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“Core Characteristics of Formula One: Mental Strength”

Written by Asmi Mathew, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

(Photo by Peter van Egmond/Getty Images)

This upcoming series "Core Characteristics of Formula One" seeks to take a look at the qualities that lie at the essence of the Pinnacle of Motorsport. Through past instances and famous quotes, writers will aim to explain why each characteristic forms the essence of Formula 1. Continuing our series is Asmi Mathew, a writer at Divebomb.

Drivers commencing their journey up the motorsport ladder face numerous problems, right from a young age. During the grassroots of motorsport - karting, these young stars are usually away from home, and the constant travelling away from family certainly takes a toll on an adolescent. Add on the pressure of trying to be the best, and caring for their mental health takes a backseat.

When young drivers finally get into the sport touted as the ‘pinnacle of motorsport’, they have to perform well, despite having little to no experience driving a Formula 1 car. They are under pressure to prove their worth to the spectators. People often forget the presence of drivers on the grid who are in their first year in the sport, and start questioning why they crash frequently, or lack overall pace compared to their teammates. The same people point out a driver not being able to score points in the same car, that his teammate drives and achieves top ten finishes.

In the generation of social media, more often than not, memes and jokes are made about chaotic races, racing incidents, team orders, etc. Some take this a step further, in the form of trolling drivers brutally. One of the most recent examples that pop into one's mind is Valtteri Bottas at Hungary in 2021. Bottas misjudged his braking point on a damp track, accidentally causing a multi-car incident, one that took many drivers out of the running, in a lap-one turn one incident.

Bottas later apologised to the drivers, and was handed a five-place grid drop for the next race. Despite this, Bottas was relentlessly trolled by a number of people across various social media platforms, being called a “washed” driver. Some went a step further, begging the Mercedes AMG-Petronas F1 Team, his long-time employer, to sack him. Bottas hasn’t openly spoken about this, but getting trolled and outrightly insulted on social media definitely deteriorates a person’s mental health.

(AP: Darko Bandic)

Being a sport centred around engineering and aerodynamics, the weight of the automobile itself plays a major role in its functioning. In 2023, the average weight of the car itself is 798 Kg (1,759 lbs), which means, to aid in better functioning of the automobile, drivers have to weigh as less as possible, as advised by their doctors. Teams motivate the drivers to be the lightest they can, since the lesser the total weight of both the car and the driver, greater is the advantage over the others. Such conditions are known to create eating disorders among drivers. The driver most open about this side of Formula 1 is Bottas. While speaking to Finnish journalist Maria Veitola, Bottas revealed that during his stint at the Williams F1 team, he trained himself “To pain, physically, and mentally.” He also disclosed that, due to the demand for the driver to weigh a certain number from the team, he tried losing weight to a point of being severely unhealthy for his body.

Being involved in a fight for the Driver’s Championship, especially the first time, can be stressful. This is because all drivers in Formula One have been working towards the dream of being crowned a world champion, ever since they started their careers in karts. We have witnessed several title fights in which the vice-champion lost by a point or two. The most recent and popular cases are the championship battles of 2012, 2010, and 2008. Losing a title is always painful, but more so when it's by only a few points. Such a result can impact someone’s mental health.

This, however, isn’t something that can be avoided, since winning and losing are a part of Formula One. Drivers take a lot of time to move on from such situations, and some can’t, even after 15 long years, like the case of Felipe Massa and the 2008 world championship. According to a recent piece of news, Massa has decided to go to court about the impact of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, or “Crashgate” as fans call it, on the outcome of the title fight. To read more about the scandal, you can refer to this article by a fellow writer at Divebomb.

Photo By: Motorsport Images

In the past decade, drivers have begun to open up about various mental struggles in the sport. Earlier, when someone talked about their mental health, they were portrayed as ‘weak’. However, with time, things have changed, and drivers are keen to spread awareness on the same. They are working with organisations to do the same, and creating a safe space for those struggling with mental health.

Numerous drivers such as Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Yuki Tsunoda, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly, and George Russell have been open about their mental struggles in the past, and many have admitted to consulting a psychologist to cope with the stress that comes with their job. This proves that being one of the world's best drivers comes with a lot of mental pressure and expectations from others. It takes a lot of courage to overcome such struggles, and even more so, to open up about them.


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