The F1 Experience In Your Living Room

Cerys and I recently acquired the F1 2010 game for our PS3.  I found it ok to play with the sixaxis controller but Cerys found it nigh on impossible. I took a punt that the problem was the input mechanism and bought the Logitech Driving Force GT wheel to see if that would help.

It did. In my first race with the wheel I finished in the points and I have won every race since then; with the normal PS3 controller I was nowhere. Similarly Cerys is currently leading the championship in her career mode.

The only problem with the wheel is that you need somewhere stable to mount it and the pedals – it’s no good if the pedals move away from you when you hit the brakes hard or floor it out of a hairpin. Our initial solution was to extend the media unit holding the TV with a bit of shelf board clamped on with G clamps and to hold the pedals in place by pushing them up against the lower shelf of the media unit.  This was OK, but no better.  The pedals were about right for me but a little too far away for Cerys, the position was more bus-driver than single-seater-pilot and the clamped on shelf was rather ugly to leave out but too time-consuming to fit to remove between sessions.

I decided to see if I could come up with a more satisfactory solution. I watch every qualifying and race session (and most of the practice sessions) on the BBC’s excellent coverage, and one of the things which Martin Brundle keeps saying in commentary is that the view from an F1 car is like sitting in your bathtub looking over the taps. This inspired experiment 1:

Bathtub experiment

As you possibly make out, the shelf board is clamped to the bath handles and the screen is right behind the wheel. The pedals are angled off the ground and inadequately held in place by the overflow hole underneath the taps. The driving position is a fairly accurate reproduction of the single-seater experience. The loose pedals, the up-angled wheel, and the thought that all that electrical/electronic equipment is in the bathroom detract from the experience quite a lot. It was a useful test, as it helped me to understand more accurately what I was trying to achieve, but it was in no way suitable as a solution. I wanted that kind of view from the driver’s seat, but with usable pedals, a more comfortably angled wheel and a massively reduced risk of inadvertent electrification.

One option, which has much to recommend it, is to buy a playseat. These are welded metal frames with real race seats and purpose-built mounting points for the wheel/pedals. The cheapest is around £200 and the most desirable F1-simulation chair is over £600. I figured, probably accurately, that I would not be able to build a better frame/seat  myself for less than £200. However, the main drawback of the playseat for use is the space it requires – we didn’t want it permanently on display in the living room but we have nowhere else in our house it could reasonably live.

I decided therefore to pursue a solution which would perform the F1-simulation rôle well but be have another purpose when we aren’t in a racy mood. I decided that what we needed was a coffee table. If the table was the right height off the ground to get our legs under it and onto the pedals and get the wheel at the right height off the ground then all we would need to add would be a suitable chair and some mechanism to hold the pedals at the right angle.

I knew from the bath experiment that we needed the wheel to be about 400mm off the ground; and a quick tour of Homebase and the IKEA website revealed that all the coffee tables are about 350mm high. This would probably be OK if the upper surface was 15mm thick and there were no cross-supports at the ends, but unfortunately so far as I could determine no such table exists. I therefore, with some reluctance, elected to build my own.

I spent a few days thinking about it and jotting down various designs, before coming up with the final design. We bought 10.5 metres of 44mm-square planed wood and a 605x1200x16mm plywood sheet for the top; the final design of the table trims the top to 605x979x16mm to form a golden-ration rectangle, and uses about 6 metres of wood for the frame.  I used the remaining wood (including the plywood) to build the pedal-frame, the sub-frame for the seat and the spacer which holds the pedal frame in the right position for whomever of myself or Cerys is driving. The seat is from IKEA – it’s a Torbjörn swivel chair without the swivelly bit.

Here’s what version 1 of the coffee-table simulator looked like, before we acquired the seat:

F1-simulator/coffee table without seat and screen

This is better than the bathtub in that the pedals are at a good angle and there’s not much chance of killing yourself with electricity, but the wheel is still at a bad angle.  To fix this, I used a mitre saw to cut four 15º wedges, which I carefully positioned within the clamps holding the wheel in place; this straightens the wheel up nicely. You can see the wedges most clearly in this picture, taken when we were trying to measure Cerys’s preferred pedal position:
Cerys testing the F1 simulator pedal position options
That picture also shows a bit of the seat sub-frame, which deliberately raises the front of the seat to give a tilted-back single-seater race position. Adding the wedges, as you can see, means there is quite a gap underneath the back of the wheel unit. This allows the screen base to sit underneath the wheel unit, which in turn means the display panel is about 100mm closer to the player, right behind the wheel. This welcome side-effect makes the game considerably more immersive than when the screen was further away.  Here’s a picture of the final result, again modelled by my lovely wife who in this image is in the middle of a practice session at the Circuit de Catalunya:

The final simulator, as modelled by Cerys

2 Responses to “The F1 Experience In Your Living Room”

  1. Dave Nice says:

    Looks impressive! Especially that you built your own coffee table. :-) That’s dedication.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>