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A Formula 1 driver training program

Formula 1 champions are also great athletes. Here's how they prepare.

They are great drivers yes, but not only, because the Formula 1 champions are also great athletes. They don't have flashy physiques, in overalls and with a helmet on their heads they can't show off their sculpted muscles, yet the physical preparation that Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz undergo is tough and carefully studied. The effort in the car, in fact, is very heavy, at the end of a race a driver can lose up to 3 kilos of weight and it is therefore necessary to train and strengthen a musculature that is constantly stressed by accelerations, decelerations and lateral thrusts.

Heart and muscles

The period of the year during which the riders work the hardest is between the end of one season and the beginning of the next, about three months (December, January and February) during which, not being able to compete, they dedicate themselves to physical preparation, since, once the championship has started, they are very often on the road around the world and work is limited to a few gym sessions or a few bike rides on the circuit where the World Championship is held.

The preparation focuses mainly on the most stressed areas of the body (neck and arms), as well as the heart, with exercises aimed at raising the pulse and improving endurance, simulating the conditions they will then find on the track. Training in the gym is done with the use of weights, barbells, dumbbells and rowing machines (but also free body training with squats, push-ups and abdominals), while for the neck many drivers use special helmets attached to a weight, with an elastic band acting as a pull, thus having to exert pressure to maintain the position, simulating what happens for example when taking a curve, where the body is pushed outwards by the centrifugal force of the car. 

The legs should also be trained, particularly the left one. The reason is that it is the one that has to sink on the brake pedal, exerting on average a force of more than 130 kilograms (it has been calculated, for example, that in the Spanish Grand Prix the total load on the pedal from start to finish is 52 tonnes, with peaks of more than 200 kilos at turn 10). 

And then boxing, cycling, swimming and, during the winter, a lot of mountaineering. Certainly not to ski with friends (it does happen now and then on days off, though), but to strengthen his muscles by walking upwards on skis and to train his heart for fatigue.

Carlos Sainz goes running

For everyone the basis is often running, not without some curious diversions. Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, for example, has been running at the Delta Atletica sports field in Sassuolo in recent weeks. It was a pity that the track where he was to train was next to a school complex. So, despite the time (he arrived incognito at 8.30, thinking that the students were already in the classroom), many recognised him, invading the track to take a selfie with the Ferrari champion. Who, a few days earlier, had posted another session on an athletics track (repeats on the 800 metres with an average time of three minutes) in the company of compatriot Marc Marquez, also in preparation for the imminent start of the MotoGP World Championship.

Also training reflexes

But a Formula 1 driver must also have something more than others in terms of reflexes, being forced to make split-second decisions to avoid an accident, find the right spot to overtake and the perfect moment to do so. All this at over 300 kilometres per hour. Thus, in the training programme, special machines are used (one of these is a panel with LEDs that light up in rapid sequence that the driver has to touch in the shortest possible time) precisely for this purpose, i.e. to increase reaction speed, improve peripheral vision, reduce the focusing time and increase hand-eye coordination (for this, simple tennis balls are also used, which the driver has to catch on the fly and throw again). 


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