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Pushing to the limit: Yas Marina driving experience Day 2

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Pushing to the limit: Yas Marina driving experience Day 2
Sep 29, 2010, 10:48 PM

Today was the final part of the Yas Marina Circuit's two day experience, aimed at giving a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a Formula 1 ...

Today was the final part of the Yas Marina Circuit's two day experience, aimed at giving a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a Formula 1 driver.

After physical tests, karting and a 2 seater F1 ride yesterday, today we went through a series of mental tests devised by Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli of the human performance company Formula Medicine and drove F3000 cars.

Although the rides and drives have been fantastic and insightful, for me the most interesting part of this programme was Dr Ceccarelli's work. He has been honing his research and methods over 20 years working with F1 drivers from Jean Alesi, to Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica. Yesterday he took us through the physical tests, today he put us through the same mental tests he uses for F1 drivers and young drivers to assess whether they have the mental capacity to be a top driver.

I've always believed that the really top drivers use only perhaps 75% of their mental capacity to drive a car on the limit, but have 25% spare to think about the tyres, the tactics and to converse with the pit wall via radio.

Although this capacity is something you are born with, Ceccarelli's conviction is that by understanding the brain and how it works under stress, you can train it to perform tasks at a high level while conserving mental and physical energy and this means that, although you cannot make a driver capable of using only 75% of his brain, you can improve the performance. It is all about the brain's capacity to take in visual cues and process information.

"A driver must be fit to last the race without fatigue, but after that if I want to improve the performance of a driver, I have to make his brain run faster for a longer time," he says. "This we can achieve from trying to teach him how to do the same exercise with less energy. And in this way he can perform at a higher level for a longer time.

"Drivers have something different in the brain, because they have to be quick, clever, able to react and make decisions. When I started in F1 I was the same age as the drivers and I was surprised at how much better they were at everyday decisions, clearly their brain is faster than mine.

The driver is different from other athletes in that he has the capacity to take control of many things and make decisions in the right time."

The mental tests ranged from a simple test of reaction time, to visual memory tests, concentration and stress tests. The most tricky was a fast moving concentration exercise where words come up on a screen written in colour. If the colour is the same as the word, you click true if not, false using clickers in the left and right hand. One appears every second and to make things more difficult, the true and false changes from left to right hand at random. I got 85 out of 100 in 100 seconds.

Ceccarelli said that the record is held by Robert Kubica, who did 100/100 in 65 seconds. And even more mind blowing, Kubica did 300 correct answers in a row. This indicates not only intense concentration, but also a fast brain able to process information very quickly.

Reactions are a part of it and drag racer Rod Fuller, who was with us on the programme, showed us the portable device he uses to practice his reaction times.

Nicolas Todt sends all his young drivers and prospective clients to Formula Medicine and Ceccarrelli is able to tell teams if a driver has what it takes mentally to be a top driver.

The driving progressed though Radicals, two seater sports cars, to

F3000 cars, which are the culmination of the programme. These cars have paddle operated gearshift and are very enjoyable to drive. We followed behind 1989 F3000 champion Jean Alesi for 10 laps as he got progressively faster. Trying a bit too hard to keep up with him, I spun on the exit of a slow corner.

One of the unique things about this programme, is its scope, no other track could put on an event like this with the breadth of cars, two seater F1 car and even a 3 seater dragster!

Rod Fuller races in the NHRA's Top Fuel class in the USA under Yas Marina colours. Drag racing is big in the Middle East. I went out in this thing and the acceleration and the sensation of tunnel vision as we hit 240mph in just a few seconds over a quarter mile were the strongest impressions. The 1000hp Yas 3 seater car has been specially built to give people an impression of how it works. Fuller's real car has 8,000 hp and hits 500km/h! Amazingly he makes 25 steering corrections in a four second ride.

Bruno Senna and Johnny Herbert have been mentoring us for the past two days and decided they would like to go together in Rod's dragster.

We also drove the new F1 2010 Codemasters game for Sony PS3, using an arcade set up connected to six other machines. GP2 driver Jules Bianchi proved very fast on this.

All in all it's been a very insightful and tiring two days. We've learned a lot more of what it takes to be a driver, both on the physical and mental side and we've had the chance to see the experts at work close up.

Our Fan Ambassador Neil Donnell has been there every step of the way, enjoying the opportunity to get closer to the sport and to meet drivers like Jean Alesi, Johnny Herbert and Bruno Senna. Neil was lucky enough to have his two seater ride with a very fired up Alesi, who admitted afterwards that he had been "pushing."

We'll post Neil's content and thoughts on the event tomorrow.

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