Is Force Feedback better?

August 1999 - I just got a Logitech Wingman Formula Force wheel. I'm not sure if FF will make me faster. I'm still on the steep part of the learning curve. I tend to adapt to things like controllers fairly slowly. However, I seem to be adapting fairly well to this new controller, and all the attendent differences. I was quickly able to get pretty close to my best lap times with my custom wheel at Mexico as well as Monaco, Silverstone and Kyalami, even though the FF made it harder at first. With the stiction eliminated, I can now get very close to my absolute best times, typically with ease.

I feel that FF will prove to be better than a passive wheel, because you definitely have more information, but with the wheel jumping around in your hands and stuff - much like a real car - you have to work harder to keep the car in line. Even with the relatively light forces I'm using, it's a lot more work than driving with a passive wheel.

Also, you really know it when you've been rough with the car, because it bites back through the wheel. This tends to encourage you to be smoother, which is always a good thing. I found myself making lots of tiny, quick corrections to keep the car in line and not get too sideways, because what happened when I got abruptly sideways was so nasty. If the car really snaps out, and I have to make an abrupt and large correction, the car reacts violently - and the wheel lets me know it.

I think this is what real cars do, but I've gotten spoiled in GPL because driving with a passive wheel lets me get away with outrageous things without giving me any feedback about how naughty I've been. When you can put the wheel anywhere you want, almost instantaneously, with no ill effects, it tends to encourage bad habits. But when you know it will bite you, you respect it more. And when you can feel the grip go away at the front when you yank the wheel, you get more careful about what you're doing when you turn in.

I found it really fascinating to be getting all the feedback as the car rode over bumps, down into dips, cresting rises, and so forth. There's so much going on at the front tires that I just never felt with a passive wheel, despite all the hours I've put in on GPL. It's intriguing to be able to now feel these forces.

At first it was harder work, and I was not as fast with FF as I was with a passive wheel, but now, after a week and a half with FF, I think there is little difference in my lap times, and with FF I can be more consistent and can drive closer to the edge. I'm also moving toward more neutral setups because I have more warning when the tail starts to go. I am fairly sure that eventually I'll be quicker with FF.

I find the experience of driving GPL with the Logitech FF wheel to be incredibly absorbing and engaging. It's almost like getting a whole new sim!

Update: I Am Faster!

11/16/99 - I've been using the Logitech Force Feedback wheel for over two months now. Within a couple of weeks of getting it, I was breaking personal lap records at many tracks, particularly my Advanced Trainer records. My driving style changed; I've become smoother, more precise. I don't throw the car around so much any more; I don't abuse the front tires either. The wheel lets me know when I'm doing these things.

Also, I am running brake balance more to the rear. I can do this because the wheel warns me when the car is becoming destabilized by too much braking. I can ease off, correct with the wheel if necessary, before the car gets too out of shape. The result is shorter braking distances and faster lap times.

My setups have also evolved to match my new driving style. I'm using more neutral setups, similar to those used by the fastest GPL drivers, rather than my old, more forgiving setups. Again, this is because the FF gives me more information about what the car is doing, and it gives it to me sooner.

Recently, when my brother Nate was visiting, I let him use my Logitech wheel, and went back to my old passive custom-built wheel. I found myself spinning and crashing all over the place. Even when I managed to get back in the groove with the old wheel, I was slower.

Eventually I got back up to near my normal speed, but I never felt as comfortable with the passive wheel. And it wasn't nearly as much fun.

I've bought a second Logitech FF wheel to use when I have company.