Wednesday, December 31, 2008

(Almost) Too hot to handle

Although the driver looks like he is sitting outside the cockpit temperatures can soar almost out of control during the two hours of a race. Formula One cars don’t have the luxury of air conditioning, and the close proximity of the engine, which sits directly behind him, as well as the lack of air circulating in his cockpit, means that temperatures inside can often reach more than 10 degrees centigrade higher than the outside temperature. When you think that most Grands Prix take place in the middle of each country’s summer, it is not difficult to understand just how uncomfortable the temperature can be. In addition to the closeness of the engine, the cockpit is made hotter by the heat of the front-wheel’s brakes, which can often reach 1,000 degrees centigrade. Also impacting on the cockpit temperature is the driver’s seating position. He’s very close to the floor, which can get hot if it rubs along the ground. McLaren star David Coulthard climbed out of his car at the end of the 2000 Malaysian Grand Prix with a huge heat blister on his bottom thanks to the heat that was generated through the floor of the cockpit. Drivers also get very hot because of all the other clothing they must wear. The safety regulations require drivers to wear fireproof underwear, a triplelayer racing overall, plus gloves, boots, a balaclava and helmet – all of which make them even hotter.

Coping with the pain – driving with injuries

Formula One racing drivers are a different breed. All they can think about is winning the race. That’s why they often drive through the pain barrier in their quest for victory. If drivers were ever worried about hurting themselves, they certainly wouldn’t even get in their cars. But if the issue is only pain – bad bruising, sore arms, or sprained muscles, for example –nothing, short of a doctor telling tell him not to race, will stop a driver from getting back in the car after a big crash.
The most famous example of this was in 1976 when then world champion Niki Lauda was nearly killed in a fiery accident at the Nuerburgring in Germany. He was given the last rites at the hospital that day, but somehow fought back and amazingly returned to the cockpit at the Italian Grand Prix a few weeks later, still with bandages covering his wounds. He went on to finish fourth that day.

Coming back from F1 injury

When most of us pick up an illness or an injury, we try to spend as long as possible away from work as we recover. Drivers, however, have to get back to work as quickly as possible. If they are forced out because of an injury, they must do everything possible to get back fast. Being fit allows drivers to recover from injury much faster than ordinary people, and because they’re so devoted to their jobs, they don’t mind suffering some pain in the quest for victory. Don’t forget also that they have fulltime fitness trainers who work with them 24 hours a day to get them back in shape.
The worst thing for a driver would be to think that he lost the World Championship because he spent too long recuperating from an injury. When races are going on, drivers really hate spending race days at home; that’s why they often won’t watch the race if they’re not taking part.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Michael Schumacher – the fittest of them all

Michael Schumacher is regarded as the man who took Formula One fitness to a new level. When he burst onto the scene in 1991, people were surprised that he could climb out of a Grand Prix car after two hours of racing without a bead of sweat on his forehead. Then stories began to emerge about how devoted to his fitness he was.
Schumacher likes to get his body trained between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. so that it is used to exerting itself during qualifying – rather then readying itself for a meal. After tests at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, he will often watch movies on television while doing head exercises with huge weights attached to a special helmet. He also plays soccer at a semi-pro level.

Working it out

Once upon a time, drivers wouldn’t think twice about smoking, drinking, and eating what they wanted – and their only exercise would be getting out of bed in the morning to go to the race tracks. Nowadays, however, one of the first luxuries a Formula One driver has added to his house when he starts earning big money is not a new television or stereo; it’s his own personal gym. As the sport has become ever more competitive, so drivers have got fitter and fitter. Today, Formula One drivers leave absolutely nothing to chance and they often have their own physical trainers and dieticians to make sure that they are in the best shape possible. Some of the sport’s current top stars, like Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber, have hardly any body fat on them at all and are as fit as any other major sports star.
A Formula One driver spends anything between two and five hours every day in the gym, and some do even more. They spend this time on cardiovascular exercises, like rowing and cycling, which helps build their endurance over Grands Prix distances, and muscle building, which helps make them strong enough to drive Formula One cars. In addition, the top half of the driver’s body needs to be able to cope with the forces they experience when they drive; during some corners, for example, the weight of the head can multiply by four times through g-forces. For this reason, drivers focus their exercises on their necks, arms, back, and stomach.
As fit as they must be, however, Formula One drivers can’t become so obsessed with their muscles that they turn into strongmen. Their physiques must be compact so that they fit in the cockpit; in addition, too much muscle makes them too heavy to be quick.

Fit to Drive: Getting in Shape

Everybody knows that lazy people always prefer to drive to their local shops rather than walk, but driving a racing car is certainly something only the fittest athletes can do. Formula One drivers may not look as big and brawny as some other athletes, but the stresses and strains of performing at 200 mph on a baking hot summer’s day means that normal people would collapse from exhaustion after just a few laps.
The huge g-forces, where bodyweight is increased to three or four times normal, that drivers experience when they brake or go through high-speed corners can literally knock the air out of their lungs. And although drivers have to be quite light (being large and heavy makes them slow), they have to make sure that the top half of their body is strong enough for the forces needed to drive the car. At more than 150 mph, it takes an effort of 20 kg to turn the steering wheel – certainly more than the road car sitting outside the front of your house.
Tests carried out on Formula One drivers have shown that their heart rate can soar to 185 beats per minute at the most stressful part of races. This is the same kind of rate that fighter pilots experience in the heat of combat.

No rest for the weary: After the race

The public may have the image of a Formula One driver flying away from winning a Grand Prix to spend the time before the next race lounging about on his yacht in the Mediterranean. The truth, however, is very different. The commitments of a modern day Formula One driver are immense, and some have been known to spend only 20 days at home during the entire season. The massive testing schedules, sponsor commitments, media opportunities and personal business work mean that there is almost no escape from their day jobs.
But it is a small price to pay for doing something that they absolutely love. Although most drivers would prefer to spend time at home relaxing with their families, they also know that it is important to show up for sponsor functions because, at the end of the day, they would not be racing without their sponsors.

’Round and ’round we go: Racing without rest

The concentration levels needed to fight for the lead of a Formula One race are probably the same that footballers experience when taking a penalty in the World Cup final, or tennis players go through when serving to win the Wimbledon tennis championship. But there is one big difference between Formula One and most other sports: A Grand Prix driver has almost no chance to rest when he’s out there in action.
While football players can eat oranges at halftime, and tennis players get to sit down and drink water between each set, racing drivers cannot suddenly choose to go to the toilet halfway through the race or pull over at the side of the track to take a breather. Once the driver is strapped in, that’s it until the chequered flag comes out at the end of the race. Although drivers do have a water bottle in their cockpits, they still have to drink plenty of fluid before the race starts. In fact, drivers get so hydrated before the race starts that you often see them nipping off to the toilet before the race. And believe it or not, once the race is underway, they may even go in the car if nature calls – and they don’t expect to clean up afterwards! Drivers sweat so much during the race that they get very dehydrated, which means that the first thing they want to do when they get out of the car is to find a bottle of water rather than punch the air in delight. After winning the 2002 Monaco Grand Prix, David Coulthard said that he did not go to the toilet again until the next morning – despite drinking all evening as he celebrated his victory.