Formula 1 racing is surely a contender for the most stressful sport. Not only does it require extremely fast reactions and split-second decision-making, but the potential for calamity if you get something wrong puts a whole new layer of pressure on things. So how do the drivers prepare themselves to compete? It's a question we put to seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton when we spoke to him a few days after his winning run in the British Grand Prix.
"As I progressed in this sport, I realised driving alone is not going to win me championships. I have to look at every element of preparation," he explains. "It's been a process to try and find my centre. When I talk about being centred, it's about finding balance and calmness, which is why I practice breathing exercises, stretching and flexibility."
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Lewis has had a chance to hone that side of his fitness regime over the course of the last year or two, the enforced downtime of lockdown giving him the opportunity to get into both yoga and meditation. The former is partly thanks to the efforts of Angela Cullen, Lewis' physio, and an almost-constant presence at the racing driver's side. "She's always been nagging me about doing stretching, because she usually has to fix things – she's like 'If you stretch before, you wouldn't have to get fixed!'" he laughs. "So I started getting into stretching." The latter was prompted partly by a desire to improve his sleep habits, and he says his new meditation regime has been "groundbreaking".
There's also the important issue of fuelling your body. Lewis' approach to this has changed dramatically since the start of his career. "When I think back to when I was younger, I remember eating lots of meats and carbohydrates to fuel my training, but it often left me feeling groggy. So I made the decision to switch to a plant-based diet, which has been a huge improvement. It’s really changed my life," he says.
Hydration is another important element. Professional racing is a famously sweaty endeavour – estimates say drivers can sweat out up to 3kg of their own body weight over the course of a race – and hydration is a key part of Lewis' general health regime. "I make sure to drink lots of water and carry my full gallon of water around with me every single day. I don't always get the four litres, but I try to."
Finally, in this pandemic era, hand sanitizing has also become a part of daily life. Lewis has hand sanitizer dispensers courtesy of team sponsor INEOS in his hallway as well as his home gym. The heightened awareness of the dangers of the virus is understandable – Lewis tested positive for Covid at the end of November, causing him to miss the penultimate race of the season in Bahrain, and since our chat has spoken publicly about struggling with what he suspects is long Covid. The potential of illness to derail a season of racing is very clear.
"It's a different thing for us athletes. Because, well for me, I can't miss a race. You know?" he shrugs. "Every race has points, and if you miss a race it's very hard to get those points back. There's never been a more important time for us to be hygienic and to keep safe, and to keep others around us safe too."
Race day routine
In the immediate run up to a race, it's all about getting into a pattern. "It's the planning and the preparation... and making sure you've got everything covered," explains Lewis. The night before a race there's a document to read from his engineer, and another on the day of the race. "There will be notes, there'll be two very intense meetings, and a lot more studying afterwards," he continues. "Then after that, stretching and getting ready."
"I'm very in tune with my body before [a race]. I know how much I need to drink. I know what to eat and when. Getting a rhythm through the week, through the day is super important. And then right at the end, I just really say to myself ‘Let's go and have a great time’, because I got into the sport because I love racing."
A full version of this Lewis Hamilton interview will appear in the Anniversary Issue of T3, on sale 29 September. Subscribe here. (opens in new tab)