Q: “I’ve heard your advice that sometimes it’s best to brake lighter, rather than as late and hard as possible. If you started braking lighter at the same place entering a corner, wouldn’t that suggest that you’re not quite at the limit under braking? And wouldn’t that make you slower because you don’t have the car at the limit?”
A: There are three parts to the answer to your question. But yes, by braking lighter you won’t be braking at the limit. However, there are times where you need to compromise one section of track for another. With that in mind, let’s look at those three reasons for braking lighter, sometimes.
First, once a driver is close to ideal for the length of their brake zone – they’re within, let’s say, fifty feet of the latest they could begin braking and still make the corner – compressing it further is likely to only gain a very small amount of lap time. Depending on the length of the brake zone, compressing it by braking later and harder may only reduce lap time by a tenth of a second or so. But, braking slightly lighter, even if they’re beginning fifty feet early, they’re going to carry more entry speed into the corner. And this gain in speed, even if it’s just one or two MPH, will result in an improvement of as much as half a second. So, braking lighter leads to a bigger gain by carrying more cornering speed than would be gained by compressing the brake zone.
Second, if I told you to brake fifty feet later for a corner, it’s quite possible that you’ll feel tense and uncomfortable to begin braking that much later. And that often leads to braking way too hard and either locking up the brakes or getting so hard into the ABS that you run long entering the corner. But if I told you to simply begin braking at the same place as always, but just a hint more lightly (for example, use a “8” pedal instead of the “9” pedal you’re using now), you’ll feel more comfortable and relaxed. After all, you’re doing the same thing you’ve always done in the past, just slightly lighter. So, this could be an interim step in the process of becoming comfortable braking later, or it could be the best way, forever.
Finally, a car that is better balanced has more overall grip than a car that is heavily in a nose-down mode. So, when you’re braking late and hard, your car has less overall grip than it would if you braked earlier and lighter, and some corners really reward this better-balanced car. Medium and higher speed corners are the ones that typically reward a slightly earlier and lighter brake application because the car is balanced better, and therefore you can carry more speed into the corner.
As you can see, if the only thing we cared about was the time it took to go from the beginning of braking (BoB) to the end of braking (EoB), braking later and harder would always be the way to go. But what we really care about is the brake zone and the following corner and straightaway.
Many years ago, one season I concentrated on getting more speed in the corners. My muscle memory had me braking in the same spot every lap at a articular corner, so I decided to concentrate telling myself to brake lighter as I was approaching the braking zone. The result was amazing. The car actually felt more stable through the corner. Doing this simple change for most corners, not only improved my lap times but also improved my fuel consumption, brake wear and tire wear.