Try telling a Formula One driver that driving a car is for the fat and lazy.
Despite the fact that they effectively earn a living by sitting in a car, the strength and endurance required of a F1 racer is pretty incredible.
For starters, Formula One is physically strenuous because there are numerous “G-forces“, or forces of acceleration, acting on the driver.
According to F1 Complete, there are lateral G-forces which can make the driver feel as though there is an extra 25 kg (or 55.12 lbs) on his neck. That’s like having an average sized Dalmatian attached to your neck while you’re trying to drive a car. And if the dog-weight wasn’t enough, a racer’s helmet feels like it weighs 7 kg, or 15 pounds.
Furthermore, there are also longitudinal G-forces acting on the driver, plus additional forces from car acceleration and deceleration mid-drive. And despite all of these forces, the driver needs to maintain an upright position with these forces acting upon him for the duration of the drive.
But that’s not all. At the start of a race, the driver’s heart rate can get between 170 – 190 bpm, and during the race the number “hovers around 160 beats per minute, and has peaks of over 200”. Contrastingly, the heart rate of a “healthy, young man is typically in the region of 60 bpm”. Keep in mind, that races are about two hours long, which is a long time for the heart to be beating 3 times the average rate.
And finally, the “extreme heat” found in the F1 cockpit, “especially at the hotter rounds of the championships, also puts a vast straight on the body”. In fact, according to the Formula 1 official page, “drivers can sweat off anything up to 3kg of their body weight during the course of a race”. That’s 6.6 pounds of water lost in two hours.
Now that we’ve outlined the conditions of F1 drivers, let’s get to how they adapt to them.
Without a doubt, the most important body part a Formula One driver must train is the neck. According to BBC Sport,”McLaren drivers can train using a helmet attached to pulleys which pull the neck from different angles” and Renault drivers “use manual resistance techniques specifically designed for each circuit”.
In terms of endurance, F1 is closer to marathon runners than soccer. During a sport like soccer, players can take short breaks from running or grab a water during halftime. But F1 drivers don’t have any time to take a break — just like professional runners. To prepare for the extreme conditions of racing, racers participate in “intensive training” that focuses on “running, cross-training, and cycling” in order to maintain “specific heart rates” for longer time periods.
For a racer, strong arms are a necessity. The arm “muscles must be incredibly strong but not so big that the driver is carrying extra weight or size”.
According to the Bleacher Report, Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen will “train his arm muscles to be strong by sitting balanced on a gym ball and holding out a three kilograms weight in front of him like it is a steering wheel. He will then be directed by his personal trainer to turn the wheel left, right or return to centre”. An exercise like this “improves muscle strength over long periods of time and reaction times while under the pressure of keeping the weight held out in front of” the driver.
Just like with arms, legs need to be strong without being bulky. According to the Bleacher Report, a driver “needs to generate 80 kilograms of downward pressure on the break pedal” in order to slow down the car. That’s slightly more than 176 pounds — the same as 21 gallons of water.
Lastly, perhaps the most critical part of F1 racing is the mental aspect. Racers need to be able to stay completely focused for the entire race. Not only do they have to think about “racing lines, braking points, apexes and acceleration points on the track”, but they’re also thinking about strategy and speed, and communicate with their teams. Some
drivers “learn breathing techniques to stay calm at crucial moments”.
Interestingly, Saul Miller, sports psychologist, once stated that Formula One is “like playing chess at 150 miles an hour.”
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