Eye-tracking goggles reveal how F1 drivers ‘see’ the track

Tootling along in your car, of course you go through all your maneuvers without giving too much attention to what you’re doing. Checking mirrors, hitting turn signals, scratching itches – it’s all pretty much automatic for most drivers.

However, curious about how highly skilled professional drivers deal with fast-changing track conditions, Sky Sports recently teamed up with F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg and his Force India racing team for a little experiment.

Using eye-tracking technology from Tobii, Sky fitted Nico with a pair of smart goggles featuring five tiny infra-red cameras capable of detecting and showing eye movement. Besides offering an accurate view of precisely where the F1 driver looked as he motored around a racing circuit, the collected data also showed Nico’s reaction times to events on the track.

Busy eyes

After analysing the driving data, Sky said the “big surprise” is just how busy the eyes are during high-speed driving. The human eye’s relatively small focal point “makes for a pretty lousy camera,” though the brain’s phenomenal processing skills allow pro drivers to make sense of the rapidly changing situation in the road ahead.

F1 drivers have trained their brain to speed up eye movements between focal points and understand new information more quickly, enabling them to take in and process more information than non-pro drivers, Sky explained.

The video above shows Nico roaring out of a pit lane and checking his mirror in just a tenth of a second, “approaching the shortest amount of time a human can look at something” while processing the related information. Regular drivers typically need at least half a second to do the same thing, according to Sky.

Check out the video for further examples of how Nico deals with other challenges on the track, including taking bends and coming into the pits.

“When you consider all of this, it’s understandable why the likes of Nico Hulkenberg seem relaxed and calm out of the car,” the video’s presenter says. “While they might seem like chilled-out sportsmen, what they’re really doing is saving mental energy for what really matters when the visor comes down on a Sunday afternoon.”

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