Formula One Drivers Fitness PDF Print E-mail

Aiming for the top in Formula One does not only mean spending time and effort on making a car go quicker. In the last few years, F1 teams have become more and more aware of the importance of keeping drivers in top physical and mental condition in order to enhance the global team performance.

Alike most of its competitors, Panasonic Toyota Racing has totally integrated this aspect as a priority and puts a premium on making sure its drivers are given the best possible training and medical care:

- Panasonic Toyota Racing is the first Formula One team with full-time medical doctor
- Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli is one of F1's leading medical practitioners with a record in the sport stretching back more than 10 years
- For the first time in the sports, both a doctor and a physio attend every test session and every race weekend.

A round-the-clock programme for body and mind

A driver's fitness programme is based on the definition of a profile that combines the human factor with the athletic abilities. Everyone responds differently to the various trainings and therapy methods and it is important to find the best possible formula.

- Drivers undergo an initial complete checks including food intolerance test and personality questionnaire
- A personalised fitness programme is then established combining indoor and outdoor activities
- These activities are backed with a personalised diet
- Drivers are also introduced to relaxation and concentration techniques

All these elements are planned to form a round-the clock programme for body and mind, adjusted to the drivers' schedule: it has to fit in between racing, testing and fulfilling PR duties, which has become so important nowadays. Over winter it is easier to carry out fitness development programmes over several days or weeks while during the racing season, work is focused on maintaining the level of fitness through short training sessions.

As for Panasonic Toyota Racing, the huge task of planning and following-up drivers fitness is left to the highly experienced Dr Ceccarelli:

"I give the drivers a full training", says the doctor, "starting with a full medical check-up and physical analysis conducted in the gym by collecting various data. From these information I can draw conclusions on the driver's body fluid level, stress level, muscular mass but also on his physical and mental energy: some drivers are like engines they consume a lot of "fuel" during a race, others less. Then I design the appropriate fitness programme - including nutrition - to help the driver to use all of his potential for an entire race."
Tremendous constraints

Drivers' fitness is tailored-made to offer the best possible answers to these facts:
- The Lateral G-forces exerted on a driver can be as much as 4.5 G, which means about 25 kg on the neck
- The Longitudinal G-forces exerted on a driver can be as much as 4.5
- Acceleration: to 1G, braking up to 4.5G, cornering up to 3G
- For instance, a F1 car can brake from 185kph to stand still in 3.5seconds and 80 metres (rate of deceleration 4G)
- The heart rate can reach 170 - 190 BPM for example on the starting grid
- During a Grand Prix, the pulse rate of a Formula 1 driver hovers around 160 beats per minute, and has peaks of over 200. The pulse rate of a healthy young man is typically in the region of 60 beats per minute.
- Blood pressure can increase up to 50% whilst racing


Improving a F1 driver's muscular mass and endurance implies a very localised bodybuilding: any car designer will indeed tell you that the thinner, the lighter, the better to fit in the tiny F1 car cockpit. It is then important to develop strength without increasing volume and weight too much. Some specific muscles groups particularly need to be developed, one of the most important being without doubt the driver's neck.  

Some activities are commonly integrated to all drivers fitness programme:

- indoor activities: running and cycling on machines, weight-lifting as well as training on special equipment designed to reproduce F1 racing conditions.
- outdoor activities: mountain biking, race cycling, jogging, tennis, kayak (which is excellent for cardio-vascular training)

Most of the time, the programme has to be completed with the drivers' favourite activities. As they have to train so long hours, it is important that they do not get bored too quickly...

Drinking and eating
Peak physical condition and response to F1 cars constraints is also given by a proper healthy diet. The point is to provide energy, proteins (main muscles feeder) and minerals without slowing down metabolism and digestive system, as this does not only affect the body but also the mind capacities and reactions.

- F1 Drivers loose approx. 2-3 litres of water during a race
- Importance of fluid level in the body has been underlined by sports studies showing that a person losing just 4% of their body weight can lose up to 40% of their psycho-physical capacity.
- The average recommended daily fluid intake is four litres (which few common people manage)
- The Toyota drivers drink no less than 8 litres in the days preceding very hot races like Australia, Malaysia, and Brazil...
- Drivers have a drinking bottle (containing water and mineral salts) installed in the cockpit with a pipe going through their helmet. Capacity around 75cl.

A typical regime is a balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein and various vitamins and minerals, if necessary through a complement aside of meals.
No wonder why all drivers regularly quote mineral water and pasta as their favourite food and drink...

A typical race day menu
The time when meals are taken also has an impact on performance and nothing is left to chance, particularly on a race day:

07:30   Breakfast: milk and/or yoghurt, cereals, fresh fruits...
08:00   Massage to wake up and warm-up muscles
09:30   Warm-up session

Throughout the day, drivers drink carbohydrated drinks, which are an excellent way to hydrate the body and provide him with energy without hampering digestion

10:00/11:30   Warm-up technical debrief followed by PR activities

Ideally lunch should take place about 4 hours prior to the start of the race but it is generally very difficult to fit this in the race day schedule. Therefore drivers usually do as follow:

11:30   Very light portion of pasta, vegetable soup
12:00   Drivers take a rest and most of the time sleep
12:40   30-minute massage to reawaken muscles
13:15   Drivers get ready to jump in their race car
14:00   Race start
End of the race  Debriefing and PR duties followed after a certain time by relaxing massage and a good meal to recover lost proteins and vitamins. 

The sensitivity of a top-line Formula 1 driver is so finely developed that he can feel a change as tiny as 0.5% in front-rear aerodynamic balance. He can sense a difference in the car's behaviour if its front ride height is altered by as little as 1mm.
Throughout the race, a driver aims to keep his engine RPM within a band of 2000rpm (where maximum power is produced). He can judge his pace so exactly that, on a clear track, he can repeatedly achieve consecutive lap-times within a range of 0.2 second.
It is then utterly important to help him maintaining a perfect level of concentration throughout the race to keep all his senses at their peak awareness. To that effect, a special training based on in depth medical and psychophysical studies is given to the drivers to enable them to control stress level and work on their concentration.
A team priority

Panasonic Toyota Racing, since starting from a clean sheet of paper just about three years ago, has always put a premium on motivating its staff and helping him to perform well.
The team is made up of over 550 people, 30 nationalities, of which 70 people travel to the races and about 50 to the tests: mental and physical fitness programs are proposed for the team as a whole, taking into account the needs and specificities of each group, including sedentary staff at the Toyota F1 Factory in Cologne.
A fully equipped gym has been opened with fitness trainers available to establish personalised programmes for team personnel. With people having to work so many hours providing such facilities make their life easier.
The team drivers are constantly accompanied and followed-up in their mental and physical preparation.
A professional program for young drivers is also conducted.

The future

By entering into co-operation with Dr Ceccarelli, the Panasonic Toyota Racing team has become a sort of full-size laboratory for medical research on the drivers and F1 team members. Looking after drivers training programme has now fully become a science as developed as the one applied to enhance the car's performance. Dr Ceccarelli collaborate on pioneering research like:

- Development of a telemetric system to monitor drivers during the races
- Electrocardiogram and heart rate / Body temperature / Blood pressure
- Measurement of the neck muscles work by accelerometers and inclinometers
- Breathing rate and volumes
- Improved understanding of the psychophysical demands on drivers
- Application of research learnt on track to the everyday driver for safety & enjoyment
- Promotion of the importance of healthy driving to the general public

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 May 2008 20:32

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