The training of the Formula One McLaren's driver

Formula One drivers are some of the fittest athletes in the world and adhere to unique strategies of physical and mental preparation. Whilst some people may think that drivers don’t do a lot, given that they are strapped into a seat with limited capacity for movement; a driver at the pinnacle of motorsport requires a combination of exceptional talent and athletic prowess.

2018 could the considered the most challenging era for Formula One, both physically and cognitively, with cars now generating greater levels of downforce and increased performance in cornering. The consequence of this is higher levels of gravitational force (G force), which places tremendous strain on the driver’s body.

Why it’s important for a Formula One driver to be in shape

To provide some context, a driver’s head and helmet weights approximately 6.5kg; if you factor in 5-6 G generated under braking and cornering, loads can equate to 30-40kg. Unlike the cars we drive, a Formula One car requires a great deal of force from the driver’s left leg when braking, resulting in repeated efforts of approximately 80+kg against the pedal. To combat this, drivers require the highest degree of robustness, stability and lower body strength.
A Formula One driver must wear layers of protective clothing and a helmet, both of which are essential safety features. However, with cockpit temperatures reported as 50° and humidity of 80% at circuits like Malaysia, a driver can lose as much as 3kg body mass in a race. To combat this, drivers maintain low body fat levels to aid with effective thermoregulation through strict nutritional plans and regular endurance training.
A significant differentiator compared to other sports is that a Formula One driver is restricted to only a few set days of testing per year, so they are very dependent on ‘out of cockpit’ conditioning and human performance solutions to enable them to perform at an elite level year-round.

Endurance training

Drivers typically perform their endurance training in the morning, and can enjoy a multi-discipline approach, including cycling, running, rowing, swimming, or even cross-country skiing. Like all elite athletes, the intensity and volume of training is carefully manipulated daily to optimise recovery and maximise athletic potential. Drivers also use heart rate monitors to guide their endurance sessions, which is especially useful when replicating the conditions and duration of a race.

Rowing has been highlighted as a particularly good training method for driver’s due to the focus on shoulder, arm and neck muscles during the exercise. Technogym’s SKILLROW is an ideal training tool for a driver as it provides detailed feedback via the app, so the athlete can track their progress and results effectively.

Similarly, Technogym’s brand new SKILLBIKE replicates the conditions of outdoor cycling. It is fully adjustable and can be set up like a road bike, making it perfect for a racing driver looking to perform their interval training sessions.

Strength training

Carefully designed programs are formulated and broken down into goal-orientated phases to allow the driver to develop during the offseason, and then maintain and prepare for competition during the season.

It is important for a driver to condition the shoulder and neck complex, as their head is unsupported in a sideways and forward motion. Technogym developed a unique piece of equipment, which resides in the McLaren Fitness and Wellbeing Centre known as the ‘F1 Trainer’. This replicates the driving position and, in combination with a steering load system and additional equipment, develops the important upper body area.

To supplement this, drivers also perform free weight, body weight and cable exercises such as seated rows, shoulder shrugs, lateral raises, pull-ups, push-ups and various Wellness Ball stability exercises. These are all designed to build the upper body strength and endurance required to manage over-and-under-steer so they can control the car during a race.
The power-braking motion is performed by the left leg. To isolate this muscle, drivers perform unilateral (one limb) movements using the Technogym Leg Press. This is also supplemented by general leg-strengthening exercises using free weights, such as squat combinations, deadlifts, lunges and kettlebell swings.

Formula One driver training day example

AM (early morning)

Prehabilitation session involving mobility and flexibility exercises (yoga/pilates), pre-activation and warm-up protocol.

Endurance training with SKILLBIKE:

  • Cadence: 80-100
  • 30 min intensity build up
  • 5x30 second high intensity intervals (simulating sector corner combinations)
  • 5 min intensity steady state
  • 5x90 second high intensity intervals (simulating multiple lap combinations)
  • 30 min low intensity steady state
PM (approxmately 4pm-6pm)

Warm up protocol:

  • Raise body temperature (e.g. walk-jog, rowing, skipping)
  • Activate muscles (e.g. glute bridges)
  • Mobilise (e.g. alternating spiderman hip stretch, inch worm)
  • Potentiate (e.g. hops, box jumps)
  • Strength (four basic driver workout variations)
Lower-body
  • Barbell front squat or dumbbell goblet squat
  • Romanian deadlift (RDL)
  • SL leg press
  • SL calf-raise
Upper-body
  • Dumbbell chest press
  • Seated cable row
  • Dumbbell shrug
  • Lateral raise
  • Hammer curls
Postural and stability
  • SB supine (single-leg) hip extension
  • SB Russian twist
  • Hall-ball V-sit and dumbbell rotations (steering)
  • Pallof press/kneeling cable rotations with iso.
  • Bird dog
Neck
  • Seated harness extension isometric
  • Seated harness side flexion (right) isometric
  • Seated harness side flexion (left) isometric
  • Seated harness flexion isometric
  • F1 trainer steering drills

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