There are some cynical folk who claim that Formula One is not a true sport because the drivers spend the entire race sat down and there is little physical effort involved. They claim that driving around in circles is more akin to playing a video game than to other sports such as soccer or tennis. But they can be forgiven because few people realise just how fit you have to be to become an elite motorsport driver.
Like any sport, Formula One is a competition with winners and losers. In a Formula One season, two races are happening at once: the race between the drivers and the race between the manufacturers. Any driver who reaches this level has to be at the peak of fitness.
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) May 11, 2020
The force of gravity
The main reason for this is something called G-Force, one unit of which is equivalent to the force of gravity. When a driver is flat out in an F1 race, the amount of G-Force they experience is unimaginable for most of us. Just braking into a corner can generate 5G and this can increase to 6G during cornering. Accelerating creates about 2G of force and all these forces are coming from different directions in a short space of time.
The lateral G-Force created during cornering can add the equivalent of 25kgs of weight to a driver’s neck. This can come from side-to-side and back-to-front in just a few seconds. Also, the helmet can add another 7kg of weight to the driver’s head during these manoeuvres. And all of this can happen 15-20 times in the space of 90 seconds or so. Imagine having over 30kg of weight pushing and pulling your head and neck in different directions every few seconds for a couple of hours. And then imagine that force also being applied to your whole body.
Most drivers also spend the race with an increased heart rate of around 160bpm – that’s 100bpm above an average resting heartbeat. This can peak at over 200bpm during certain points of the race. On top of all this, they are wearing protective suits, sat in a hot car and often racing in searing heat – in some races, drivers can shed over 4kgs in weight. All of this requires a high level of strength, fitness, stamina and core strength.
Hamilton leads the way
Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is one of the fittest drivers on the grid. He understands that he can only drive to his maximum level if he is peak condition. That drive to gain every ounce of advantage is why he was once again favourite in the latest F1 odds to win the next world championship in the build up to the season. Another win would put him level with legendary racer Michael Schumacher and his determination to succeed is relentless. Few would bet against him breaking the German’s record.
Last year I arrived into testing with a lot of water weight and around 78kg. This year, I’m at a better weight of 73kg. Still have more fat to burn off and more muscle to add but on the way. If you are wanting to get in shape, you can do it. Let’s go guys #keeppushing #letsgo 💪🏾 pic.twitter.com/vR56uEiCET
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) February 6, 2020
But it is not just Hamilton who puts in the hours in the gym. Every driver on the grid dedicates a huge amount of time improving their fitness and boosting their core strength and their stamina. They also have to work on their arms to balance the weight of the car at extreme speeds and their legs must be able to apply up to 80kg of pressure on the brake pedal at regular intervals. On top of all this, they have to drive the car while also operating and engaging with the complicated F1 steering wheel.
Do you still think it’s easy being a Formula One driver?