Speed is only one part of the puzzle in the exhilarating world of Formula 1 racing. The drivers sitting behind the wheel of the lightning-fast cars are not only athletes but finely tined machines themselves.
Many motorsport fans do not realise the demand the sport puts on their favourite drivers’ bodies and that Formula 1 drivers are among the fittest and strongest athletes on the planet. By the time you finish reading this article, you will understand the gruelling conditions Formula 1 drivers endure and the areas where they focus their off-the-track workouts.
To the uninitiated, anyone who knows how to drive could become a racing driver. Once they have learned about race craft and lines and memorised a track’s layout, nothing is stopping them from becoming a racing driver—or is there?
Elite-level drivers like Max Verstappen do not simply jump behind the wheel of a car and have people using the best online sportsbook sign up bonus on them becoming world champions. It takes years of honing their craft and increasing their fitness and strength levels to ridiculous levels.
You may not think cardiovascular fitness plays an important role in a Formula 1 driver’s success, but it does. Races often last for hours, so being ultra-fit aids in maintaining peak performance throughout the stamina-sapping race. Being super fit allows the driver to concentrate on racing and improves blood flow to the brain, helping to maintain concentration. In a sport where split-second decisions make the difference between winning and losing, being able to concentrate fully while racing at break-neck speeds and experiencing immense gravitational forces is a must.
Drivers build their cardiovascular fitness through running, cycling, and swimming. They often use state-of-the-art facilities that accurately mimic hot and humid conditions, further preparing them for race day.
A driver’s strength, particularly their core strength, often sets them apart from the opposition. Strong arms and legs are required for accurate, precise steering and heavy breaking, despite the cars being fitted with devices to assist them. The gravitational forces (G-forces) experienced while driving, primarily through high-speed corners, can be brutal. Telemetry equipment on cars shows drivers regularly experience up to 5G while braking and 6G through corners. Those numbers are enough to physically drain a “normal” driver, and a fatigued racer risks their performance and safety.
It is common for drivers to engage in weightlifting, core workouts, and resistance training between races. The drivers you see may look slight and slender but are supremely strong.
The unique demands of neck strength
Neck strength is vitally important to racing drivers because of the previously mentioned G-forces. Although modern racing helmets are incredibly light, the G-forces experienced during a typical Formula 1 race can strain drivers’ necks immensely because their head weighs up to five times as much as when stationary!
A strong neck helps the driver withstand brutal G-forces but also helps maintain a stable head position, which is essential for clear vision down the track.
Do not underestimate the importance of flexibility and mobility
Getting into and out of the tight confines of a Formula 1 racing car is an art in itself, but that is only part of the reason drivers need to be flexible and mobile. Accurate and swift steering wheel adjustments are performed every second of the race; being stiff as a board makes those adjustments a chore.
Being flexible also helps improve comfort during long races. Cars bounce and shake their drivers, while the constant accelerating, braking, and cornering eat into a driver’s stamina reserves. F1 cars are built for speed, not comfort, so keeping a reasonable comfort level by being supple helps the drivers.
Almost every Formula 1 driver on the grid has regular pilates and yoga sessions, sometimes immediately after races, to keep them mobile and their bodies as relaxed as possible.
Cognitive fitness plays a vital role in a racing driver’s success and failure. Drivers need lightning-fast reflexes and unwavering focus to make decisions on the track. A few tenths-of-a-second often decides qualification for races, and the races themselves, so being unable to react quickly is the difference between winning and losing.
A driver’s brain must process information rapidly and accurately under extreme physical stress. It is this mental edge that often separates top-tier racers from would-be champions.
Not only cars require fuel
High-performance machines require high-performance fuel, which is true for Formula 1 drivers. They maintain a healthy weight by paying meticulous attention to their diets and nutrition. Balanced diets of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and essential vitamins are standard for Formula 1 drivers, particularly before a race when they can ill afford a drop in blood sugar levels.
Hydration is also essential. F1 drivers can lose up to three litres of water during a race, and reduced water levels affect alertness, concentration, and cognitive ability. Drivers sometimes have liquids in the car to prevent dehydration, but they also ensure their bodies are fully hydrated every day.
All cogs in a well-oiled machine
Becoming a top-level racing driver is more about being able to drive the fastest around a track. Drivers are highly tuned machines like the cars they drive and are a sum of several parts. A driver with high cardiovascular fitness levels but low body strength is at an immediate disadvantage over the rest of the field. Likewise, a driver in peak physical condition who pays little attention to improving and maintaining cognitive fitness will not be challenging for honours.
The perfect Formula 1 driver is someone who not only knows their car inside out, who knows how to squeeze every drop of performance out of the machine but also pays attention to their body and maintains their health and fitness to levels almost unheard of in the sporting world.
So the next time you watch a race taking place and think to yourself, “I could do that,” you probably could not. Former F1 driver David Coulthard once said that an average person would not last ten laps of a Grand Prix. That figure is likely less today.