If you’ve ever gone to a racing school, you’re going to learn one big thing right away: how to drive the racing line. Theoretically, this is the quickest path around a race circuit, so you’ll always want to take it, right? Well, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Just taking the racing line doesn’t guarantee you a win in actual race conditions. Why not? Well, Donut Media has a really easy-to-understand guide to tell you all about it:
If you’re not in the mood to watch a whole video, I’ll give you the rundown: racing isn’t just about the geometry of the racing line, though that does come into play. You also have to factor in psychology, strategy, and physics. The racing line is all about reducing the amount of inertia that pushes on your vehicle.
But the racing line is all about perfect circumstances. It’s a model, not real life. It’s assuming that everything about you, your vehicle, the track, and the competition is ideal. Which is never, ever the case in racing.
Think about it: the way you take a corner isn’t going to be the same as your tires degrade, or as you choose a different tire compound. The way you take the corner will change when you’re stuck in someone’s dirty air, or when you’re about to kick on that DRS. And it’s definitely going to be different if there’s a downpour going on, or if it’s been super hot and one particular corner has gotten progressively more rubbered in.
In a lot of cases, to pass, you’re going to have to take a slower line, not the racing line. To set a faster lap, you might have to take a corner a lot differently than you would during race conditions. And at the end of a tire stint — or at the end of a race, when you’re fatigued — you’re probably going to attack a turn much differently than before.
So, when you’re learning how to drive at a racing school, taking the racing line is probably a good thing. It teaches you how to approach corners and turn into them with speed in mind. There’s value in learning the basics and the ideals. But just like in your daily life, the basics you learn don’t always directly translate to the ideal circumstances. Just because you know, theoretically, how to bake a cake doesn’t mean you’ll do it the same every time, or that you won’t screw it up when you try to bake it 10,000 feet above sea level, or that your shitty apartment oven will heat it right. You learn the basics, then you can deviate from there.