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“I am eager to help Yuki grow as a person and as an athlete”: An Interview With Michael Italiano

Written by Caitlyn Gordon, Edited by Juan Arroyo

From Michael Italiano's Instagram

Fitness is a massive part of a Formula One driver's routine.


Drivers need to train constantly to stay on top of their fitness to endure the vast amounts of G-Forces they experience in races. But it is also essential to keep up with a routine to ensure they are prepared to withstand all kinds of environments.


Michael Italiano, an Australian performance coach with a background in working with various athletes, including rugby, golf, football, and mixed martial arts, helps drivers in the sport achieve just that.


Now heading into his sixth year working in the sport, he works with Yuki Tsunoda after Daniel Ricciardo left McLaren last season.


Michael's work is inspiring and motivational to the drivers he works with and the countless worldwide fans who observe his work.


CG: Growing up was working in F1 on your mind? Or was it somewhere you never thought you’d end up?


Michael Italiano: It [Formula One] was never the target when I first moved into coaching, I just wanted to do a good job.


I wanted to work with athletes, I wasn’t fussed with what kind of athletes I worked with. Previously I have worked with a lot of athletes ranging from footballers, rugby players, mixed martial arts and golf.


I enjoyed the diversity and the opportunities coming my way as I was learning quite a bit. Training is very sports-specific, and I learned a lot about the many different sports and about the athletes and what their specific needs were.


I never came across a motorsports driver until I got offered a job in Formula One. I had a lot of catching up to do as I needed to start understanding the driving and psychological demands of the sport and how I will train these guys.


It was a fun transition, and it took me a few years before I was comfortable with understanding the requirements needed in Formula One.


CG: How did you get into fitness? Was it always something you wanted to do?


Michael Italiano: I would probably thank my parents for that. At the age of four or five they made me pick up a tennis racket and learn how to play tennis, and then they moved me to basketball and football.


That was when I found a real passion for football, and I ended up playing it for over 10 years. In between that, I was also learning mixed martial arts. I really like challenging myself and learning different coordination in sports, as picking up a tennis racket is different to kicking a ball.


Since I got into sports at such a young age, it was a stepping stone in how I got here today. I am thankful for it as it has brought out a unique passion of mine and something I think will stick with me for the rest of my life.

From Michael Italiano's Instagram

CG: How do your fitness regimes and training styles vary from track to track?


Michael Italiano: Training is pretty difficult to do in-season as we don’t get many training blocks due to the back-to-back race weekends and the odd week we have off. But I think the one thing that will change is the triple header, which has a very high emphasis on recovery and not much about training.


Although 3 races in 3 weeks don’t sound much, we are at the track from Thursday to Sunday and then fly out the Monday and that is where we get Tuesday, and Wednesday off and then we fly back out.


However, for hot races, we will do heat training where we use heat acclamation and learn to adapt to the heat. We are doing that right now in preparation for Saudi Arabia. We are getting Yuki in the sauna so he can get used to the temperatures and get his body ready to perform in a hot environment.


Other races like Budapest, Singapore and Abu Dhabi are also quite hot as well and that is where we do more heat training. During the summer break, we get a good block where we up the ante a little bit with training.


There are some more physical tracks compared to others, but the only thing that changes is if it is a hot race or a track that has high altitude – for example, Mexico has got a high altitude and can be hard with regards to the cardiovascular perspective, so those are the races we change things up.


CG: Is it hard to keep drivers in the right mentality to train constantly, especially after a hard weekend?


Michael Italiano: All sports are going to be emotional because as athletes you tend to label yourself based on your results and unfortunately you can't control results, and this can be quite challenging.


I like doing a thing called a ‘mid-week spiel’ where on Wednesdays Yuki and I sit down and air things out that are bothering us and get them off our chest.


A clear mind heading into a race weekend is very important, these guys have a cognitive overload when Friday, Saturday and Sunday roll around and I don’t want to fill their heads up already with stuff that doesn’t matter.


I like to keep drivers prepared and make sure things are consistent. This means making sure they have a regular routine they follow by going to bed and waking up at a set time, making sure they stay on top of their mobility and nutrition.


These things are very important as being consistent all the time gets them into the right mindset as it means they have prepared and done everything they can before the race begins and they can go out have some fun and perform.

From Michael Italiano's Instagram

CG: You started your own coaching business just over two years ago, how is that going for you?


Michael Italiano: It’s been a little personal project of mine and it is also a huge passion of mine.


After spending a lot of my time with one driver, I think starting my own online business has allowed me to help more people and share my knowledge worldwide and that has been exciting, but it takes a lot of work.


I am having fun with it, but it requires more love from me to help it grow. I am in the works of getting more people to come to help me grow the business, but I love doing it and getting amazing feedback back, it is a nice little hobby to have when I come back from F1.


The sport can really consume you especially when you travel so far and have a bad race, you sometimes come back, dissect it and end up overanalysing it and it ends up getting into your head too much. I like having my business as it gets my mind off F1 for a week or two.


CG: You worked with Daniel for 5 years and you're now working with Yuki. Have you and Yuki created a strong relationship?


Michael Italiano: Yuki and I did a Dubai pre-season camp which was good. It allowed us to get to know each other better and also really get started on training. It was good bonding time, our relationship flowed better than we naturally expected.


The relationship is really good, and it honestly could not have gone any better. I feel very lucky to be able to have worked with Daniel and have that relationship with him but now also moving into the shoes with Yuki and it feels so natural with him, I feel very fortunate.


CG: You travel a lot during the calendar year, how do you maintain a good work-life and home-life balance?


Michael Italiano: I do things that make me happy, I like having a routine and sticking to the routine I have at home when I am away travelling.


I like to read a book and listen to podcasts. Even the little things mean a lot to me, I bring a lavender spray with me, and I spray it on my pillow at home and also on the pillow in the hotel, so it reminds me of a lot of home. It helps keep me in check and doesn’t let my environment dictate my mindset too much.


If I keep my routine the same when I am not at home, then it doesn’t feel like I am travelling. You don’t get to see your loved ones of course but it is only temporary.

From Michael Italiano's Instagram

CG: Lastly, we just had the Bahrain Grand Prix and we are now heading into Jeddah this weekend. How are you feeling ahead of the rest of the year with all these new circuits and more races?


Michael Italiano: Every year is challenging as it feels like there is always a new race getting added every season, so your mindset doesn’t change as you always go into the new season with a busier year.


I just have to make sure my athlete is doing all the basics right and keeping consistent because the basics do catch up to you quickly if you are not doing them constantly.


This year I am excited as it is a new year and I am working with a new driver with a lot of talent. I am very eager to help Yuki grow as a human and also as an athlete as I feel he has a very bright future.


I am very excited for us, as race one went very well from a personal perspective, the team from a car perspective are not where they want to be from what they have mentioned and hopefully, we can find something there. But, internally between me and Yuki we have made some good steps in race one and we are looking to build upon them.


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