Visual field

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The eyes are the most important organ used in driving. We get the hang of applying the pedals and steering quite quickly, but it's the eyes that orchestrate the whole thing into perfection, co-ordinating our hands and feet. Eyes can even perfect driving smoothness, which is essential in all motorsport. In fact, every sport is lead by eyesight. Where to look? Five feet ahead? Ask an instructor or most race drivers really and they will tell you to look up and far ahead, right? Wrong! While it is true that you should look up, you do not always simply look into the horizon. We must understand human vision, understand the steps a driver goes through on the track and than learn not only where to look towards and how far, but first of of all how to look.


Focused vision and peripheral vision

The human eye has two kinds of vision: The Foveal vision that offers a small area of focus where we are able to notice details, and a peripheral vision which is a very wide field of vision where we can notice colors, rough shapes, sudden movements and distances. The idea is to use both sorts of vision for driving, unlike what we do when reading a book. The way to do this is to relax the eyes and allow them to take in a wider field of vision.

Now, we need to utilize our vision for the right tasks. Since our foveal vision offers the capability to notice details, we must use it to plan our path over the road ahead. Planning can only be done based on details. In order to maximize our ability to plan ahead, we need to lift our focus towards the further point of road ahead, so we are able to plan as early as possible and be as far ahead of the car as possible. Our peripheral vision will be entrusted with the midrange and mainly with our timing of the driving actions: When to steer, where to brake, how hard, etc. In complex situations, like bends or heavy traffic, a more complex eyepath should be used, where we might choose to scan the road up and down, or apply a more complex technique around bends.

The driver must keep his eyes up and relaxed, even if visibility is not perfect. A good seating position helps in keeping a broad visual field. Vision effects the following aspects of driving:

  • Driving smoothness: If you look at your immediate vicinity, you will have to make constant and dramatic corrections. The further you look, the smoother you are.
  • Speed: As speed increases, the driver will find it more and more difficult to keep looking at a narrow visual field. The faster you go, the further you need to look. Therefore the further up are your eyes, the faster you will be going.
  • Bend assesment: When looking into a corner, one can focus on the edge of his visual field going into the corner. As he approaches the corner, this seems to unfold. The driver should keep a constant pace of this effect, not gaining nor falling behind the visible edge of the roadway. vision helps in bend classification and the recognition of problematic locations and slopes.
  • Racing line: As you will learn, track racing depands greatly upon your driving line through the track. The utilization of the visual field can help in judging different lines and finding the correct line. Most drivers turn-in too early, partially because they are looking straight ahead rather than slightly sideways into the corner.

However, one must not over-estimate the importance of vision. A correct utilization cannot and will not make up for a lack in practical knoweldge about grip, weight transfers and car dynamics, and skills of steering, braking, accelerating, declutching and shifting, or an understanding of driving lines. Relaying on looks alone is never good, and will result in poor driving lines, bad corner prioritization, potentially imperfect steering habits. In the particular event of the car losing grip and skidding, a driver reacting to the visual effect would be in some aspects, passive, and will make a late and usually wrong correction, and often would not take out the the corrective inputs in time, because a skid is felt as it is going in and out, before it is seen. In spite of this, eyesight still consists of over 60% of your driving sense, and not learning how to utilize it correctly would make this whole driving guide greatly ineffective. If we again adopt the example of a car skidding, one needs to feel the slide going-in and out, and correct as nesseacary but, if the eyes are not focused on the correct direction, the correction is usually doomed to fail.

The rule of thumb is to "look where you want to go", rather than where you are or where you are going to. This means two things: In corners, looking into the corner, through it and far past it, even if means looking (with the whole head) through the side window. This also has the benefit of reducing the effect of the side forces on your neck, especially in Single-Seaters. If the eyes are facing forward, the mind is fooled into thinking that we are still moving straight. This is a lead cause of early apexing and too fast a corner entry. In general, it also means that you should always look far ahead rather than close. Looking further ahead will make your actions more accurate and smooth. Head and eye movements should also be made smoothly, to the same end. You look through corners as windows and through reference points as if they were "ironsights".

When we see the corner ahead, we take a quick peek through and around it, towards the area of the track that follows it. This allows us to estimate the bend much more accurately, because we can asses it's circumference by the length of our visual field through the bend. By now we would need to brake. The important thing is not to look for a visual marker to brake, but rather look ahead to our turn-in point. As we get closer to our braking point, we shift focus to the apex marker and drive through the turn-in with our peripheral vision. Before we even hit the apex, we shift focus to the exit and before reaching it we shift focus to the straight. As a starting point, shift focus from turn-in to apex just before you downshift, and from apex to exit just as you finish trail braking.

The idea, is to be a few steps ahead of the car. The way to do this is to look far ahead, recognizing the bend beforehand, seeing all of it and past it. Than, as you approach it, always look one or two reference points further than where the car is about to reach, looking through the other points through your periphral vision. You should be able to draw an imaginary line in which you want the car to travel, just a bit before entering the corner. The further from the corner that you can draw that line in your mind, the better is your use of the visual field. Also, the faster the corner, the more field (and reference points) must your periphral vision cover, especially if you engage a set of successive turns.

