Are racing drivers even ‘proper’ athletes?
Formula 1 season kicked off last weekend in Australia and as you read this the teams will be preparing for the next Grand Prix which is in Bahrain. How hard can it be sitting in a car not moving for a few hours? Well it is far more physically demanding than you might realise…
Formula One drivers happen to be some of the most highly conditioned athletes on the planet. Their bodies are required to withstand forces that are unrivalled by most other professional sports, which requires them to be specifically conditioned to the very unique demands.
Not only do drivers have to withstand up to 3.5G of force when they go around corners but the stamina and endurance requirements are also exceptionally high.
The drivers need to be enormously strong to be able to make it to the end of each race and to top it all off they must endure sweltering temperatures which can cause them to lose around 3kg of bodyweight during a race through sweat.
One thing that is extremely important to remember is how fast these cars travel…and how much damage can be caused if there is the tiniest bit of driver or mechanical error.
Take a look at Fernando Alonso crashing in Melbourne last weekend:
Fortunately, he was able to walk away from the wreckage which seems impossible when you see the state of the car he crawled out of. Not only is this footage testament to how physically strong and well-conditioned the drivers are but it also highlights several areas that are crucial for a racing driver not only to win, but sometimes just to stay alive!!
If the drivers were to become fatigued, then they are much less likely to perform to the best of their ability under pressure.
I am sure you have heard Brendan talk a lot about Kelvin Giles’ principles of TUF, SUF and DUF (Technique Under Fatigue, Speed Under Fatigue and Decision making Under Fatigue), well racing drivers are risking their lives and those of their fellow competitor’s every time they get in the car.
They might not be required to move through the greatest range of motion at any joint as many other athlete’s experience, but their bodies are being constantly battered by external forces which they must be able to resist. If at any time their technique, speed (physical and mental) or decision making is hindered because of fatigue then the consequences could be fatal…and have been fatal many times in the past.
Basically, the fitter and stronger the driver is, the more likely he/she is to avoid any fatigue-induced lapses in concentration that can either reduce their performance ability or even be potentially life threatening to themselves and those around them.
With regards to strength training there is a fine line between increasing strength levels but maintaining a consistent weight. The more weight in the car, the slower it will go – this is not good when speed is of the essence. But the driver requires a huge amount of strength to cope with the physical pressure of each race.
The greatest amount of pressure will be on the chest and neck muscles so these areas get extra special attention. ‘Neck’ muscles don’t often appear in many training programmes but when you consider that as they drive around bends the head and helmet of the driver can weigh up to 5 times their actual weight…this all has to be supported and held in place by the neck.
The cars are fitted with power assisted steering these days but the drivers still require a huge amount of strength in the arms and torso to be capable of ensuring the car is under control at all times, especially towards the end of longer races when mistakes are more likely to occur.
Final area to consider with racing drivers is their reaction speed and hand-eye co-ordination. Racing drivers can often be found using reaction walls where the idea is to hit as many lights as they are randomly lit within a set amount of time. This tests their peripheral vision, as well as their co-ordination and physical/mental reaction speed.
Taking this one step further I would suggest it would be advisable to perform such drills after the driver has been completely exhausted with a HIIT style workout – truly testing his/her TUF, SUF and DUF.
Next time you turn over the Grand Prix because it is ‘motor’ racing and you prefer watching ‘proper athletes’, spare a thought for the little fella going 200mph in a lightweight shell whose body is withstanding as much force as an astronaut, whose head and helmet weight 5 times their normal weight and the more drained he becomes the greater chance there is of a potentially fatal accident occurring…no wonder they go nuts with the Champagne when they get to the end!!!!