top of page

Moving from Competitive Rowing to F1 Physio: 'The Mental Principles Are Still The Same'

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Written by Juan Arroyo, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina

This interview is the third part of ‘Track and Mind', a series by Divebomb that takes an in-depth look into the mental preparation of young drivers in the world of motorsport. It explores the techniques and strategies that drivers use to stay focused and motivated on and off the track.

Through a series of interviews and expert analyses, the series provides a comprehensive guide to mental preparation for young drivers. From visualisation exercises to breathing techniques, ‘Track and Mind’ uncovers the secrets to success in motorsport.


The following interview was conducted in February 2023.

There’s no set path to working in Formula 1. It’s the beauty of finding your place in the circus that plays at 23 stages. For Simon Fitchett, a former F1 physio and founder of CoFiGi Performance, his jump to the pinnacle was aided by his past in rowing.

“I've been in motorsport now for, crikey, 17 years. I started off more as a physio, so more on the sort of physical and nutritional preparation.” Fitchett told Divebomb he was “in the right place at the right time” to take advantage of the opportunity to start working in Formula 1 as David Coulthard’s coach. “I couldn't have started working with a better driver in all aspects, someone of his experience and how his career had gone. I was obviously very new to it.”

He described it as a “mutual relationship” learning-wise. Fitchett was able to bring new things on the physical side to Coulthard, though he found it tough to innovate with a driver as experienced as the Scot.

His tenure with Coulthard offered a first-hand glimpse into the mental hurdles drivers face—the rollercoaster of emotions, the triumphs and setbacks. While adept at aiding drivers physically, he hadn't yet ventured into mental training.

“To be able to help support him on a mental level, obviously I needed to go back and study. And that's exactly what I did. Luckily on my degree, one of the areas was sports psychology and I went more [on] the coaching side. With David, I had no sort of influence really in that area with him because I was still studying [at] that time.”

When asked if he was, in a way, thrown to the sharks in his first job, Fitchett conceded: “Motorsport was completely new to me.”

Credit - Simon Fitchett/Red Bull

He rowed competitively growing up, and participated in the development squad for the Sydney Olympics, where he would have formed part of the Great Britain Olympic Eight which at the time had eight rowers vying for a spot on the team.

Soon, however, the Briton was ruled out for a year following a back injury during the trials. On his return to rowing, he suffered the same injury and would be forced to withdraw from the squad.

Team GB went on to win gold in Sydney 2000.

Even without an Olympic participation, it was enough for Fitchett to get a taste of elite-level competition and the push necessary not just to win, but to keep up in general. They followed the same training schedule as Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinson, both considered Olympic legends.

“It enabled me to learn a hell of a lot, which I then was able to take into Formula 1 with me. It’s a completely different sport but, in terms of the mental aspects, the principles are still the same.”

Fitchett’s motivation after years of working in Formula 1 now lies in helping a much younger client base: junior category drivers.

He launched CoFiGi Performance as a co-founder in 2021, with the objective of improving drivers’ mental strength and eliminating weak brain patterns. The group partnered with Italy’s Formula Medicine to extend the Mental Economy Gym’s (MEG) tools to the United Kingdom.

“There is nothing else in the world right now that does what [it] does. There are plenty of things out there where you can monitor the brain and your heart rate. There are loads of tests that are done looking at the brain. But nothing that actually measures your neural efficiency and [helps to improve it].”

Credit: CoFiGi Performance

Where your nearest fitness centre has weights installed, MEG has reaction time games, colour tests, and joysticks; it is not your typical gym. Picture your weights suddenly getting heavier as you lift them, or your treadmill mysteriously changing speeds.

“Just as someone's starting to feel that they've got the hang of it, I can set its parameters to make it more challenging.

“The person then has to almost learn how to do it again and adapt. And I can put more and more pressure on the individual up until the point where they literally can't do it. But the more you work at it, [the more] we then start to see—because obviously we keep all the data—someone's neural efficiency really improve.”

It sounds frustrating, sure, but it’s purposely designed to be that way. Drivers with a higher level of maturity tend to use less energy. The more tired the brain is, the more vulnerable it is to lapses in concentration—which roughly translates to meeting the barrier in racing terms.

“[As for] the younger drivers, their brain activity is through the roof to start off with because of the amount of stimulation that they have.

“When you're starting with the guys who are 15, 16, [or] 17, they tend to find that their brains are really hyperactive, so by starting with them using the Mental Economy Gym and going through the programme, we've seen great results after literally a matter of weeks, months.”

Simon Fitchett joins Noah Lisle in Formula 4 UAE. Credit: F4 UAE

Drivers are thrown every possible curveball mentally. Any coach willing to guide them must be highly adaptable: “People expect the work that I do is to be a magician and just change someone mentally, to go from mentally weak and not able to deal with pressure, to suddenly being able to deal with it. If I was able to do it that quickly, I'd be one of the richest men in the world. “There is no magic in situations like that,” Fitchett explains.

“The work that I do is a process; it doesn't happen overnight. You have to start to get to know the person, how they deal with certain setbacks, and then start to do little bits of work. In a way you're changing the thought patterns of someone, and they are pretty ingrained over time.”

But those thought patterns vary heavily from driver to driver: “[Sergio Pérez and Jerome D'Ambrosio] are very different characters, very different people but both exceptionally good drivers. They went about things in different ways, but it works for them.

“I always thought when working with [Jerome] that he's such a great people person, and he understands them well. Checo, he's still driving, so he still [has] a [long] way to go yet before he hangs up his helmet. But he has a tremendous skill set not only with driving but as a character and a person outside as well.”

These are drivers who were in their twenties when Fitchett worked with them, mind you. Difficult—albeit not impossible—patterns to eliminate were already developed. It wasn’t a matter of reaching a peak for them, but rather staying at it.

“To actually make a difference with [Formula One drivers] is more of a challenge, and the contribution that you can make is difficult to see.

“Starting with someone in F4 who's 15 or 16 and starting to work on their thought processes, when you actually then get to see them a couple of months later, you can see very clearly the improvements.”

He repeatedly emphasised that mental health and development comes from drivers’ own effort, and he never takes full credit for their improvement. For anyone who does it within his profession, Fitchett considers it ‘disrespectful.’

“From a fitness point of view, I can tell someone exactly what they need to do and stand there and guide them through the programme so they become absolutely as fit as they can be, but I haven't made them [to] be that fit.

“I've helped them and I've provided the right things for them to do, but they've done the work [themselves]. That's how it works from a mental aspect as well.”


bottom of page