Here's a summary by Rem Samuel on this technique:

Racecar drivers devolop a very focus sight, "Laser Sight." Vision leads driving and shapes it. If we look at where we are naturally going we will go along with the car like we go with our lives. However, if we develop a "laser sight" focused at the point on the track or road in which we want the wheels to go, chances are we will do the right actions in the right time to get there, and will usually get there. If not, we could undergo a process of learning how to get to it next time.
Having acquired the skill of looking ahead in one corner, what do we do with a set of corners? The correct course of action is to look up to the next target, just as we finished planning and taking measures to conqure the reach the current target. This can be demonstrated nicelly regardless of driving: Take a bowling alley with six lines, each with a different amount and set of pins. You have 30 seconds to knock down as many pins as possible. Assuming it takes you 3 seconds to aim, 2 seconds to throw and 2 more seconds untill the ball hits -- you could easily deduct that if you always wait and see when the ball hits the pins, you will run out of time too soon.
The same applies for driving. Once we have concluded the point on the track we want to go through and have done all the planning and steps to get there, you need to look up to the next destination -- to have enough time to plan how to get there. Most drivers, it would appear, turn their heads one or two seconds later at least. A "Laser sight" focused as early as possible towards the next destination will get you to your purpose as quickely, safely and effectivelly as possible". (Rem Samuel, "How to Drive Fast")

If the corner is not as smooth or consistent as you like, or if something goes wrong in it, wait for the next session, brake earlier (draw the braking reference point back) and shift your focus points at each given moment through the turn further up, and not further down. If you want to go faster, move the braking cone incermentally forwards, and again shif your focus slightly more onward.

In hairpins, take an initial look through the whole hairpins, than split the turn-in point into two: the initial turn-in, and the mid-corner point where you need to put in more lock. It's important not to treat that point as an APEX reference point and to look for a later APEX, and than look far out.

If you read this article, you notice that the author does not distinguish the utilization of the peripheral vision from the focus-range of the eyes. By opening up your field of vision, you can see both five feet ahead and further away with your focus, while managing a straighter, smoother and more accurate line. You can read the comment left by the author of this racing guide on the bottom of that page. This article from Ross Bentley and this video from Billy Johnson, provides extra evidence to counter the thesis of the first article:

Practice this, even on public roads. First off, make sure you look around about through the center of height of your windshield. Underline it with tape if nessecary. In a case of oversteer or understeer, your tendency will be to stare at oncoming obstacles (in a race, the edge of the roadway). In order to get over this urge you need to be looking far ahead to begin with, and this by itself will help you. However, in the begining, it might help to swing the whole head sideways, forcing your eyes to follow, and than focusing on a long-distance (preferably distinguishable) visual target (it might also very well be the road itself). Trying hard to focus the eyes might cause you to fixate on visual targets. However, it is imperative that the driver keeps a relaxed vision. This allows for a more broad visual field and less eye fatigue. Even if it's raining, try not to focus hard on the road, but rather see if you can see it regularly or with minimal focus. In fast and flat curves, identify the whole road section, than detect the APEX and desired line, and than immediatly focus your vision beyond the curve, far ahead. In sharper corners, you will have to follow reference points more closely, looking only one point further away from the one you are approaching.

Visual acuity + Reference points = Corner line

In order to drive through the right line, we must take our visual acuity or "scanning" pattern, and use them based on a series of stationary reference points for braking, turn-in, throttle, apex, exit. In conditions of bad visuality there might be more than one reference point required for each point. Reference points cannot be based on tire marks or movable objects like rocks, or things remote from the tarmac. However, it is also important to realize that a reference point is not nessecarily an actual spot on the track. It can be one (or more) of the following:

  • Reference point on the track: A curb, concrete patch, sign, distinct piece of tarmac, change in altitude.
  • Eyes as reference points: Often, the point of throttle application, and sometimes of turn-in and other points, depends on your visual field. This is mainly important when in doubt, which normally occurs in conditions other than the track: Like on road driving or rallying, where you might choose to wait with turn-in to the point where you start seeing through the corner.
  • Mental/imaginary reference point: This is the main technique for bend lines on the streets or in a rally stage. You look up to the corner and through it from the greatest possible distance. You imagine the driving line you want the car to take through it. You than gauge the nessecary braking, corner speed, attitude going in (trail braking, constant throttle, acceleration), turn-in, apex, throttle application point and track out, and than you begin working on the visual pattern. If in doubt, just keep looking up through the corner like a window.
  • Steering as reference point: Some corner sets do not allow tracking-out fully, so the driver has to get about mid-track. The question of how much to track-out depends first on rhythm: Do not fight with the car. You do not know how much to track out, maybe your car knows. Just smoothly undo the input back to straight and once you got the car straight -- that's the right point.
  • Other reference points might be your brake pressure as you trailbrake into the corner, so you start turning the wheel and easing the brake, and you therefore have the throttle reference point given to you. At the moment you find yourself off of the brakes, that's when you regain throttle. Other ideas can include the noise of the aerodynamics or the engine note.

