It is well known in this day and age how important physical fitness is to a racing driver. With the modern day F1 driver subjected to unimaginable G force and battering, not to mention 2 hours of 190bpm heart rate, the drivers have to be almost superhuman just to survive one Grand Prix. Here, Bob Wood talks you through the most important aspects to be training when preparing for a race.
Functional Performance Enhancement
“For the last few years, the race here has been incredibly hot so we have to be well prepared and for the drivers, we need that extra little bit of fitness.” Sebastian Vettel
“This, in turn, presents the drivers with a tough challenge as the lap is very busy, meaning lots of corners and short straights, so fitness is very important, as is the correct hydration preparation.” Mark Webber
“There are so many corners that you are very busy in the cockpit, always fighting with the steering wheel… very challenging physically.” Fernando Alonso
The above are quotes from 3 drivers at a press conference on the day before qualifying at a single race – the Hungarian Grand Prix. There are no doubts that the competitors in this race were focused on all of the aspects and facets of formula one driving that were to unfold that weekend, and it is clear that one of the most foremost in their minds was overcoming the physical challenge ahead.
In sport preparation is one of the keys to success, and in no other sport is preparation so obvious as in motor racing. The “shop window” activity that we see in the F1 pits are just the tip of an iceberg of technical, mechanical, logistical and financial preparation that place 20 cars on the tarmac every other weekend. This team effort is focused through, and in the hands of one person – the driver. It follows that the commitment and attention to detail concerning a racers preparation has to match that of the vehicles they drive. Physical training is an essential component of the driver’s preparation package, and quite clearly a component that is valued and accredited by the drivers as they discuss their sport.
But you know this already… or you should! In this article I am going to try and simplify what can appear to be a complicated process: the effective physical training of a high performance racing driver. We will then look at setting you a practical challenge to over come and see how this positions you in elite driver terms.
The good news is that even though the driver performs in a highly specialised physical environment, their training can follow a recognised pathway that we apply to all elite athletes. It goes like this:-
Generalised Physical Preparation
Get this right and you have a great plan.
Generalised Physical Preparation
This is the foundation that any athlete needs:
• Flexibility, stability, dynamic core strength, generalised strength.
• Effective balance and clean movement patterns.
• A cardio-vascular base and fatigue resistance… endurance.
• Speed and power.
All of the above are essential “constants” in any athletic function. We say build an athlete before you build a tennis athlete, or build an athlete before you build even a specialised athlete such as a high-jumper. Get these foundations in place and you are already in a better place. We cannot categorically say that getting fitter, faster and stronger is going to make you a better driver, but what have you got to lose. It is also unwise to try and take on some of the more challenging aspects of specialised driving-specific training without this foundation to draw upon… so get out there and lay it down.
So this is the stuff that directly relates to the demands and dynamics of racing. It’s a longer list than you’d think and in future articles we will take on some of these specifics.
• Dynamic Trunk Stability
• Specific Momentum control and resistance
• Cervical Stability and Strength
• Balance and Equilibrium… postural “sense” training
• Postural endurance and specific fatigue profile resistance
• Reaction training
• Fine motor control under duress
• Spatial awareness and visual acuity
Get this stuff down and honed and I can confidently say that you will acquire a physical “tool kit” that will contribute to driver performance.
This is where you commit to working on the factors that relate to your own specific physical profile.
• Recognise and take advantage of your strengths.
• Identify and eliminate your weaknesses.
• Re-evaluate and respond during your training.
Some of us are naturally flexible, some are unstable, some show great bodyweight strength, others may have the co-ordination of a mollusc. It’s all about finding out your strengths and weaknesses and balancing them out.
A word about resilience
Sport is not meant to be easy. It is about overcoming challenges, setting bars, achieving realistic goals but sometimes taking on the less realistic ones. To cope with this you need to be “resilient”.
Drivers face challenges unique to their sport: long hours of travel, cold garages, intense bursts of physical activity and mental concentration, heat, humidity, vibration, waiting around, doing it again, more travel, meeting folks you don’t know, packing in practice time, delays, doing it again… and then again.
All this is part of the game and the successful drivers do not let this get in their way… they are resilient to it. A big part of this is to become a fitter animal than the next driver in the paddock. To throw off tiredness, overcome fatigue, and always be 100% physically prepared and ready at the wheel. You must train to dominate the sport rather than allow the sport to dominate you.
To achieve this you have to train real hard and condition yourself to overcome physical challenges. Take on stuff that you absolutely know is going to hurt and maybe you have some doubts that you’ll be able to do it… and when you do manage to pull through it, turn up and do it again the next day. Physical training is not about multi-thousand pound installations, air-conditioned gyms, MTV on the rower and a comfy seat on the pec deck. That stuff is soft-core.
I am always keen to re-introduce my drivers to the pain of high intensity bodyweight training… minimal equipment but maximum effort. Learn to dominate your own bodyweight, then allow your body to dominate the race car. Become “resilient”.
This article is an introduction to a series where we hope to take on some of the physical specifics that apply to the driving athlete and show you some practical, and often fun ways of functionally training for race driving.
Author: Clerk of the Course
The Clerk of Junior Torque. Administrator, Editor and Dictator!