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Trailblazers - how teams cope in Malaysia’s baking heat 31 Mar 2010

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 3 April 2009 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 2 April 2009 Cooling fans in the paddock.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 2 April 2009 Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams wearing a cooling vest.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice Day, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Friday, 25 September 2009

Malaysia is a tough place to go racing. It’s hot, humid and there’s always the risk of a late afternoon thunderstorm to spice things up. The extreme climate has led the Malaysian Grand Prix to be dubbed the ‘toughest race of the year’ for the drivers, who will endure cockpit temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius and lose around three kilos in weight. And it’s just as tough for the pit crew in their fireproof suits, boots and helmets. Renault explain more…

“The biggest problem we have to worry about in Malaysia is overheating” says Riccardo Ceccarelli, the team’s doctor. “We’re not so worried about dehydration because when you sweat in such humid conditions, the sweat does not evaporate and it stays on your skin - which is why we always feel so damp and sweaty. However, because the sweat doesn’t evaporate, it causes the body temperature to rise, leading to overheating, which then causes a big drop in concentration levels.”

To avoid overheating and loss of performance, most Formula One teams have experimented with various solutions for keeping their drivers cool. Dry ice is an old favourite and will be stuffed in the drivers’ helmets, shoes, gloves - basically anywhere they will feel a benefit. It may be a short-term fix, but every degree of cooling counts.

Good ventilation of the helmet is also important because keeping the head (and brain) cool is the priority. If there’s time, Ceccarelli even recommends a cold shower just before the off once the car is on the grid. The drivers should also follow doctor’s orders on their arrival in Malaysia to acclimatise to the local conditions.

“It’s important to do some exercise as soon as they arrive while adjusting to the new environment,” explains Ceccarelli. “They also need to change their diet and eat light meals like fruits and vegetables because a heavy meal will require more digestion, which increases body temperature.”

As well as watching what they eat, the drivers will need to drink plenty of fluid over the weekend. Robert Kubica’s usual concoction includes special mineral salts, potassium, magnesium, and carbohydrate. Likewise, the cockpit drinks bottle plays an important role in keeping the driver hydrated during the race. Vitaly Petrov’s drink of choice is a sugary mix flavoured like a lemon tea - something that will taste okay no matter how hot it gets in the cockpit of the R30.

It’s thirsty work for the team, too, who must take similar precautions to ensure they can take the heat. In fact, 4000 bottles of water will be drunk over the four days in Malaysia - that’s almost double the usual amount. On top of that the team will also get through 1000 energy drinks and 1000 cans of soft drinks.