Since Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident on December 29, 2013, the 7 time Formula 1 world champion has been fighting for his life and I have kept him in my thoughts. I grew up in Germany and Michael was a living legend and inspiration to people everywhere. This accident affected me in a way I had not anticipated- it brought to mind my own vulnerability. A few days later I used this vulnerability as inspiration when, Mr Drakulic -journalist from Europe suggested an interesting idea: to research and write an article about the rigorous training routines and nutritional intake of Formula 1 drivers and to assess Formula 1 fitness. Formula 1 drivers have to be mentally and physically strong in addition to being well-hydrated. There’s training that has to be done to be elite at anything. You could compare a Formula 1 driver to top professional soccer players, champion boxers, star swimmers, the best in fencing, and elite martial artists. The reasoning behind this is that they need to be both physically and mentally strong in addition to having great balance, coordination. These drivers push themselves to their maximum human potential in order the endure the rigorous races.
The Physical Impact of a Race:
- It’s not just muscle tone, though. The drivers’ bodies have to adapt to the unique stresses of the track. A driver’s head weighs on average 6kg, the adds helmet 1kg more. When they go around a corner, their head weighs 40kg – so they need to build neck and shoulder muscles to handle that.
- Drivers bodies are subjected to over 5G forces (5 times normal gravitational pull) at corners.
- Ability to react with precision at 300km/h is crucial.
- During a race, a driver’s heart rate can reach 200bpm. Within a few minutes, they can go back to resting heart rate due to their extreme conditioning.
- Temperatures can hit 50 degrees C inside their fireproofed suits, and drivers can sweat around two litres during a race.
Elite F1 Driver Fitness:
A professional F1 driver can handle up to 6 hours of working out a day in addition to driving.
- The average human being has an average resting heart rate around 70bpm, the average formula 1 driver’s resting heart rate is around 40bpm due to their conditioning.
- Interval training ranging from low impact (Heartrate 120 bpm) up to high impact (up to Heartrate 200 bpm)
- Swimming, Jogging, Cycling, Extreme Hiking/Climbing and Soccer for endurance building.
- Many drivers partake in triathlon training to enhance their conditioning.
- Weightlifting up to 2 hours a day.
- Light weights with high repetition for long, lean muscle. Bulk muscular composition would be counter-productive to F1 drivers.
- The important muscle groups to focus on are: neck, shoulders, core, back, hands, upper arms, under arms.
- Recommended exercises: squat shoulder press, half squat bend-over row, wide range squat lateral raises.
- Drivers should work on developing quick, explosive power from their muscles. Not just for braking, but also for other quick bursts of action that may be required in a race.
- Exercises with swiss ball and medicine ball for coordination exercises.
- Catching the medicine ball (6-10kgs) from different angles in order to improve coordination and synergy between the muscle groups.
- To help improve reactions: Lie on their side to do crunches (pulling knees towards chest) and have a ball thrown at the, catch it and throw it back.
Mental Training: In order to drive at top speeds in extreme conditions for two hours at a time, an F1 driver must have elite conditioning in concentration and reflexes. They must train their minds to stay alert to an almost uber-human level. They need to have ultra fast reaction time at 300 km/h. This is why there are not many elite Formula drivers. Unlike soccer, that can have hundreds of professional, F1 only sees a select few make it to elite status.
- Stay hydrated the entire week before the race- about 4 liters a day plus 1 liter an hour during exercise.
- Eat a balanced diet:
- 6 small meals a day to speed up metabolism and increase concentration levels
- Plenty of lean protein
- Carbohydrates through steamed vegetables, fresh berry smoothies with protein.
- Avoid excessive fat, carbohydrates and alcohol
- Avoid late dinners, especially before the race, because the digestive system needs to be relaxed in order to regenerate muscle before the race.
Before the race:
- A low fat, low salt meal so the body does not retain water as the body weight must be low on the race weekend. If the driver is lighter, the engineers can balance the car better.
- Eat complex carbohydrate meals on race weekend- such as 100% whole wheat pasta or brown rice in order to provide energy and give the all-important stamina for the race itself.
- 1 liter of water an hour before the race
During the Race:
- Drink 2 liters of water during the race to stay alert. Dehydration during a race can cause faintness and nausea.
- Drivers can sweat off anything up to 3kg of their body weight during the course of a race.
After the Race:
- Drink 2 liters of water after the race to make up for the amount of water lost through sweat during the race.
- Maintain a rigorous diet to stay lean in between races:
- The heaviest driver is 73.5kg at 1.83m at this point in time.
- Some drivers weigh as little as 59kg- which means that drivers nutritional intake is based on enhancing long and lean muscle and cardiovascular supremacy.
The Unhealthy Aspect of F1 Driving
The reality is that F1 is becoming like jockeying and boxing- Formula One drivers body mass is constantly checked by their employers, the teams. Driver weight is a hot topic because next season’s redesigned car are heavier. In that respect, Formula 1 fitness benefits are countered by the health risks.
The car must meet a minimum weight of 642 kilos — the weight of the car and driver combined without fuel — to help level the competition but the further the car tips over this ideal weight, the slower it becomes. That means lighter drivers — such as Felipe Massa, who weighs 59 kilos, will have an advantage over taller drivers like Nico Hulkenberg, who weighs in at 74 kilos.
Teams try to develop the car but sometimes that means the car is going to be heavier, so when the car is heavier the only way to lose weight is the driver. Many drivers admit openly with struggling to meet the weight limit.
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