Driving a Formula 1 car at speeds of up to 225mph for two hours is tough. Add in the challenges of driving on street tracks or during the night all the while trying to beat your rivals with your job possibly on the line is even tougher. With the multitude of strategic elements to consider the sport is a high-pressure game of chess taking place at breakneck speeds. Not easy.
To cope with these demands, F1 drivers have got to be seriously fit.
There’s no denying that today’s racers have got it slightly easier than during the early days of the championship when drivers did not have the relative luxuries of power steering, paddle-shift gearboxes and pit-to-car radio communications, but F1 still requires its drivers to be up to the task of completing a Grand Prix with their minds sharp, ready to seize any opportunity that comes their way.
EVERY GRAM COUNTS
The current F1 regulations require the cars to use V6 turbo hybrid power units, which are very heavy. Therefore, F1 drivers need to be as light as possible to avoid carrying excess weight.
While all drivers have their own tailored fitness regimes, one approach that many favour is cycling. Not only does cycling increase aerobic respiration and help when pulses are racing in the heat of an on-track battle, but, as the physique of any professional cyclist demonstrates, it is a great way to lose unnecessary bulk.
Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 world champion and keen triathlete, reckons that cycling is also beneficial for racers as it can be done socially and is way to keep psychologically fresh.
“When I’m home I cycle and if I’m there for a week I will cycle four or five days a week,” said Button. “I love cycling with friends in Monaco to Italy and it is a social thing for me. I cycle with F1 drivers, professionals and friends. Mentally cycling helps me with F1 and it is great to get away.”
Button’s McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso was once rumoured to be starting a profession cycling team with Spanish Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, such is the double world champion’s passion for the sport.
But not all drivers feel that this obsession with a driver weight is healthy: “It’s not safe and not the right way to go,” said Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz earlier this season. “We like to be fit and thin, that’s our job, but it’s not our job to be extremely skinny.”
Cycling can also be a dangerous pursuit for an F1 driver: while cycling in Thailand ahead of this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson was lucky to escape serious injury when he collided with a chicken while biking with his trainer!
PULLING THE GS’
Perhaps what sets F1 drivers apart from athletes in other sports is the emphasis they put on building strength in their necks.
This is because F1 cars go often through corners at speeds of up to five-times the force of gravity and the drivers need to be able to hold their heads up for the duration of a race.
To do this many racers train using a special helmet that is attached to pulleys and weights that move their heads in different directions to build strength.
Another technique to help the drivers cope with G-Forces is to have their heads (in helmets) pushed in the same sequence – similar to how it will be pulled around at the next track – for a long period of time to adjust to the upcoming circuit layout.
“It’s really important to train endurance and strength in order to be able to withstand the G-Forces and the stress of long races,” four times world champion Sebastian Vettel writes on his personal website. “In the morning we usually do endurance session, which could be running [or] cycling, then [have a] lunch break which is important for recovery, and then in the afternoon we do strength session which includes exercises mostly for the neck and core.”
CO-ORDINATION IS KEY
Many drivers will also do exercises to improve their hand-eye co-ordination, which will help when something unexpected happens on track. These can include gym-based routines that have the added benefit of improving their balance but can also be racket sports such as tennis or badminton.
Ferrari drivers Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen play badminton together in a relatively rare example of F1 teammates getting along. “Some sports like Badminton are good to improve speed qualities,” writes Vettel.
Like many sports stars, F1 drivers are signed up to the World Anti-Doping Authority’s code of ethics.
This means that they are subjected to random drug testing both in and out of competition and they have to notify WADA officials of their whereabouts.
“You have to give a location where you are going to be, every single day of your life for the whole year, which is quite intrusive,” says Lewis Hamilton.
COURTESY OF JACK & JONES. Article by Alex Kalinauckas