Article from gradprix.com by Joe Saward on 14 January 2009
Apparently Formula 1 has been using simulators for sometime for testing technical components and this will become more useful now that circuit testing has been banned in a bid to save the teams money. Highly-advanced rolling-road wind tunnels, transient dynos, seven-post rigs, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and computers to "crunch away to work out every conceivable race strategy" are being used along with "driver-in-the-loop simulators" where the F1 drivers sit in "virtual" F1 cars and drive them.
It is suggested that use of simulator technologies in Formula 1 started when teams recognised that they could make money by working with computer gaming companies to create entertainment for the public. The first racing computer game was Gran Trak 10released by Atari in 1974.
The article gives an interesting summary of the history of simulation.
"Modern simulation techniques can be traced back to the 1920s when an American engineer called Edwin Link, who had begun his career as a builder of organs and nickelodeons, used his knowledge of pneumatic pumps and valves to create the first flight simulator" He developed a device which became known as the Blue Box. It was an aircraft cockpit that the pilot sat in and was able to 'fly' using instruments alone - until this time learning to fly in cloud was done in the air and was known to be rather dangerous. The Blue Box produced pitch, roll and yaw motions which were controlled by the pilot. The Army Airforce made the first purchases in 1934 after a number of trainee pilot fatalities, and in the end 10,000 were sold with more than half a million aircrew from different nations using them to train.
The boom in civil aviation after World War II created a greater need and pneumatics were replaced by hydraulics in simulators by the 1960s. They incorporated "six degrees of freedom", which meant that the platforms on which the cockpits were mounted were able to generate roll, pitch, yaw motion plus surge (longitudinal), heave (vertical) and sway (lateral). Visuals were introduced, with the earliest versions using cameras that filmed models of the ground. By the 1970s wide-angled screens with film footage came in, to be followed by curved mirrors and ultimately plasma screens with virtual imagery.
Other uses of simulator included army ground vehicles and automotive simulators use to understand how drivers behaved in different situations. Today there are reckoned to be 1200 professional flight simulators in the world.
Back in Formula 1: McLaren is believed to have spent as much as $40m on its system using technology developed for the Eurofighter aircraft. The driver sits in a full-size F1 monocoque, in front of a large, curved plasma screen. The whole device is mounted on a hexapod which moves around an area about the size of a professional basketball court, in response to the driver's steering and pedal input. Conversely Williams have used a fixed simulator which has been "amazingly cost-effective, with a budget of probably a tenth of what has been spent at McLaren." Apparently Williams can download data from practice sessions on the track to the simulator to try out different set-ups, which can then be tried to ensure the cars have the optimum set-ups