The 10 essential qualities of a Formula One champion

It’s not easy to become an F1 driver. They are some of the fittest people on the planet, and they need split-second reaction speeds, cunning tactics and endurance.

We spoke to the experts

F1 drivers need immense amounts of strength and endurance to withstand searing heat in the cockpits and control their cars at speeds of more than 200 mph. Their tough training regimes reflect this need – with lots of strength training, core conditioning, flexibility and cardiovascular workouts.

We spoke to Simon Reynolds, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ Driver Performance Manager, and Mike Collier, Jenson Button’s fitness instructor about the true attributes of an F1 champion.

1. Commitment

Simon: F1 drivers have been racing from an early age. Many kids have ambitions to get to F1 but only a very small handful make it. The ones that make it are committed to hard work and have determination.

Mike: Since I started working with Jenson in 2008, I have watched his fitness go from strength to strength and that’s down to his personal dedication. His commitment to his own fitness has contributed to him being one of the fittest F1 drivers.

2. Adaptability 
Simon: Drivers have to travel around the world so they have to adjust to different times zones, changing climates, and new cultures. In addition, during F1 races anything can happen, from crashes and punctures to failed engines – they’ve got to be ready to handle anything.

Mike: Things change all the time in F1, for example the weather, equipment and team mates. Even little things can make a difference to how a driver performs. Those that can’t handle these changes quickly and easily just won’t succeed.

3. Nutrition
Simon: As a professional athlete, what you eat and drink is key to optimal performance. The drivers have specially tailored diets that have been set out for them by their personal trainers. The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team has bespoke drinks created by Lucozade Sport.

Mike: Jenson eats meals with high protein content and complex carbs, which are what I call ‘vegetables from the ground’, like carrots, parsnips or potatoes. No white bread or pasta. On race days he consumes bespoke drinks that contain carbohydrate, electrolytes and caffeine - so he gets exactly the right amounts to suit him.

4. Cardiovascular strength
Simon: It is vital that the drivers have highly efficient cardiovascular systems so that they don’t suffer from fatigue at any point in a Grand Prix. They do a mixture of endurance and high intensity workouts with varying heart rate zones so that they are equipped to cope with the changeable physical demands of F1 racing.

Mike: For the drivers to cope with travelling at 200 mph for nearly two hours in a sweltering hot F1 car, they’ve got to have strong cardiovascular systems. Jenson’s quite lucky in that the triathlon he does when he isn’t racing is perfect training for F1.

5. Strength and stability 
Simon: Having good posture and body mechanics is vital to driving an F1 car. The g-forces that a driver faces are intense and so the body must be strong enough to cope.

Mike: In F1 we work a lot on muscle endurance – how you’re able to perform multiple steering movements without getting tired. And we work with muscle strength – the ability to generate quick force, quick power and break pressures.

6. Neck strength
Simon: The neck is one of the most important parts of the driver’s body. It must be able to cope with huge g-forces when breaking or going round a corner. If your neck isn’t strong enough then your head will not stay in the correct position and any focus will be lost.

Mike: We work on the neck and general conditioning in preparation for the races. We have a number of specific exercises that target the neck muscles, including Technogym’s F1 training machine that simulates the movement within the cockpit. We also work a lot on the shoulders, the mid back and lower back.

7. Reaction
Simon: F1 drivers must have highly tuned nervous systems so as to react quickly to everything going on around them including things like debris on the race track and warning flags.

Mike: It is vital that concentration levels are a hundred percent during a Grand Prix as there’s no room for even a slight lapse in concentration. We do lots of training to help sharpen up reaction times like the Batak Pro reaction test [Link to] In addition, caffeine is included in drivers’ sports drinks, which helps keep them alert from start to finish.

8. Focus
Simon: Not only do F1 drivers need physical strength and stamina, they must remain completely focused from start to finish. Any lapse in concentration could affect their race position.

Mike: As a driver your mind status changes from race to race. When you win, you go into the next race with bags of confidence, and likewise if you have crashed or come in last, it’s going to knock you. There are phases of being on top form, which is being in a state of ‘flow’, or stages of bad form where you get in a rut. There are always external factors that are going to affect your mind set, but its how you handle it that makes the difference.

9. Professionalism
Mike: Professionalism in F1 applies inside and outside the car. For example, when a driver is able to speak with the same level of knowledge and understanding as the engineers, this shows complete professionalism and helps the engineers react faster to what the driver needs. Likewise when not driving, drivers must be able to communicate articulately to media and sponsors who are integral to the financing of the sport.

10. Recovery
Simon: Recovery time is the key to optimal performance. This is so that the body and mind have time to repair before becoming fitter and stronger. Activities during recovery time vary but involve massages, flexibility training, low aerobic exercise and time with friends and family – and, most importantly, sleep.

Mike: All F1 drivers need a bit of downtime to aid recovery from race to race. As part of Jenson’s time away from F1 he competes in triathlons. Not only is it great for his mental wellbeing, it is fantastic for his fitness too.

F1 drivers are some of the fittest people on the planet. They need split-second reaction speeds, cunning tactics and endurance.”