Once your reference points are all set, you drive through them. You need to develop a certain search pattern through the corner. This pattern will "map" the line before the car goes through it, and this can shave-off precious seconds, that would appear to be impossible to cut before this technique is acquired. As you reach the corner, having looked through it and imagined your driving line, you look up to the turn-in point. You than brake at the right moment to enter the corner at the right speed. If the braking zone is serious you first look to the braking reference point and not directly at the turn-in.

When you are about to approach turn-in, you should already look up to the APEX point. When you are about to reach the APEX, you should already be looking at track-out, and as you are about to reach track-out, you should already look down the straight to the next corner. You look at point X with your focused vision, but before reaching it, your eyes are at Y and your peripheral vision is covering X, simple! If in doubt, just look up all the way through the corner. Look here for an illustration of this method.

There are many ways to know when to shift focus from one task to the other. Most people would instinctivelly do this too late. Some would do it "too early" by simply looking all the way through the corner. Let's look at the shift of focus from braking point to turn-in. In most corners, the intermidiate driver should gauge braking according to the brake-ending point at turn-in and skip the "hard" braking point (you are actually using a mental reference point to initiate braking). For slow corners following a long straight (i.e. a long braking zone), the driver should use a reference point for braking too.

When you think about the heel & Toe downshift before turn-in, you should probably shift focus from turn-in to APEX. As you braketurn into the corner, the moment of brake release (which is, in fact, the reference point for throttle application) you should shift focus to the track-out. When you already got a good deal of acceleration going on, you should look to track-out. If the pattern of the corner differs from this, the eye path should also be different. If the corner does not require trail braking at all, you look up to the APEX as early as you can before turn-in. If you keep a nice amount of acceleration through a sweeper, you do not need a throttle point, and you also shift focus to track-out and than to exit very quickely. Another way to judge is whether the corner is smooth enough. If a change is required, shift your focus a bit earlier.

You can practice the general principles of this eye path in front of a video, like this one, portraying Itay driving a Scudaria F430 on Circuito Permenenta del Jarma. There are several parts where this can be seen clearly and practiced by the observer:

  • At "córner del Varzi" (0:23-0:34; 2:35-2:45)
  • At Bugatti (1:30-1:42; 3:34-3:48)
  • At Tunel (2:03-2:13; 4:08-4:49)

At 0:23, coming out of "córner del Fangio", your eyes should be down the straight, towards the next corner. You can see in the video the braking, but look beyond it towards turn-in (even though the actual cone is still not visibile in the video). At 0:27 the turn-in cone is perfectly visible, but your eyes should already be turned into the corner, towards the curbing where the APEX cone should be. At 0:30 your eyes should already be turned to the far end of the track.

Let's look at turn Bugatti: In 1:29 your eyes should be all the way down the straight, looking for the upcoming corner. At 1:32 you can already see the braking cone. Do not fixate on it. Look past it towards the corner where you think the turn-in point be placed. At 1:34, you see the turn-in cone, but your eyes should be looking over the sand and into the corner where the APEX mark should be. At 1:37 you see the APEX cone, but your eyes should already be looking at the far end of the track. At 1:40 you see the track-out cone, but your eyes should be turned towards the following corner ("Del Pegio").

In This video, at 1:17, you see through a short straight into a corner preceded by some cones. The first two cones are supposed to dictate a certain line, and are followed by a turn-in cone, which is perfectly visible at 1:19. At that point, your eyes should be turned (with the camera) towards the inside of the turn, looking for a cone in the inside of the turn. At 1:20, with the APEX cone perfectly visible, your eyes should already be looking to the far end of the track, looking for the exit cone at the very edge of the curb. Already at 1:22, your eyes should look ahead down the straight towards the next corner, with the exit cone seen at the corner of the eye.

Vision and consistency

One of the reasons for driving correctly and letting speed emerge along the way as a by-product, is the goal of consistency, which is the ability to reproduce similar results in lap times over and over and along time, as a basis for further imporvement. The best drivers in the world: Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Loeb, Fanjo, did not become great drivers because they did something beyond correct or "efficient" driving. They simply driven their cars more correctly and more efficiently.

In this respect, one should mention that mistakes are a great learning tool. Be aware of common mistakes, but also be aware that they are natural. When something occurs, your first question is what to do in order to avoid it, rather than be self-proud of recovering from it. The answer to that question might be longer than you think, because any driving mistake is a result of a chain of malfunctions in different elements of driving: Vision, patience, steering, pedalling, smoothness, speed, etcetra. When making changes to reference points and focus, decide on them and make them between laps and make small, incermental and single changes every time.


Your eyes should be relaxed and looking out ahead, scanning the road from side to side to enticipate hazards that require a change in speed and/or position in the near future. When negotiating a corner, break it into segments, first, assest it by utilization of the "limit point". Than, imagine the correct line through the corner. Third, drive the corner according to pre-determind reference points.

These are reference points, not targets. Instead of fixating unto them, use them as ironsights to look through. You always want to focus one and a-half stages at least before the car. When you are about to reach the braking cone, your focus is at the turn-in point. After turning-in, you look through the APEX as one would look through a window.