What marks out the champions from the also-rans? Is it talent, determination or, perhaps, money? Assuming that top drivers have all three attributes, what else could it be?
Well, they practise a lot, driven by a huge determination to improve. They perfect their driving, increase their knowledge and automate their reactions. Natural talent has to be converted into success through time in the seat. But this is a function of the money available.
There is a short and a long-term aspect to this. Bricklayer Rolf Schumacher put a small engine on his four-year-old son Michael's pedal kart and the rest is history. He started racing at the age of six, so now, at the age of 42, he has been practising for 36 years.
Testing can be expensive, so the trick is to ensure you get every ounce of benefit from it. In a bid to reduce costs, the FIA severely reduced the amount of time that F1 teams test. But the money now gets spent on software and simulators, much to the annoyance of the circuit owners.
The very worst thing to do is to just thrash endlessly around the circuit trying to go faster. The reason is that a driver will have little real idea of where he is going wrong and where he could be improving. What feels quick is likely to be slow, and what feels slow is often the quickest way around the circuit. It is counterintuitive.
The key is to use a "data logger". Sometimes referred to as telemetry, the logger captures data in real-time from sensors attached to the car and/or the engine control unit (ECU). You download and store the data into a laptop after each session, but you will need someone who can analyse that data. Without this information, progress will be painfully slow and therefore expensive. One of the biggest mistakes I see drivers make is to invest in more engine power instead of driver coaching.
The reason this approach is futile is that the big lap time improvements come from the driver's technique rather than engine power. The clever stuff is related to braking, racing lines, cornering and changing gears. The best drivers can win races in any car on the grid because of their superior technique. Everyone drives full throttle down the straights.
The quickest and most cost effective way to improve lap times is to compare your data with that from a faster driver's logger. But this only works if they drive the exact same car as you in the same session.
The data shows exactly what speed and engine revs you achieved over every inch of each lap, where you braked, how hard you braked, where you changed gear. So you find your best lap and, if you are testing in a one-make series where all the cars are the same, you then get to compare it with the fastest lap of the fastest driver.
You can now see precisely where you are losing time. Every time you drive, you will now have a specific goal to achieve. The progress made is astonishing. This is ultimately the reason why all serious young drivers spend time in one-make championships: self improvement.
Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.