f1 driving school
excitement to the power of one
Ever wished that you could be on track at the wheel of a Formula One car like Lewis Hamilton? Well maybe you could be. Jonathan Crouch attends the world's only Formula One driving school.
Driving a fully-fledged Formula One car is something you'll never get to do. Not this side of an extremely vivid imagination anyway. It's a twilight zone reserved for the likes of Sebastian Vetel and Jenson Button every second Sunday. Something you can dream about before bumping back down to earth. So what am I doing here at the wheel of one of these machines, 600bhp under my right foot and an open track beckoning ahead?
There's no room in the cramped cockpit to pinch myself but a quick shake of the head is enough to confirm that if this is a dream, then it's a pretty remarkable one. True, I don't have the 850bhp developed by Herr Vettel's current F1 Mercedes powered Red Bull at my disposal but with a power to weight ratio of 1,200bhp per tonne, this AGS racer is as close to it as makes no difference. Let's get that into perspective. The fastest roadcar you can buy is arguably Mercedes' McLaren SLR and that manages a power to weight ratio of just 350bhp per tonne. In other words, drive an F1 car and every inclination you've ever had to exercise your right foot will forever be satisfied.
And AGS? It's not a familiar name on the current F1 grid but it was in the late Eighties when these cars competed at the highest level, honed at their own test track in the hills above Toulon in Southern France. Today, this is the base for the world's most authentic Formula One driving academy, with the latest hi-tech racecars built on site. The real thing in other words. Groved slick tyres, carbon fibre chassis, thumping Ford V8 and V10 powerplants producing a deafening scream - the whole nine yards. If you want to experience the power of a V10 F1 car, their courses take place at the famous Paul Ricard circuit.
There's also a semi-automatic gearbox with steering wheel paddle shifts just like any modern F1 car would have. If that's too hi-tech for you however, AGS still run a 'Classic' course using F1 cars with conventional stick shifts. Advice on the course from those who had tried it suggested that aspiring Grand Prix racers should be grateful for any slice of modern technology they can get. There's enough to think about at the wheel of this roadgoing rocket without complicating life unnecessarily.
For anything between around 1,400 Euros and, well however many laps you can afford basically, it's an experience that can be yours - if you're good enough. 'Good enough'? Well, you didn't think it was going to be that easy did you? Allowing people to turn up at the Circuit du Var and jump straight from their rental cars into a Grand Prix racer is definitely not on the agenda at the AGS Formula One school. Which is one reason why in twelve years of operation, the school has never had a serious accident. Before you even get to see an F1 car, there are courses to be completed and tests to be passed, all crammed into one unforgettable day.
A thorough briefing you would expect but even so, this one covers even more that you might imagine. From the basics to more intricate techniques. And you'd better listen too because afterwards, your skills are going to be put to the test, not in the F1 car but in a Formula Opel Lotus single seater, under the unflinching gaze of a team of instructors unwilling to risk their priceless machinery in the hands of any but the most competent. Get it wrong in the Formula Opel Lotus and you can forget about graduating up to the Grand Prix car in the afternoon.
Assuming you pass the test and find yourself in the F1 cockpit, the major hurdle to negotiate is getting the thing off the line. Mindful that even Grand Prix drivers sometimes struggle here, I'd had sleepless nights about this one. In the event, all was well but before I'd had time to congratulate myself, my mind was instantly concentrated on the sheer effort required simply to keep staring straight ahead. Which isn't too easy when every part of your body is being dragged backwards, trying to cope with the sheer force of 600 horses dragging you towards infinity. Think that's impressive? Wait until you brake. Someone has described the feeling as like driving into a brick wall. Think that and then some.
Sadly - for you only get six laps at the wheel of this priceless hi-tech toy- it's all too quickly over. Leaving only time to reflection just what it must be like to do this for two hours in the baking heat eighteen times a year. For an extra slice of perspective on this, there's the opportunity to take a ride in the back of AGS's own two-seater F1 car.
If you want to graduate to their F1 V10 race cars you'll need deep pockets with prices currently starting at 9,300 Euros.
If you've always dreamed of driving a Ferrari, a Lamborghini or whatever, then my advice is don't bother. Do this instead. In comparison, everything else on two or four wheels will feel an anti-climax.
To find out more about the AGS Formula One school, you can call 0033-04 94 60 97 00, email firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.agsformule1.com At the time of writing, F1 courses cost from 1,339 Euros for the 'Classic' manual 6-speed cars or from 1,820 Euros for the 'Modern' 6-speed paddle-shift models, but check with AGS for current pricing. There's also the option of a 2-seater F1 passenger ride for 360 Euros.
Accommodation Suggestion: La Romina [5 mins from circuit] 0033-494-734020.