manufacturing the components and building the race cars. Also, testing takes place in the wind tunnel and the other simulation departments we have. Everything from the birth of an idea to the final production of the car goes on here."

When you are testing the car what sort of things have to be tweaked in order to get it into the best possible condition for racing?

"Most of the work we do is developing new components. We'll have new suspension components, new aerodynamic components like wings or bodywork components. It will be a case of implementing them into the car and the adjusting the suspension or the aerodynamics to try and get the balance of the car right. So the car hasn't got much over steer or under steer.

McLaren F1 cars
Former F1 cars used by drivers like Kimi Räikkönen and Ayrton Senna
Obviously there are technological developments which will have an impact. How do you factor that in when you are testing?

"The traction control and engine breaking has had a big effect on how we develop the car. As soon as we turned off all those toys last year the car became hard to drive. We had to develop a car that was easier for the drivers to drive in that condition. It certainly made our work in the winter a little different to what it was before."

Why does traction control and engine breaking make it more difficult for the driver?

"I think you can relate it with road cars. A lot of people will have driven road cars with traction control on them which means you can accelerate in any conditions you like and you won't spin the wheels or anything. The sort of control we have with engine breaking isn't ABS because that's not allowed but it is a kind of ABS so you can break as hard as you like and the car will be very stable."

How much dialogue do you have with the other drivers?

"The dialogue is sometimes quite limited because everybody has a lot do. The drivers are always away a lot on PR and media appearances. We get to meet up at the McLaren Technology Centre in Surrey (MTC). Sometimes we have a technical briefing where all the drivers and engineers get together and go through everything we have done so far.

"The other way it happens is basically through the test drivers. We report all our data to the engineers, that gets related to the race engineers which then gets related to the driver. So it normally gets passed down through the engineering team."



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