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Getting in shape for the year's toughest race 16 Mar 2005

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren takes on liquid.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 20 March 2004

The Malaysian Grand Prix is one of the most physically demanding events of the season with extreme temperatures and very humid conditions. The cockpit environment can reach over 50 degrees Celsius and drivers can lose up to four litres of body fluid during the race – four times more than in an average grand prix.

These extremes mean acclimatisation and increased fluid intake are key aspects of the drivers’ preparation for the Malaysian event. During the build-up to the race the focus is on getting the body used to taking in more liquids, whilst during the race weekend itself it is to ensure the drivers are re-hydrated as effectively as possible once they step out of the car after practice sessions, qualifying and the race.

Without such preparations a driver’s performance would suffer significantly. Dehydration levels of just 2 percent have a negative effect on concentration levels, muscle contractile strength and endurance, while losses of 5 percent or more can lead to up to a 30 percent drop off in physical performance. Since water comprises 92 percent of the blood in the body and 75 percent of the brain, as well as 75 percent of the muscle tissue, fluids are an integral part of any nutritional programme - just a three percent loss of body fluid reduces muscle strength by 10 percent.

Adapting to such an extreme climate as Malaysia’s is not a quick process - it takes around ten days to get used to the heat with the majority of adaptation occurring within the first three to four days. Hence most of the drivers travelled to the region immediately or shortly after the Australian Grand Prix. For example, from Melbourne, McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya flew to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore respectively.

Both McLaren men then began a progressive training regime – it is important not to go flat out when you first arrive – building up their programme day by day in the run up to the Sepang weekend. Training in such heat gets the body used to performing in the type of environment they will experience during the race.

It will also ensure their bodies get used to taking in a greater amount of fluids to replace what is lost through sweating, as they will learn to conserve electrolytes in the form of potassium, salt and chloride more efficiently Nutrition plays a vital role not only in refuelling the driver, but also in overcoming jet lag, acclimatising and helping the recovery process whether post-race, testing or training.

As a consequence both Raikkonen and Montoya, like all their fellow competitors, follow a specific nutritional programme created by their respective trainers, containing the appropriate amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins and minerals. And that’s before they even step into their cars…