Though many things have been written about in-game force feedback, I believe there is a real lack of experience being shared, from real drivers, on exactly what the feeling you get is through a steering wheel, in real life.
That's why I have decided to write this, and I hope it gives you guys a good insight into what you actually feel when driving a race car in real life, versus what we all experience in our current sims, and how it could potentially be improved.
Having driven a few race cars (single seaters similar to a Formula Renault, a Radical on trackdays), and being a competent driver, I feel this info will be useful in the development of future force feedback, and how the software/hardware interacts (What i hope is, as I don't have a clue about software/hardware development, it would be nice to know how the real experience can be translated to the ffb wheels we use in simracing)
There are 2 fundamental pieces of information that a driver must be able to feel when driving fast - understeer and oversteer. The way this is communicated to the driver through the steering wheel is quite different.
With understeer, you get 2 key pieces of information. One is the visual aspect, you can see in your vision yourself putting in more steering lock than the car is responding too, so that gives you a clue to back off and tuck the front back in. The other is what you feel through the wheel:
- lets say you're going into a fast right hander, 4th gear, 100mph. The front tyres start to scrub, or wash out. When you start applying more steering lock to the right, than what the tyres can handle, you start feeling a small 'pulsing' or 'vibration' through the wheel. You can also feel the force pushing left, a strong force, and you're pushing against it. That force, or pressure, you're pushing against, starts to dissipate as the level of understeer reduces.
This is a huge area where almost all our current sims completely fail, in conveying understeer properly. I haven't tried a frex wheel, or the CSR elite, but I doubt the forces they can produce are strong enough to convey this properly - if they are - they need to be accompanied with a vibration in the wheel itself, to inform the driver in the game that the tyres are scrubbing, or, washing out.
With oversteer, not much information actually comes from the wheel at all. You feel this information throughout your body, when you're strapped in tight to the car. You can 'feel' the sideways motion, as the rear steps out. This is the first thing that alerts you that the car is breaking away at the back.
At the same time, you feel the wheel start to self-correct. Lets say you're going into that same fast right hander again. The back is beginning to slip away. You will feel the wheel, almost automatically, counter steering to the left, helping you to correct the slide. The amount of counter steer you decide to put in, or you feel is necessary, is up to you and what you're feeling, relative to the messages you're getting through your body about what the back is doing (this is what the balancing act is, converting the messages youre getting from your body versus what you're doing with the wheel)
The moment you've done the counter-steer, the wheel completely weights up again, and you feel this weight transfer, back to neutral.
Now, I know that it would be impossible to simulate the 'body feeling', for obvious reasons. However what we can simulate is that weight transfer felt in the wheel. In our current sims, the transfer of the weight that we feel simply isn't accurate enough to be able to precisely counter steer something, without relying on the visual information. In real life, you could correct a car that's in oversteer completely blind (though I wouldn't recommend trying this...). In all the current sims, we feel that weight of the rear moving left to the right, but the force helping to counter steer is never strong enough, and then that immediate push of the wheel back to centre is not forecful or obvious enough.
In short, the ffb wheel has to be able to convey these 2 pieces of information, understeer and oversteer, and in very different ways, and at high frequency. Obviously I haven't driven a simulator that the f1 teams use, and never will, maybe their FFB is advanced - and maybe ISI could shed some light on this, with rfactor pro.
I think there's too much focus on motor power in ffb wheels, and not enough on how sharply and quickly, and accurately, the force can be applied.