To an outsider, driving a Formula One car might look easy: put your crash helmet on, climb in the cockpit and away you go. In reality, it’s not quite so simple. Formula One is a high-performance sport where strength and stamina are a fundamental requirement for the drivers. Nico tells us how he maintains his fitness during the close season.
During a race, drivers can lose on average up to two kilos in weight, and in hot climates, where cockpit temperatures can exceed 50 degrees, this loss might be as much as four kilos. Around 3,000 calories are burnt, heart rates can rise to 190 bpm and forces of up to 5G, five times your body weight, are endured.
“That’s why fitness training is so important,” says Nico. Driving a Formula One car is very strenuous and in the winter, Nico lays the foundations for the long season ahead. During the season, he’s either busy travelling or racing: “In winter, I have more time for fitness training.” That foundation then sustains him for the whole year.
The best training is, of course, actually driving the car as only then do the muscle groups receive the thorough workout needed to compete. “Unfortunately the ban on winter testing means that we do less driving which makes it harder to maintain fitness levels,” Nico tells us. During the season on the race weekends, he’s driving the car long enough to ensure that his muscles are kept in trim.
It’s particularly important to train the neck, trapezius muscles, trunk and arms because these parts of the body are put under the greatest strain. Nico has a fitness studio in his house and a neck-training machine in his garage. This device simulates the steering forces on the neck muscles in the car and whilst nothing can replace driving, this helps Nico to keep himself on top form in the winter months.
Nico says: “I train almost every day at home. Three hours a day on average, perhaps a bit more in winter.” He prefers training outdoors – cycling, swimming, jogging. Triathlon is unsurprisingly therefore one of his favourite sports: “Cycling in the mountains, jogging through the countryside – that’s my idea of heaven.” It’s a good job that the weather in Monaco where he lives is usually pretty good the whole year round!
“I really enjoy doing endurance exercises. Practising all the different repetitions can be great fun. I’ve never much liked weight training though. I like playing ice hockey best. It’s absolutely brilliant – probably the Finnish blood in me.” Despite that, he daren’t take to the ice now as the risk of injury is too great. “If I’d grown up in Finland, I would have become an ice hockey player.” Fortunately for us, his early years were spent in Monaco and he now drives our Formula One cars!