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Fitness first - Sauber drivers hard at work at training camp 27 Jan 2011

Kamui Kobayashi at the Sauber fitness camp. © Sauber Sergio Perez at the Sauber fitness camp. © Sauber Esteban Gutierrez at the Sauber fitness camp. © Sauber Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) BMW Sauber C29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Practice Day, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Friday, 12 November 2010 Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) BMW Sauber C29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Practice Day, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Friday, 12 November 2010

Over the last four days, Sauber’s driver line-up have been sweating away at a special fitness camp under the watchful eye of medics and sports coaches. The camp was held at the Sportzentrum Kerenzerberg sports facility located above the Walensee lake in the Swiss canton of Glarus.

Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi is preparing for his second full season in Formula One with Sauber, while new signing Sergio Perez celebrated his 21st birthday on Wednesday at the camp, and is looking forward to making his debut in Formula One. The Mexican’s compatriot Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber’s reserve driver, joined his team mates in Switzerland to improve his fitness too.

“We’ve designed the programme as a control loop,” explained Markus Angst who, together with team medic Dr Urs Kitschmann, sports scientist Coni Angst and physiotherapist Joseph Leberer, oversees the programme.”Three times a year we analyse the physical condition of our drivers, draw up targets and programmes, and train together.”

Formula One drivers face a wide range of demands, and the fitness camp was just as varied. Following detailed medical and physiotherapeutic checks, the drivers were put through various performance tests at the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre MoveMed to determine their levels of endurance, strength and coordination. The main objective of the tests was to review the drivers’ progress towards meeting their winter-training targets.

During a race the drivers can experience forces of over 5g. In addition, the drivers have to put up with constant vibrations and cockpit temperatures that intermittently reach 50°C - not very pleasant when you’re wearing fireproof underwear and fireproof overalls. Despite these conditions, it is vital they maintain optimum concentration for 90 minutes.They have to be able to react to any eventuality within a fraction of second - right up until they see the chequered flag.

A driver’s average heart rate during a race reaches 160 to 180 beats per minute, depending on the circuit and ambient conditions. The training units that make up the programme are therefore geared towards improving strength, endurance, coordination, reaction times, concentration and team work.

Strength training focuses on ensuring that the drivers can withstand the loads and forces which they will experience over the one-and-a-half hours of a race. Here, the loads exerted on the neck play a particularly central role, but the drivers’ arms and legs also have to be in good condition. And an extremely high level of trunk stability is also essential.

The goal in terms of endurance is to reach a level of fitness where the race distance in itself is no longer a particular source of strain, since the deeper a driver has to dig physically, the more his cognitive ability is reduced. The endurance training in Switzerland included cross-country skiing, mountaineering with snowshoes and night hiking, as well as an activity demanding a fair amount of courage into the bargain: ice climbing on a frozen waterfall.

In many of the training disciplines, coordination also plays a pivotal role. Cross-country skiing and climbing are good examples here, as well as various ball games and badminton. In other exercises it is all about reaction times, as Markus Angst explains: “We can even train a driver to reduce the amount of time it takes him to respond to stimulus. We’ve had good results in this regard.”

Concentration strategies are another important area, and are particularly effective when it comes to qualifying. The key is to build up the optimum level of alertness in pressurised situations - not so high that it borders on nervousness, but high enough to enable peak efficiency when it comes to absorption of information and delivering maximum performance. This training unit saw the drivers involved in live shooting exercises with 9-millimetre pistols.

“As in qualifying, shooting is also all about isolating yourself in a competitive situation to achieve optimum concentration,” says Angst. “But the idea was to have a bit of fun as well.”

With that in mind, there was also an opportunity to take part in a bowling tournament one evening and, after scaling a particularly tough peak, to air board down part of the way at speed. “It’s important for us - and the drivers as a unit - to get to know each other and develop a basis of trust,” emphasises Angst.

“There’s a lot of fun involved in days like these, but you also get to see how everyone responds to pressure, sometimes you have to overcome yourself, and you learn to rely on your team mates. During the ice climbing, for example, we were roped together both metaphorically and literally.”

Kobayashi’s favourite exercise was shooting. “We had a very good instructor and it was great to try and do this well,” said the 24 year-old. “I have to admit that generally I don’t like the winter very much, as I prefer warmer temperatures. However, overall it was really a very tough programme and it was good to do it. We have had a long break and the season kicks off soon - it is time to get going again and I feel fit.”

Commenting on his first fitness camp with the team, Perez said: “We did a lot of work and I’m quite happy with the shape I am in. I enjoyed every exercise with my favourites being climbing in a frozen waterfall, followed by cross-country skiing. To me it was also very important and a really nice experience to spend time with my new team mates and build up relationships with them.”

Gutierrez, who had attended a Sauber fitness camp before, added: “It was great to have so many new and different activities on the programme. I did things I have never done before in my life and that was interesting! Certainly this is a very good way to start the season. My favourite was cross-country skiing.”

The team will launch their 2011 car in Valencia on January 31, ahead of the first pre-season test at the Spanish track from February 1-3.

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