The Malaysian and Brazilian grands prix are two of the most physically demanding races on the FIA Formula One calendar. The fact that they're also back-to-back means that the drivers need to be in peak physical condition to handle the severe heat...
The Malaysian and Brazilian grands prix are two of the most physically demanding races on the FIA Formula One calendar. The fact that they're also back-to-back means that the drivers need to be in peak physical condition to handle the severe heat and humidity and the bumps and contours of the circuit.
It adds up to make the job of Jaguar Racing team physiologist, Nick Harris, an equally demanding one. Nick's job is to make sure that the drivers are in the best shape possible to complete a Formula One weekend to the maximum of their mental and physical abilities and with as much comfort as possible. As Harris explains, it's been a busy schedule.
"Antonio went to his hometown of Manaus because his sister is getting married, but after that he'll continue with his acclimatisation programme. Mark completed a full session on Monday and we worked on training up the muscles on the left side of his neck -- something that is vital for the anti-clockwise nature of the Interlagos circuit. We concentrated on specific stability work for the neck and shoulders. I'm not a big fan of putting weights on helmets for this purpose -- we have protocols in place for training the neck muscles, moving and contracting the neck into certain positions to what we call 'refining the recruitment pattern' of muscles to enable them to take the load through corners under g-force conditions.
"It's all about re-educating the muscles because both drivers have driven the circuit before, Mark in F3000 and last year and Antonio in Formula Ford and F3000. What I do with the drivers is load the neck through different ranges of contraction and train up the lower back and abdominals to support the spine. It's very important because of the bumps and contours of Interlagos, using exactly the same philosophy as how we train up the neck.
"Aside from training up the neck muscles, the programme consists on a combination of everything from running and cycling to swimming. Variety is very important to continue the progress of any athlete, otherwise the body can switch off.
"When the grand prix weekend starts, my role as a trainer changes. We wouldn't make the drivers take part in any training session beyond Thursday morning -- they simply have too many media commitments when they're not actively involved in driving the car. My job is to make sure that the drivers keep themselves well hydrated and are eating the right things. I am in complete control of their diet but these days drivers are very well educated in what to eat. They know when they need something that high on carbohydrates and low on fat or vice versa.
"Basically, much like the car, they need to be treated as a performance machine so they also need performance fuels. Heavy energy levels are required for a grand prix, so it's a question of maintaining the right hydration, carbohydrates and electrolyte balance in the body. Aside from that, I also need to make sure that the drivers are comfortable in all other respects -- to the extent of having the right bed and pillows. If there are any trouble points, I need to identify them and combat them.
"We're lucky to have two drivers like Mark and Antonio. Mark is a driver who trains very seriously. He understands the importance of fitness in Formula One, which is important because we're not blessed with a huge amount of time to devote to the human element in F1. In Malaysia, we were training about four times a day and when the temperature was hottest. Antonio too understands the importance of human conditioning. Basically, they know that they're investing in themselves as athletes to prolong their careers as long as possible. They both give one hundred and ten per cent and we can't ask for much more than that.
"After Brazil, two of the most demanding races on the calendar will be behind us but there are plenty of physically demanding circuits to come. Monaco is very mentally demanding for a driver as it's a challenging short circuit with a lot of tight corners. It's also warm there so if you're not physically and mentally on the ball, one mistake can cost you dearly. Hungary is also another hot, challenging race - as is Suzuka.
"They're a long way from the heat and humidity of Malaysia where a lot of drivers struggled. But Mark completed two thirds of the race and Antonio 42 laps and the feedback from both guys afterwards was very pleasing."