Physical and mental fitness are essential for success in Formula One -- and especially so at the end of a long and grueling racing season. The penultimate race, the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, is particularly demanding on...
Physical and mental fitness are essential for success in Formula One -- and especially so at the end of a long and grueling racing season. The penultimate race, the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, is particularly demanding on drivers
The globe-trotting that is so much part of the job of a Formula One driver reaches its peak at the end of the season. The last stops are Italy, the USA and Japan -- three races on three continents, and all of them within a short four-week period. Between the high-speed classic at Monza and the season's finale in Suzuka, a very special challenge has awaited the competitors since its inclusion in the calendar in 2000 -The USA Grand Prix in Indianapolis, a race that features the only banked corner in modern Formula One.
Opened in 1908, the 'Brickyard' is one of the most famous racing circuits in the world. Formula One drivers use only one part of the traditional circuit - the steep banked corner that sweeps into the start/finish straight. This part of the track is the longest flat-out stretch in Formula One, and the cars hit 320 km/h at the end of the straight. Cars are at maximum throttle for a total of almost 30 seconds and drivers are subjected to powerful centrifugal forces, especially in the banked turn 13.
Compared to other athletes, Formula One drivers must condition their muscles for 'static' performance rather than an active aerobic work-out. A particular problem is centrifugal force, which can generate 2.5g of load on a driver in a hard corner -- that's the equivalent of having two and a half times their own bodyweight pushing against them for up to 73 laps of a modern circuit. Hard acceleration and braking also take their toll. Drivers are subjected to as much as 5g under hard braking, which is enough to hurl the teardrops in their eyes against the inside of their helmet visor. It's simply not possible to attain the peak of fitness needed to withstand this kind of punishment overnight -- drivers must stay on special training programmes all year round.
Drivers face medical stresses as well. The abrupt speed changes in Formula One can move the brain inside the skull, and the volume of blood pumped through the heart's ventricles changes constantly. In combination, these problems can starve the brain of bloody and even cause momentary blackouts -- but not if a driver is physically fit. Lest we forget, Formula One is an extreme sport.
Almost all F1 drivers have personal trainers or physiotherapists who tailor-make a special diet and fitness programme. Fortunately for the trainers, F1 drivers tend to be enthusiastic athletes who perform well in activities like running, cycling, skiing and soccer. Training concentrates on two areas in particular: endurance and muscle strength. Only drivers in top physical condition can get through 90 minutes of a hard race without losing concentration -- and vital seconds.
Training puts special emphasis on neck muscles. These are heavily pressurized in long, high-speed corners like the Brickyard's banked turn, because drivers have to hold their heads up against the prevailing centrifugal force. A driver's head and helmet weigh around 7.5kg, and a load of 2.5g in the bend means a lateral force of almost 19kg. Under hard braking, the driver's head is pulled forward by forces as high as approx. 35kg. Only top athletes can withstand this kind of strain.
But strength alone would be of little help to Formula One drivers, because fitness and concentration are two sides of the same coin. By way of example, the top Formula One drivers have a resting pulse rate of less than 50 beats per minute, but the psychological and physical strain during races cause it to rise as high as 180. However, drivers have to keep their cool even when they're working hard. Only the mentally and physically fit can push their performance to the limit through the entire season.