Stories > The absolute horror to ride in a Formula One car
The absolute horror to ride in a Formula One car

The absolute horror to ride in a Formula One car

Published 2023-11-30 by Peter Ternström

A few years ago I was at my neighborhood restaurant. My second living room - Tabboulli on Tavastgatan. A Lebanese place which served delicious hummus and chicken wings. It was a Thursday evening. Then Alrik Söderlind, chief editor of Auto Motor und Sport calls.

"Can you go to Abu Dhabi tomorrow? There is a new tire to be launched for the 2012 F1 season. With a bit of luck you will get to drive an F1 car at the Yas Marina Circuit!"

The situation made me both flattered and nervous. Why does he want to send me? I'm an amateur. I work with events. I am not a motoring journalist in the class of Thomas Berggren or John Argelander.

"Let me be honest. You are at the bottom of a very long list", Alrik says.

"The top part consists of competent people in the editorial office. But no one can go at such short notice. Fredrik Huldt is in rehab in Värmland. John Argelander is banned from entering the United Arab Emirates. Something happened in 2007. He prefers not to talk about it. Gustaf is inspecting his Lada Niva in Saint Petersburg."

Four days later I'm in the pit lane of the Yas Marina Circuit. And I am wearing something that should resemble a racing overall, but fits me quite badly. Feels like those one-piece pyjamas. I feel a bit silly waiting for the car to be ready.

The car I will be riding in is an F1 car that is extended by about 50 centimeters, with an extra seat directly behind the driver. The engine has over 710 horses and the car weighs only 550 kilos. So it's not a stripped-down toy. This is the real thing. Now with room for two.

To my great disappointment, I don't fit in in the passenger seat. I'm too tall. This may seem a little strange, since I am only 183 centimeters. "F1 drivers are no taller than 170" says a mechanic, as he and a colleague push me into the back seat by pushing full force on my shoulders and hitting me on the helmet with a rubber mallet. After I took my shoes off, it actually went well.

I am now extremely uncomfortable. Legs straight ahead, alongside Lucas di Grassi. Lucas di Grassi is a former F1 driver. He elbows my legs a little angrily to alert me that he needs room to turn the wheel. The rump is further back than the neck. I am thus folded forward in a very unnatural position for every straight Swedish man. When the mechanics also tighten the four-point belt, panic is close - I can barely breathe. Therefore, I loosen the belt a bit and realize that this is not something for someone with claustrophobia.

A few seconds later I hear a mechanical buzz and the engine starts. It's a deafening roar, but not nearly as loud as when you're standing next to it. I suspect that the helmet and the fact that the exhaust pipes are directed backwards dampen the noise a bit. High frequency vibrations from the engine are transmitted through the bodywork to my back and bum in a way I think would be appreciated by most male hairdressers.

Forget everything you learned in driving school with soft starts. When Lucas lets go of the clutch, it happens with conviction and without hesitation. We literally bounce away from the pit and the tires protest by making the same cute screaming sound as a tormented kitten.

Already from the first bit on the track, I understand that this is something completely different from driving a race car. Even if Lucas drives at a warm-up pace, it is terribly fast. The cornering speeds are unbelievable and my head is brutally shoved from side to side. I don't have a chance to brace against the gravitaional forces on the helmet.

Out on the main straight, all hell breaks loose. The car is now warmed up and Lucas pushes full throttle, all up to 18,000 rpm. The acceleration is brutal. The sound, deafening. The vibrations in my back and ass make my face shake and I scream in falsetto. Maybe I should change careers and become a hairdresser? I am now pressed so hard in the back of the seat that I can hardly breathe. Have to really fight for air.

"At the exit of the curve before the straight you have about 60 km/h, at the end of the straight over 300. Then there is a deceleration to 60 km/h again, which takes about 50 meters. The strain during braking is -4G". The mechanic's words echo in the skull. I'm terrified of what's to come.

Now let's recap the situation. Here I am, folded like a pocket knife, in an F1 car with madman Luca di Grassi as driver. An F1 driver who didn't score any points last season and is now relegated to being a test driver for Pirelli. I'm strapped in a forward tilt with a really naughty position in a giant vibrator. I can barely breathe. Soon there will be a brutal braking of minus 4G. I'm panicking and want to get off. Fuck you Alrik Söderlind. I'm stuck in a nightmare.

Then the inevitable happens. Lucas lets off the gas and steps on the brake. Maybe I shouldn't have eased the seat belt to get air. My head comes forward with incredible force and hits the back of Lucas' s seat so hard that I lose consciousness. The eyesight goes dark. I am no longer in the game.

Half a second later or six months later? Hard to say when the lights went off in my head. When I wake up, I have no idea where I am or what I'm doing. My head hangs helplessly against the right side of the car in the extremely sharp left turn. My first thought is "Did I turn off the stove at home?" A few seconds later, however, the brain reboots and I realize my precarious situation.

The rest of the ride is all about one thing. Survival. I try to fasten the seat belt, but I can't. I'm a kitten stuck in a dryer and no one hears me screaming for help. I want to go home. I don't want to pass out again. I don't want to lose control of my ass and shit myself. I don't want to lose myself in front of the world's assembled journalist corps by getting out of the car looking all beat up.

Now I understand why no one in the auto motor & sports editorial team wanted to go to Abu Dhabi. Of course, no sane person wants to be brutalized by an F1 car until their eyes go blank. You will have to pay for this, Alrik. Revenge will be sweet.

Peter Ternström
Peter Ternström
peter@granturismo.org

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