Most of Europe is experiencing a very hot summer this year. Imagine driving for two hours in these conditions, in a very small car, with all the windows closed, the heating on maximum, while wearing a thick woollen coat, gloves, hats and boots....
Most of Europe is experiencing a very hot summer this year. Imagine driving for two hours in these conditions, in a very small car, with all the windows closed, the heating on maximum, while wearing a thick woollen coat, gloves, hats and boots. The experience might give you a "lite" version of what a Formula 1 driver goes through during a grand prix. This Sunday's race in Budapest is traditionally one of the hottest of the year and therefore one of the toughest for the drivers.
Ensuring that Felipe Massa is in the best possible shape this weekend, as well as being involved in the wellbeing of the whole team, is the Brazilian's trainer, Paolo Malpeli. "In Budapest we can expect not just very high temperatures but also quite a high level of humidity; conditions we have already encountered before, in Malaysia for example and to a lesser extent, in Bahrain," says Malpeli. "We have planned for this situation and know what to do to ensure everyone is in good shape."
As a professional athlete, a Formula 1 driver already has a high level of fitness and, at this stage in the year, combating the heat and humidity does not really involve looking at the driver's general level of fitness as this is something that goes on all the time, and is more of a medium to long term project. "In Budapest, we will be working on diet and hydration and concentrating on what we can do in the short term; that is to say from around four days before the race," continues Malpeli.
"We try and get the drivers to drink as much as possible of a total hydrating fluid that contains minerals and salts with everything that can be useful to fight this heat. Minerals and salts are vital to deal with fluid loss. Obviously in the car, temperatures get very high, as they can do in the garage for that matter, but a driver can end up losing a few kilos in weight during the race and also in fact during practice. From the start of Friday's free practice session onwards, they are spending a lot of time in the cockpit and with several hours at the wheel this means they can easily lose a couple of kilos."
"Inside the cockpit we are not talking about the 30 to 35 degrees we can expect as the ambient in Budapest, but we are looking at temperatures that can rise to 45, especially when the car is stationary. Remember the drivers wear a lot of clothing so they can easily sweat away a few kilos: kilos of water we are talking about, in the sense of sweat containing salts and minerals."
Look at photographs of the drivers, or watch them on TV in the press conferences, as they sit at their motorhomes and you will notice they all seem to carry one vital piece of equipment with them at all times - a drinks bottle. In order to ensure they are as hydrated as possible during the race, drinking almost constantly must become a habit that goes on throughout the weekend, building up to the time the driver climbs into the cockpit on Sunday afternoon. This explains why, invariably, every driver can be seen sprinting for the toilet, having parked his car on the grid, prior to the race start!
"It is important for the driver to start drinking well before getting in the car, say three hour before, bit by bit," explains Malpeli. "Then, when they are in the car they have to drink while sitting in the cockpit in the garage and when they stop for a moment during practice, they have their bottle to drink from again, and when they are racing they have a specific drinks bottle of around one litre of special solution, mounted in the cockpit. They sometimes need to be reminded to drink as they are concentrating on the race and on their performance and other things. But the more they drink in the days leading up to the race, the more they build up reserves. Our body takes time to assimilate these fluids and therefore it has to be done in advance. This helps the driver to remain lucid during the race."
Indeed this is an important point as it is fundamental that a driver remains hydrated from a mental as well as a physical point of view. "Obviously, there is an athletic element to all this in terms of the driver having to be physically fit to drive as their heart beat can rise dramatically during a race," maintains Malpeli. "From a normal rate of 45 to 65 at rest it can rise at times to 220 beats per minute. But these guys are trained athletes and they might comfortably sustain a heartbeat of around 180 when racing. Then there is the psychological element. A dehydrated driver, deprived of sugars and minerals, will lose concentration. Therefore it is important to keep this constant during the race and so he needs "fuel" that he can bring to bear on his body and mind."
So how does Massa usually cope with the sort of conditions we can expect at the Hungaroring? "Felipe has the advantage of already coming from a country where it is often hot. He does not have problems in this area, partly because he is young, but also because he is very fit. If you see him after a race, he looks quite fresh when he gets out of the cockpit and he is lucid; like Michael of course."
During a Grand Prix weekend, the drivers exert themselves during the periods when they are on track, but otherwise they can carry out their engineering debriefs and other duties in more comfortable and cooler surroundings. However, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro mechanics have a very long day at the track, most of it spent in the pit garages, where the ambient temperature is aggravated by the amount of heat given off by the race cars, so they too need to ensure they are sufficiently hydrated to work efficiently.
"I work mainly with Felipe but I am also looking at mechanics and engineers; this job covers the entire team as it is important for them to be fit and equipped to deal with the conditions," says Malpeli. "Looking after the team personnel should be considered as important as looking after the drivers - the mechanics must be hydrated as they work a very long day and it is already hot from eight in the morning. It is important for them to concentrate when experiencing stressful situations such as pit stops, as the slightest error on their part can have serious consequences. Therefore this weekend in Budapest, the entire team will be conscious of the need to combat the effects of heat and humidity."