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The Cambridge Dictionary describes adaptability as “an ability or willingness to change in order to suit different situations and conditions”. The reason that most humans are unwilling to change is because over time they build ‘preferences’ about the things that they like and the things that they don’t like. Again, the Cambridge Dictionary describes a preference as “a greater liking for one alternative over another or others”. In motorsport these ‘preferences’ will normally be related to our experience, how we have been coached and trained, the technique and Method that we have built up, and what suits our personality and character (i.e. a driver who is naturally cautious will probably avoid a car with snappy oversteer).

In the normal world being stuck with one’s preferences will not necessarily have a significant impact on that person’s life, but in the sporting world and especially in the motor sport world this attitude can and will have a significant if not career ending impact. As racing drivers we inhabit a world where change is perhaps the only constant in our lives – during the course of a season we have to cope with different tracks, vastly different weather conditions, differences in handling and setup, and sometimes even different cars. Over the course of a season the driver who has trained to adapt rapidly, naturally and seamlessly to different situations and conditions will have put themselves in a very strong position to win a Championship.

We are not always conscious of the preferences we make, as with habits they grow on us slowly until they are locked away in our unconscious as part of who we are. Another challenge is that as these preferences are generally related to what is ‘comfortable’ for us (what is within our comfort zone), and as a result they become connected to our self-preservation instinct (possibly our most powerful unconscious instinct) and as a result they can be quite difficult to modify. How many drivers like to structure training that involves doing something they don’t feel comfortable with? For example, a driver who doesn’t like oversteer is ‘very’ unlikely to want to practice in a ‘snappy’ oversteering car. But what if their car on old tyres has this characteristic? In this situation they will be putting themselves at a significant disadvantage.

As the dictionary definition explains, to become ‘adaptable’ you have to have, a) a willingness to change – demonstrated through your dedication to training and practice, and b) a willingness to change - through a flexible mindset and a desire to leave no stone unturned in your search for performance and perfect execution. The following are a list of preferences (in an order of importance) that motorsport can present us with and how we can tackle them individually on this basis:

Handling (understeer and oversteer) – The first thing we need to ask ourselves is how often does a car handle perfectly or perhaps more accurately how often does a car handle how ‘we’ like it to… to our preference. Some drivers like a neutral car, some like understeer, some like a little oversteer, some really don’t like understeer and some really don’t like oversteer. What we have to understand from this is that if we are at the ‘really don’t like’ level of preference we run the risk of significantly narrowing our peak performance window – we will only feel confident and able to push if the car is how we like it. We also have to remember that when we get into our car to qualify or race we are stuck with whatever the handling of the car is – we can’t come in and change it – this is where the really adaptable drivers thrive. Taking Action:

  • Be mindful of your preferences… how do you respond to changes in setup and handling – do you embrace it or avoid it?

  • How technically proficient are you with an understeering or oversteering car, what is it that you don’t like, why is it challenging and how does it make you feel?

  • Identify precisely the handling/setup scenario or scenarios you don’t feel comfortable with and include them as a regular part of your training until you become 100% proficient across the full spectrum of a car’s handling from terminal understeer to snappy high speed oversteer.

  • You can also use affirmations… “I love oversteer”, “I always get the best out of an understeering car”

Weather preferences (adapting from dry to wet and intermediate conditions) – This is probably one of the biggest preferences that drivers will express, some drivers absolutely hate the wet and others love it and there are a lot of drivers in-between. Possibly, 20% of outings (tests and races) that we have during a season will have at least one session in the wet so its vital that every driver who wants a career in motorsport needs to master wet technique. Taking Action:

  • Be mindful of what you say to yourself (and others) about the wet… the biggest influence over a driver’s ability to perform in the wet is their attitude.

  • How technically proficient are you with wet technique and wet lines, where are the challenges, what don’t you like and what makes it feel uncomfortable?

  • Programme wet practice into your training – if you don’t have wet tracks on the sim run on low grip on the wet line, or visualise driving in the wet. Study and practice the wet until it becomes second nature.

  • Again, you can use visualisation… “I love the wet”

Track preferences – Many drivers will have their favourite tracks and tracks that they don’t like and they are often happy to express their opinions on the matter. The up-side here is that drivers who are going to their ‘favourite’ track will have a slight psychological advantage, but the downside is that drivers who are going to a track that they don’t like will be at a slight psychological disadvantage. Knowing how fine the margins are between winning and loosing this maybe all it takes for a driver to have an above par or sub-par performance. Taking Action:

  • Be mindful of what you are saying to yourself – every time you say you don’t like a track this is being logged by your unconscious.

  • Understand what it is about the track you don’t like, does it highlight technical issues that you may have?

  • In training prioratise that tracks that you don’t like until you feel comfortable with them

Car preferences – At a very early stage in a driver’s track racing career they can get streamed into one particular type of car, be it Single Seaters, GT’s or Saloon/Touring cars and in some cases drivers can stay in these categories for the rest of their careers. But for the majority of drivers there will be times when they have to change their career direction and the type of cars that they are driving. So for all drivers there are benefits of becoming familiar with different types of car to their own, additionally driving different cars will broaden our technical skill base and expand our ability to adapt. Taking Action:

  • Be mindful of whether you think you prefer a particular type of car, do you consider yourself as comfortable adapting to any type of car?

  • Do different types of car suit your style of driving, do you need to adapt your style for different cars and if so, in what way?

  • Schedule different cars into your training until you can seamlessly jump into any car and be immediately comfortable.


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