Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport. No cost is spared in ensuring their cars reach the finish line in the most efficient and effective way possible. The methods they employ to increase the pace of their machinery are endless, which has led to F1 being the most technologically advanced and complex sport in the world. All the technical aspects of an F1 car's performance are optimized, but they do not drive themselves, therefore, it would be negligent to ignore the driver’s performance too. Driving an F1 car is an incredibly physical activity, and an array of studies show the effects of physical fatigue on cognitive function. Furthermore, having a driver at an ideal weight can assist in optimizing the power-to-weight ratio while the driver being fit and strong can mitigate the risk of injury during impacts.
F1 Drivers need to be in the best shape possible within their weight restrictions to consistently extract the most out of the car. This can’t be achieved if they are injured. The incredible amount of G-force experienced by F1 pilots requires a strong structural base to reduce and mitigate injury while also providing them with the strength to operate their cars in an optimal fashion. Romain Grosjean withstood 67G during his accident at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix while drivers experience 4-5G in the hard braking zones in China and fast sweepers in Silverstone. To put this into context, experiencing 4G during a corner roughly equates to 26kg of Centrifugal force on the driver’s neck (Williams, 2021). Having more muscle on your frame and being physically stronger play a large role in how drivers can withstand this force each lap while increasing how resilient drivers’ bodies can be during accidents.
When a driver starts to fatigue physically and dehydration has set in, the reaction times and mental awareness of the driver can decrease significantly if the driver’s fitness levels are not sufficient and therefore will lead to errors that the driver wouldn’t usually make (Stott, 2013). If drivers are getting physically tired, then their on-track performance and the subsequent result are likely to decrease. This results in teams optimizing the driver’s fitness level to improve overall team performance. Morley and colleagues (2012) found that high body temperature brought on via 50-120min of exercise showed a delayed drop in cognitive performance an hour after exercise. Moreover, the difference between results in the volunteer and trained professional groups in this study suggests that individuals who expose themselves to relevant training stimuli have a greater cognitive performance during post-exercise recovery. But how does this relate to motorsport? For motorsport classes that run several races over the course of a day or weekend, the overall cognitive performance throughout the weekend could be improved by having a higher overall fitness level. This is due to the comparative decrease in the amount of effort required and corresponding increase in recovery, allowing the driver able to work at a higher cognitive level for longer. This can translate to less on-track errors at the tail end of races or race weekends.
Okay, but you’re not a formula one driver so why do YOU need one?
If you are a fitter, stronger and healthier individual then you are more likely to cope with injuries and sickness better, meaning that if you are unwell on a race weekend, sicknesses or injuries will be less likely to affect your performance. You will also have more energy overall assisting in productivity throughout everyday life. Another reason to employ a coach to look after your physical preparation is to ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have'. As a coach, I aim to prepare my athletes for the next logical step in their motorsport careers. The step-up is generally more physically demanding. Therefore, the physical preparation between the two classes usually crosses over, but more importantly, when that call-up comes, they are ready!
There are several benefits of getting stronger, fitter, and healthier that will directly, and indirectly, correlate to your overall motorsport performance. You would be doing your team and sponsors an injustice by not giving yourself the best opportunity to perform by neglecting your physical preparation. The benefits of weight optimization through physical training and nutrition and a level of physical preparation where you can compete at a higher level for longer will contribute significantly to winning races. Physical preparation is not the primary reason for motorsport success and should by no means be supplemented for skill work by motorsport athletes but neglecting the physical preparation will result in lower overall performance and consistency among races. A higher level of fitness will allow drivers to focus on the intricacies of operating their machinery without being affected or having to worry about physical fatigue and the diminished mental awareness that accompanies this. So, whether you’re a weekend warrior, rising star, or established professional, it’s a great idea to get a coach!
Morley J., Beauchamp G., Suyama J., et al. (2012) Cognitive function following treadmill exercise in thermal protective clothing. European Journal of Applied Physiology. doi: 10.1007/s00421-011-2144-4.
Stott, A. (2013) Physical demands of driving a racing car. Retrieved from: https://astottprofitness.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/physical-demands-of-driving-a-racing-car/
Williams, Jackson. (2021). Review of the Physiological Responses to Open-Wheeled Racing with Current Trends in Testing and Strength Training.