It all looks so glamorous, exciting and extremely lucrative. I mean, what could be easier? You strap yourself into a million pound car, race around a track for an hour or two and earn millions of pounds a year for doing something you enjoy and is so simple! This would seem to be most people’s concept of a Formula 1 driver’s life but the truth behind the glossy exterior makes you realise just what the top drivers go through in pursuit of the chequered flag.
For many years, so-called serious “athletes” questioned the right of racing car drivers, and indeed horse jockeys, to be labeled as athletes. However, Formula 1 drivers, and others driving at the highest levels, are amongst the most highly trained and conditioned athletes of all. Not only do Formula 1 drivers need to maintain their fitness levels to cope with the physical demands of controlling a car travelling at over 200 mph but specialised conditioning is also required to cope with the G forces encountered when braking or cornering at high speed. Couple that with the split-second reactions and high concentration levels needed for Formula 1 racing and drivers more than meet the criteria required to be termed athletes.
Before even entering into Formula 1 racing, drivers are required to undergo intensive conditioning and fitness programmes. Physical training includes running, countless hours on rowing machines, weight lifting, and even swimming. Talent and ability are not enough to make the grade as a successful Formula 1 driver as there are so many other factors to be taken into account.
Sustained driving while experiencing gravity pulls of 3.5G’s requires incredible strength and drivers must be strong enough to last throughout a race without tiring or feeling weak.
The G forces experienced during a race put extreme pressure on the neck muscles as they can cause the head and helmet to weigh up to five times the normal weight and specific exercises targeting the neck are a must.
Temperatures in the cockpit of a Formula 1 car can often reach 60 degrees Celsius and result in a driver losing up to 3kg in body fluids. Heat endurance and cardio-vascular training are vital components of a driver’s conditioning regime.
Coordination, Concentration, Reactions
All three are vitally important to modern racing drivers as loss of concentration or slow reactions can have serious, even fatal, consequences for the driver, opponents or race track personnel. Specifically designed coordination and reaction tests are all part and parcel of a Formula 1 driver’s training programme.
Professional racing drivers follow a strictly regulated diet not only for their personal well-being but for the simple fact that a mere few ounces overweight can have a serious impact on a car’s overall performance and can mean the difference between winning and losing.
Extreme Fitness Levels
While the financial rewards for successful Formula 1 drivers are huge, it is an extremely competitive sport and many don’t make it to the top but it cannot be argued that they are all top-class athletes despite those who equate the world of top-level competitive driving to taking the family station wagon for a spin around the block, albeit at considerable speed.
Training is intense and tough and only the strongest, fittest and best will survive. Strength, fitness and determination are required in huge measure to have even a chance of success and without those three vital components a driver, no matter how talented, will not make the cut.
As a respected professor of Neurosurgery once stated “it is impossible to succeed in Formula 1 racing without being in peak physical condition”.