We may have only had one race in the new Formula One season but this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix is about to present the drivers with one of the toughest physical challenges they will face all year. The heat and humidity of the Malaysian climate has led to the Sepang International Circuit being frequently referred to as ‘The Furnace’! So what does this mean for Nico and Michael as they prepare to take to the track this weekend?
1. Ambient temperatures are likely to be above 35 degrees in Malaysia, rising to between 50 and 60 degrees in the cockpit of the cars. Added to which are the extremely high levels of humidity.
2. In a normal race, a driver loses an average of two kilos in bodyweight. He will burn off around 3000 calories and his heart rate will reach a peak of 190 beats per minute. Nico confirms that: “Perspiration loss can be as much as three kilos”. In Malaysia, it can be even higher, up to four or five kilos, which is more liquid mass than the drivers are physically able to take in during the race. Nico’s advice: “That’s why it is extremely important to drink large quantities of water both before and after the race.”
3. The driver has a lot of hard work to do in the cockpit and the furnace-like conditions make it even tougher. Michael and Nico have the equivalent of 30 kilos (i.e. the weight of a heavy suitcase) pulling on their necks as G-forces of 4.5 propel their heads plus helmet forward during a hard braking manoeuvre.
4. To protect the drivers and crews against the heat, there are huge fans whirring away in the pit lane and paddock. In addition, some drivers wear refrigerated vests just before the start to bring their body temperature down. Others resort to the more conventional wet towel around the neck or on the head.
5. In the run-up to this particular Grand Prix, many trainers argue the importance of arriving in the country as early as possible to carry on the fitness programme under the extreme local conditions and to acclimatise well in advance. Other drivers prefer to take things at a slower pace and to use the days before the race weekend for rest and relaxation. “Because the body gets fitter during this recuperation phase,” says Nico.
6. Just like the drivers, the cars suffer under the extreme Malaysian heat. The job of the engineer can be described in simple terms, but it not so easy in practice: the cars and their engines have to be sufficiently cooled and the hot air channelled away. The Sepang circuit has one other key characteristic in addition to the ultra-high temperatures to increase the challenge: approximately two-thirds of a lap are covered at full throttle.
Would you like to experience for yourself what Nico and Michael will have to contend with on Sunday over a full 56 racing laps? No problem. Get into your car on a sizzling summer day (alternatively a hot sauna), wearing a fireproof racing suit, plus underwear and helmet, turn the heater on full and get a few friends to pull your head from left to right for ninety minutes! Not your idea of a perfect afternoon? Then settle down on the sofa, watch the race on TV and follow the coverage with live streamed data from Nico and Michael (including g-forces) here on our website...