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Core Characteristics of Formula One: Physical Strength

Written by Alejandra Guajardo Lozano, Edited by Yu Xin Wang

Credit: Aitor Matauco / Red Bull Content Pool

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 One. Continuing our series is Alejandra Guajardo Lozano, writer at Divebomb.

Physical Strength

More often than not, we hear the question “They just get in the car and drive, right?” when talking about Formula One, especially with non-fans. This statement is completely wrong in many ways.

For starters, the drivers risk their lives every race weekend while strapped to a car going at about 360 km/h (224 mph). As they compete at the highest level of motorsport, they undoubtedly need to have peak physical fitness to be able to perform well.

The drivers are subjected to enormous G-forces every race. G-force refers to the amount of force drivers feel due to rapid acceleration and high-speed cornering. From a standing start, the cars can pull around 2G. Braking at the end of straights can cause as much as 6G. Drivers are often recognized for their thick necks, due to the training that they undergo to be able to resist these forces.

Mercedes driver, George Russell, once stated that the drivers can lift around 40 kg with just their necks. “The weight of your head plus the weight of the helmet, you’ve got about probably eight kilos there. Times that by five, and that’s where you’re experiencing every high-speed corner, every braking zone. So yeah, it is true. We can lift more than 40 kg,” said the British driver in an interview for GQ Magazine’s Actually Me series on YouTube.

Drivers also need to be as prepared as possible to cope with G-forces of an unfortunate crash. A normal crash in a normal car is around 30G. When former Formula One driver, Romain Grosjean, crashed in the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, the impact peaked at 53G. Another example is Robert Kubica’s accident in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix that peaked at 75G.

Sharp reflexes are essential and are potentially life-saving skills which drivers must acquire through intense training. Doing lots of laps around circuits in purpose-built machines and building awareness of automotive mechanics to some degree, are often part of the training.

Drivers also practice compartmentalisation, which is training with meditation techniques to filter out everything else during a race and only concentrate on the car and the track.

“Drivers need a good cardiovascular base,” said Noel Carroll, AlphaTauri’s Performance Coach. This is because their heart rates can average more than 170 bpm during a race, so good cardiovascular fitness is also a need.

One of the most astounding physical effects of a race is the dramatic weight loss that occurs. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has admitted to losing about 4 kg in the hotter races. This weight loss has to be regained by hydration pre-race and post-race. On the morning of race day, drivers typically attempt to consume around three liters of water. Post-race rehydration involves more water, electrolytes and protein shakes.

“For drivers like Yuki who have a small build, they obviously won’t lose as much in terms of kilograms,” Carroll says, “but the percentage of body weight lost is up there.”

However, it’s not all about being the biggest and strongest. Drivers have to be as light as possible in order to keep the weight of their cars down and maximize speed on the track. This is mainly a struggle for taller drivers, who have to take drastic measures with their calorie intake.

Drivers undergo a strict routine and diet. Most drivers have a personal trainer to manage their training and help them recover throughout the season, both mentally and physically. The relationship with their personal trainer is crucial to make this process more effective. During the 2020 season when the Formula One season was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis Hamilton expressed gratitude to his physiotherapist, Angela Cullen, who had been by his side the whole time.

“Thank God for Angela,” said Hamilton. “I've tried to get her to go home to her family as much as possible, because it's not easy to spend time with anyone I think for long periods of time.”

“But we're room-mates and you know, pretty much best of friends. So we work well. And pretty much we do everything together. We always skydive together, we surf together, we run together, we go to the gym, we do everything pretty much. We do yoga together, meditate now. So we're very much aligned in terms of things we like to do.”

Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport and demands a lot from the drivers, physically. These drivers are the perfect example of perseverance and hard work to reach excellence, and they do not “just get in the car and drive”.

What do you think? Make sure to leave your opinion in the comments.


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