The F1 racing cockpit is an inhospitable environment. “You can experience temperatures of over 50 degree Celsius and experience up to five times the force of gravity during turns,” says Nick Harris, exercise physiologist of the Williams F1 team, whose current charges include Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg. In addition, the driver can burn up to 1,500 calories and might lose up to 3kgs of body weight after each race, he adds. It’s no surprise that these gifted folk have to be in top shape if they hope to even compete.
Build Your Base of Physical Fitness
“You have to be a jack-of-all-trades to be an F1 driver,” notes Harris. This includes being good at running, swimming, cycling and rowing. Essentially you need to display good levels of strength, endurance, and agility – but this is only on the physical side. F1 is also a very academic sport, he emphasises, as the drivers need to interpret and relay data on the fly to the race engineers – think chess boxing. “The amount they have to digest can be quite overwhelming.” Regardless of the sport you take part in, physical fitness is always your bread-and-butter. The fitter you are, the less you have to focus on keeping yourself going. “If you only spend say, 40 per cent of your effort on driving, you’ll have much more room to manage other aspects of the sport,” says Harris.
Train in the Race Environment
Even with such a taxing and general sport as F1, it’s still possible to train specifically for it. To prepare for the 2009 Formula One SingTel Singapore Grand Prix, training camps were held in humid countries, always held outdoors and the drivers – get this – train in their race suits. How does running 10km and playing a 2-hour game of tennis in a fireproof suit sound? This is essentially acclimatization, explains Harris – getting the body’s hydration and nervous systems to manage its core temperature in the best possible way. What’s more, for a night race, training times also have to be tweaked (nighttime in Singapore is daytime in the UK). If you’re training for a 4.30am marathon it makes good sense to condition your body to function at peak performance during that time.
With so much emphasis on physical effort, it’s crucial that the drivers maintain a healthy diet. Harris advocates a balanced diet of 70 per cent carbohydrates and 30 per cent protein – amounts applicable to most active folk – with essential elements like rice, broccoli, carrots and fish. “High vitamin foods are essential for drivers because their days can be very long, from the pre-race to the race itself to the post-race sponsor and media briefings,” he says. “Their energy levels have to be kept high.” Omega-3 from salmon is especially beneficial, he adds, as it can reduce inflammation, which aids recovery.