Fitness is a crucial factor when it comes to coping with the demanding job of being a Formula One driver. Constant travelling, media work, sponsor appearances, testing… without forgetting the actual racing of course! We decided to learn more about the importance of fitness to our drivers by talking to Nico’s physio Oliver Fengler...
Part II: At the race track
At the race track over Grand Prix weekends, the drivers are always busy even when they are not in the car and the team creates a minute-by-minute schedule to ensure that all the various commitments such as engineering, media and sponsor appearances have a place in the day. And it keeps things stress-free for the drivers to know what they need to be doing and when! Oli works his treatment schedule for Nico around this master plan and makes sure his driver is where he needs to be.
Oli says, “The driver has to sleep and drink enough and eat well. He will have a warm-up before he gets in the car for a track session as we have to prepare the body for performance. In our case, Nico plays football or we do some mock fencing for a few minutes. We keep it light and with the emphasis on fun rather than trying to beat each other! Warming up the neck muscles is important as they take a lot of stress in the car from the G forces. And then we will do a massage treatment every evening to ensure Nico’s body recovers from the physical stress of the day.”
Drivers can endure temperatures inside the cockpit in excess of 50°C. They will lose two to three litres of water through sweat during the course of a race so hydration plays an important role. “To keep hydration to a good level, Nico has to drink a lot during and after the race. It should be something around four to five litres per day and you’ll usually see him in the paddock or the garage with his water bottle in his hand.”
The close season is a tricky time for Formula One drivers. With so little testing these days, the drivers can’t really train for their sport away from the track as a football or skier would do. So Oli has to find other ways to keep Nico in shape. “Formula One drivers have to do a lot of endurance training to be fit for their racing activities as stamina and strength are essential. In addition, they require a lot of physiotherapy to keep their muscles fit and their body in good shape. To make sure the drivers stay as fit during the winter as they are during the actual season, you have to step up the training programme to make sure the body stays active.”
Fans who had followed Formula One for a long time probably remember the ‘old days’ of cigarette-smoking and alcohol-swilling drivers. Oli says those days are long gone now. “Modern Formula One drivers look after their health much more than drivers used to in the past but that’s the same as all sports people. They eat healthy food and the drivers that I know don’t drink much during the racing season, unless it is on the podium! They don’t smoke either.”
After the effort of fitness, training and physiotherapy, it’s important to remember nutrition which is also part of Oli’s responsibilities with Nico. And the typical F1 driver’s meal? “Pasta all the way!”