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Vision truly dominates all of our senses - half of our brain’s resources are used to interpret what we see. Interestingly, direct vision and peripheral vision are processed independently of each other to a large extent so let’s look at both of them:

Direct vision (also called Fovial vision) – For racing drivers this provides targets that we have to reach (i.e. apexes / exits) and it also allows us to constantly measure the distance to those points like a laser range finder – looking at our precise apex when we are braking is essential for our autopilot to calculated where and how hard to brake, and where to turn in. The same applies on the exit where seeing the exit early allows our autopilot to calculate the precise point to apply power. So why does our centre of vision have a higher resolving power than our peripheral vision? Well, it’s all about the number of neurons (cells in the brain) that process and transmit information through electrical and chemical signalling. There are many more neurons in the visual part of the brain dedicated to processing each visual degree of space at the centre of our vision, compared to the periphery.

Peripheral vision – This is the area of vision 3 degrees outside our central vision that we use to see items directly in front of our eyes. Peripheral vision can be described as everything you can see just outside of your direct line of sight, it connects to a unique circuit in the brain linked to the control the following:

  • Movement

  • Emotion

  • Balance

  • Attention

  • Decision making

The human brain can be broken down into three levels when it comes to processing information from the outside world—visceral (that which connects deeply to our body), behavioural and reflective. The visceral level is the most primitive, ancient and simple part of the brain and responds to sensory information, whereas the other levels are more related to the things we learn and experience. Peripheral vision is part of the visceral level of perception, referring to unconscious or emotional reactions that are more instinctive in nature. That information picked up in your mid and far peripherals actually travels to your brain up to 25 percent faster than the information picked up in your central vision – this is probably due to its connection to the fight or flight and self-preservation instinct. Other interesting facts:

  • Adrenaline enhances our peripheral vision – As an evolutionary byproduct of the adrenaline triggered by our fight or flight instinct, this temporarily improves our peripheral vision.

  • Anticipation and reaction time - Because those targets in your peripheral vision aren’t in your main focus line, your brain needs to react to them much more quickly. Luckily, our brains are already hardwired for that act because we use our peripheral vision all the time!

  • Balance – Peripheral vision plays an important role in your balance. Up to 20 percent of those peripheral nerves help you stay upright, which is crucial in sports.

  • You have more time – With the 25% faster processing that we get from our peripheral vision the track can appear to slow down (interestingly this slowing of time is what we experience when we are in the zone) and because that information is being sent to your brain faster, objects become more visible. You’re able to track events more efficiently without moving them to your central line of vision.

There is also a third form of vision and that is:

Tunnel vision - Many believe that developing strong “tunnel vision” is the best way to concentrate on what is unfolding in front of them. Unfortunately with tunnel vision, you’re ignoring your peripherals and focusing solely on the events in your direct line of sight and in many instances, that tunnel vision can hinder your performance by limiting what you see. For racing drivers this can happen when they over-focus on braking points and apex kerbs, it can also happen in race situations where focus gets fixated on the rear of the other car and awareness of corners can be lost. High stress situations can create tunnel vision, or more correctly we lose peripheral awareness in high stress situations.

Good peripheral vision is seen as an essential part of most field sports but it is a commonly overlooked attribute in motor racing. If we think about it we use peripheral vision in the following areas:

  • Positioning the car and looking in – On the approach to a corner we have to position/maintain the car on the white line whilst looking into the apex. In fact, poor peripheral vision makes it very uncomfortable to look into corners early.

  • Braking markers – It’s important to be able to see your braking markers (if you use them) in your peripheral vision.

  • Managing the apex kerb – When you look up to the exit you transfer the job of making your apex from your direct vision to your peripheral vision, if your peripheral vision is poor you have to look at the apex for longer affecting your ext.

  • Complex racing situations – Good peripheral vision is important for managing race starts and multi-car race situations.


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