Written by Jenny Clynes, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina
The general physical capabilities and requirements of a Formula One driver is widely known and discussed throughout the media. However, a subject that is crucial but has less discourse around it is the psychology of these drivers. The psychological build of an F1 driver involves the factors that create the mentality of a driver such as their emotional responses and their outlook on the world. It is how they deal with stress, rejection and comparison as well as how they mentally cope with their role as an athlete. Their psychological skills play a vital role in getting into Formula One, alongside staying and thriving in the environment.
The first key psychological component of a Formula One driver is complete confidence. To compete and excel in the sport, they need to believe that they are truly the best at it. Therefore, there is very little room for imposter syndrome in the mind of a driver. Even a slight waver in confidence could be detrimental for themselves, their team and their career overall. The confidence needed extends to the driver believing that they can bounce back instantly from a bad qualifying or race, even if the odds are stacked up against them. They also need to strengthen the confidence in themselves to not surrender to the constant media comparisons made between themselves and their teammates. Although, there must be a certain amount of love for the competition as it is ultimately what drives them forwards and motivates them to improve.
A Formula One driver needs to have self control at all times. They need to maintain their focus when they are behind the wheel, not allowing them to become distracted even for a millisecond. A millisecond in Formula One can be disastrous or even deadly. Staying alert and concentrated on a single goal for such an extended period of time requires immense self control, especially when it comes to controlling their thoughts when racing. Drivers must be thinking and making quick decisions at all times, but also focused on what they are doing - two very difficult things to do in unison. At the end of the day, they need to ensure they are not overthinking their decisions.
Following along the similar idea of self control is emotional regulation in a Formula One driver. They constantly keep their emotions in check when in the public eye, no matter how angry or frustrated they are. They need to be able to maintain their competitive nature but not allow themselves to be completely crushed under the sheer weight of the competition. Besides that, they must never let their emotions dictate their next move on the track as this can be fatal.
A driver's mindset needs to be strictly disciplined. The ability to push their bodies to the limit is a must even if they are exhausted or have had a bad day. Difficult and strict routines are needed to stick to even though this means sacrificing a lot of time with family and friends to keep up with the requirements of remaining at the top of the motorsport world. This requires a strong sense of discipline which may be difficult to create but easy to break.
Another main component of a Formula One driver's psychology is visualization. Many drivers have reported using visualization as a tool to keep them energized and prepared throughout their career. Visualization may involve picturing themselves on the podium and the feelings they would have experienced up there. Sebastian Vettel was known around the paddock for sitting in his car with his eyes closed before a race began, imagining how he wanted it to end in his Red Bull days.
Bravery is also one of the most important aspects of their psychology. A Formula One driver is not only aware of the risks the sport brings, but in most cases, they personally know someone who has lost their life to racing. To be part of a sport which is also known for its life-threatening injuries and fatalities, while still enjoying competing in that sport, requires a high level of bravery that not many people are capable of instilling.
So, how do both current and future F1 drivers build and look after this specific psychology? Most of them have been training psychologically since an early age through sports psychologists and personal psychologists. Sports psychologists help with the mental training surrounding racing. Charles Leclerc has had his own sports psychologist since he was 11. Personal psychologists provide the drivers support on dealing with their personal lives and any other psychological challenges the drivers may face. Both of these forms of therapy allows an emotional output thus aiding to their overall emotional stability and regulation, equipping them with tools to let go of these issues and only focus on the track during a race weekend. These psychologists also offer them methods of control and relaxation such as techniques to control breathing and heart rate.
It is also important to take into consideration that a lot of their psychology is already ingrained in them by the time they reach the feeder series such as Formula 2 as they have been training in this manner for essentially their whole lives. Michael Schumacher once claimed this mentality is “what you grow up with” and it is a “character you have or build up”. In a way, it can be stated that Formula One drivers are engineered to have a specific psychological build from a very young age by their support group - they must have a winning mentality.
Like most people in the spotlight, Formula One drivers are known to have a very controlled social media presence where they have team members who manage their social handles. When they do use their accounts, these are mainly utilized as a platform to engage and connect with fans rather than actively scrolling. Some drivers have even been known to have a limited social media presence to ensure that they don’t let any negativity, rumors or online trolls get to their head. For instance, other than scoring seven World Drivers’ Championship titles, Lewis Hamilton is also notable for his prolonged social media breaks.
Aryton Senna is well-known for his strict psychological training and his emphasis on having both an athletically built body as well as mind. His regime consisted of strenuous athletic training, autogenic training, yoga and meditation in order to decrease mental stress and reach a state of mindfulness. It could be argued that this regime was somewhat successful given Senna’s impactful career.
Ultimately, the psychological side of Formula One is just as essential as its physical side. The brain and the body must work together in harmony to achieve the best results. As Sir Jackie Stewart said back in 2004, “the mind is everything”.