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INTERVIEW

"Fans want Heroes, not Computers"

In regular street traffic, driver-assistance systems are becoming increasingly important—in racing, however, the majority are forbidden. Despite this, safety systems are continually improving. The former Formula One driver and now DTM racer Timo Glock talks about the advantages and disadvantages of software and electronics in the cockpit.

Interview Tino Scholz  

Mr. Glock, when you’re not racing, do you use driving assistance systems in your regular everyday car-lane assist, braking assist or the parking aid?

Of course I do, these systems are components in almost every car these days. I usually turn off the lane departure warning, but otherwise the systems help in situations where you might have overlooked something. They increase safety in everyday traffic and make a lot of sense.


And in racing? Suppose you were millimeters away, tire on tire, with a rival during the last lap of the DTM season and the brake assistant suddenly tells you that your driving is too dangerous. Can you imagine that?

You really have to clearly differentiate between the two. In regular street traffic, these assistants are undoubtedly appropriate—but they have absolutely no place in racing.

 

Why is that?

In racing it’s the drivers who make the difference and decide that sort of duel, not computers. Racing stands for emotions, excitement and action. And that all results from one driver taking more risks and another fewer. If we let computers make those decisions, racing would lose its appeal. The action on the course, driver versus driver: these are moments that are very emotional, they’re fascinating. People want heroes, not computers.

Photo: Getty Images (left); BMW (right)

Even if it would considerably increase safety in motorsports?
Safety is the highest priority, even for car racing. But motorsports are fundamentally different from street traffic. First, we racers don’t have to deal with oncoming traffic, which already reduces the danger of an accident quite a bit. Second, we’re trained and qualified to reach the highest levels of sporting achievement. On the racetrack, you’re a completely different person, highly focused for the race’s duration. It’s about pushing your limits but always maintaining control of the vehicle despite this.

 

Jean Todt, a former Formula One team manager and current president of the International Automobile Federation, could imagine electronic driving assistants being used in motorsports because society is also changing. 
I see it differently. Our racing cars have become much faster and more complex over the past years and safety has had to increase accordingly. However this increased safety has been mainly focused on the track itself, the boundaries, the course of the track and the run-off zones. A lot has been accomplished in this area in the past years. But of course there have also been continuing deliberations about how to make the cars themselves safer. What’s important is that we can trust the technology.

 

Is that the only way top performances are possible?
A person can only take risks when they can rely on the safety. After all, we’re pushing our limits for up to seventy laps: the driver is continuously subject to enormous centrifugal forces, and the strain is huge since the car is running in its maximum range. In addition, there is extreme heat in some races.

 

Yet accidents can never be ruled out.
Of course danger is always present. The forces acting on a driver who crashes into a guardrail at 200 kilometers an hour are naturally immense. When a Formula One car “lifts off” into the air at high speed or when an accident sends parts flying across the tarmac, it looks spectacular. But even after these sorts of crashes, drivers often emerge from the cars without serious injury. This shows how sophisticated the passive safety systems in the cars are, how well they can mitigate the consequences of a crash. Safety in races doesn’t necessarily require active systems to help prevent accidents.

 

In your opinion, how have the risks of racing changed over the past few years? Which effective measures have increased the protection for drivers?
As I see it, the cars and the tracks have become much safer over the past fifteen to twenty years, not just in the past five. Bigger steps were taken a long time ago: for instance the cars’ monocoques [body and chassis as a single unit] were improved and investments were made in course safety. Yet all of this cannot rule out that there will always be accidents that you cannot predict.

 

What differences have you noticed in your career so far between Formula One and DTM?
One difference that you repeatedly see is the driver’s head. This is currently the most vulnerable area in Formula One, if you want to put it that way. But steps are being taken. Starting in 2018, for example, the Halo hoop guard is going to be used in the cockpits.

 

Is DTM safer than Formula One due to the closed body of the vehicle alone?

In this respect, a DTM car is somewhat safer, yes. DTM cars are also a bit slower and heavier, which lessens the dangers somewhat. Despite this, anything can happen, and in the worst case, you can fly through the windshield at high speed.

Athletes are generally a bit hesitant when it comes to change. Numerous Formula One drivers haven’t managed to make the transition to DTM. Why do you think that is?
DTM has repeatedly shown over the past years that drivers coming from Formula One or from other Formula sports generally have a more difficult time being fast in a DTM car. They are still fast, but most are missing the last three-tenths. I notice it for myself as well, because the driving style isn’t the same and you have to handle the car differently. That’s the main problem, which really takes a lot of time to fix.

 

What are the biggest differences between Formula One and DTM?
The cars are heavier, the tires aren’t as good and have lower performance. You have to drive in a completely different way and that’s probably the biggest difference to Formula One.

 

Do racers need to be specially trained in order to cope with all the demands of the sport? You have to pay attention to the other drivers, develop a strategy for the race, stay in contact with the box—and all of that at high speeds. How do you do it?
The difference between a racer and a “normal” driver is that the racer has the ability not only to drive the car at high speed, where you are always driving at the limit, but also to think about other things, too. It’s not all that difficult. It’s probably this talent that ultimately makes all the difference.

 

It’s also a talent that may soon no longer be needed. There are abstract ideas about a racing series in which computers drive against other computers. Would you watch something like that?
That’s like a nightmare for a racer. I don’t think that people would actually sit in the stands and watch something like that. Maybe I’m completely wrong. But that’s something for the future.


Personalia

 

My name ...Timo Glock.

 

My age ...35.

 

My first car ...was a BMW 316 compact. But it wasn’t really my car, I was just allowed to drive it now and then.

 

My first winning race ...was in a kart in Belleben, Saxony-Anhalt. In 1998. The first circuit race was in Hockenheim in 2000. That was a very cathartic moment.

 

My first formula one points ...were in 2004, during my very first race in Canada. It was nuts. Really, in the car I was driving for Jordan it wasn’t possible. But in Montreal, towards the end of the race four cars were disqualified, and so I ended up being seventh instead of eleventh. 

 

My transfer to DTM in 2013 ...was a very positive thing for me because it was a completely new challenge, going from a Formula One car into a DTM car, and still is. There were many before me who may not have failed, exactly, but had a difficult time of it. It was a big challenge, but I’m still having a lot of fun with it.

 

My job as a TV-Expert ...is also a lot of fun since I’m getting to know Formula One from the other side. For years I was behind the wheel and now I’m in front of a microphone. It’s a cool experience.

 

My future in Racing …is something I want to keep open. Let’s see how long DTM and motorsports still fascinate me. I don’t have any set plan and I don’t have any self-imposed limits.