The life of a Formula 1 driver is a glamorous one: Jet-setting around the world to exotic locations, hanging out with celebrities on private yachts and getting behind the wheel of car that can hit in excess of 200mph.
Of course, there’s an immense amount of preparation that goes into to being in the position to squeeze into the cockpit of an F1 car and race at break-neck speeds for two hours non-stop. To put it simply, it’s not just about driving.
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To find out just what it takes to be fit for F1, T3 made the trip to the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey to get an insight into the physical and mental demands of the drivers.
Clayton Green, manager of the McLaren Human Performance Programme has the job of helping drivers sustain their performance inside the car and has most notably worked closely with the now Mercedes-bound Lewis Hamilton during his championship-winning season in 2010.
Green revealed that the demands on a driver are probably greater than most think. From the ability to quickly filter relevant data in the brain, to the excess strains on the neck, back and leg muscles when sitting so low in the seat, being in F1 shape is a full body workout and we got to sample of the kind of rigorous regimes they can go through.
Intense testing can go on for an entire day, analysing a range of critical areas including racing stamina and thermoregulatory capability to show the effects of increased core temperature. Just like footballers or sprinters, drivers need to be light and lean as is possible to limit the added weight to the car which has been become more important in recent years. This means taking care of key areas like core strength to generate a stable foundation as well as regular aerobic activity like running or cycling.
One of the areas of the body that can often be overlooked sitting inside a F1 car is the strain on neck and the chest muscles. When hitting the corners at high speeds the force can be comparable to someone throwing a very big animal at you that lands on your back.
Sitting inside a replica of the cockpit inside the Mclaren Technology Centre gym gives you a sense of the restrictions imposed on drivers in terms of space to maneouver inside the car. It can also show you the effects that excessive force can have on the upper body by hooking up a helmet that is then connected to sets of weights to help recreate the difficulty of staying in control of the car under that extreme pressure, as demonstrated in the video below.
Additionally , specially designed rigs can be used to help re-create the scenario of taking corners at increased speeds and prepare drivers before they hit the track. Resistance training is also valuable so some time spent on the rowing machine should come in handy as well.
Handling speeds in excess of 200mph means keeping a firm hold on the wheel and using a grip test, the team can analyse how capable you are of keeping control of the car when it really quickens up. Many of the exercises from squats to pull-ups are exercises common to workouts for professional and amateur athletes but are as important as the time spent in the car.
Racing stamina is of course key to the ability to sustain localised muscular fatigue, restricted breathing from the harness and the vibrations fatigue can have on small muscles.
The VO2 Max test or Bicycle-ergometer test which is also commonly used by cyclists and rowers to test endurance levels, is similarly applied to Formula 1 drivers donning a mask to track oxygen intake, a standard heart-rate monitor, a battery to track endurance levels going beyond 20 minutes on an exercise bike at an average of 70W of power.
In just a few hours, we had been exposed to the physical and mental rigours that drivers must endure to be at the top of their game and found out that we were far from F1 fit after the data was collected. That of course is the next important step after a sweaty session in the gym, with an analysis so sophisticated that the Human Performance team can pinpoint strengths, but more importantly weakness both mentally and physically specifically in your bio-dynamics.
While we left the Technology Centre with thoughts on whether we should cut back on trips to the nearby chicken shop on the way home, the report handed to us on the way out was a reminder that time spent being hooked up to GPS monitors in the gym is as important as sitting in a simulator or squeezing your body into that tiny cockpit driving seat.
Vodafone VIP are providing the chance for one winner and their friend to also train like a champion at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking. To enter, visit www.vodafone.co.uk/vip between 12pm on Thursday 11th October and 12pm on Wednesday 7th November.