It is of course a difficult time at the moment because we have got nothing concrete in front of us, things change very quickly and weekly we are having to look at it and say ‘how do we train? What does it look like?’. There needs to be a balance between ensuring that we don’t decondition but also without knowing when races are going to be the last thing we want to do is push and push and kill enjoyment and motivation. Especially when motivation at the moment for everyone is more about how they are, how their family are, relatives, the outside world. These are tough times which transcends sport and just being there for someone whether it’s emotionally or physically is all the motivation.
However, what we do know is that when the races do come, they are going to come thick and fast. F1 still hope, and we still hope, that we can get a decent race calendar built for when we do return to racing, and this will be motivation in itself for everyone to ensure they do the basic things to keep fit, strong and live well to prepare. A preparation that needs to start now as it will be an unprecedented physical demand no race driver has ever had to endure, with what we expect to be a large amount of back to back races, leaving little or no recovery time.
The Driver Athlete
Training programmes typically follow cycles of off-season, pre-season, in-season and post-season. Athletes are hit hard with long breaks in their training, season or competition and I think in this time F1 drivers even more so, as they had just completed their pre-season, peaking for the first race which, rightly so, did not happen. We now need to go back to an off-season / pre-season mindset and lay the foundations in general cardio-respiratory fitness whilst improving on the strengths and weaknesses of the athlete and as more information on potential season commencement is possible we can increase the intensity.
In F1, as the season approaches the aim is to peak in three key areas: fitness, strength and weight. Hand eye coordination and reaction times are also key components which are honed in a number of different ways and could be another separate topic all together.
F1 drivers are exposed to high temperatures, 3-5 times the force of gravity, carbon monoxide, noise and vibration all which increase the heart rate to around 65-90% maximum for the entirety of a race; core temperature to 38-39.8 degrees celcius; and induce muscle fatigue, burning around the same amount of calories that you would for a half marathon. They have to tolerate all this whilst maintaining a high cognitive load of communicating with the team, pressing over 20 steering wheel buttons, and making continuous high stakes decisions that might not only impact the outcome of a race but also the safety of themselves and others (McKnight et al, 2019).
With this in mind the science has shown as that the fitter drivers experience less cardiovascular and metabolic strain, improving their ability to manage fatigue and maintain their precision and consistency. To achieve this long duration, low intensity cardiovascular training; running, cycling or often a mixture of both is effective; 60-90 minutes at 50-60% maximal heart rate. Slow and steady, still being able to hold a conversation. This can then be interspersed with some maximal heart rate / intensity training to prepare the body and mind for when the heart rate is spiked, particularly during overtaking and lights out.
F1 drivers need to be strong. Since the rule changes in 2017 allowing for wider tyres and more downforce cars are faster, which means more G-force; Drivers now experience 3-5 times the force of gravity throughout a race, this equates to 3-5 times their bodyweight which they have withstand. We can break the needs into the key areas; Neck, Trunk, Upper and Lower body.
The neck is key and as aerodynamic down force of a race car increases more and more importance will be pinned on isometric neck strength in a drivers training. F1 cars and new equipment like the Head and Neck Support (HANS) device have come a long way in protecting the head and neck but the drivers do still have to withstand extreme forces. To make this more practical, the head weighs approximately 5kg and the helmet 2kg and there is a force of 3Gs on the head and neck, that means the driver is having to withstand a force of 21kg through the neck. This will vary from track to track and crashes will obviously cause much greater G-forces often above 10Gs. Some tracks, like Suzuka, which is fast and technical with a lot of heavy breaking, will put considerable stress on a driver as here they have to withstand 3Gs of lateral force for around 40% of the race, or approximately 32 minutes! (Keedle, 2019) Drivers will often talk about the anti-clockwise tracks as being the hardest on the neck, mainly because they don’t do it much with only five in the calendar, as well as most of the drivers growing up racing clockwise tracks and building some tolerance to the direction. It will also be interesting to see what the bank at Zandvoort has in store!
It is also worth noting that in addition to the performance gains in the race car and the reduced risk of neck injuries, neck strength can prevent sport related concussions (Eckner et al, 2018), which by some accounts is the biggest time loss injury in F1.