Fighting fit - a doctors take on the demands of Formula One 28 Apr 2009
While he may not be the most recognisable person in the garage, Toyotas team doctor Ricardo Ceccarelli is one of the most important. Aside from keeping the entire racing outfit fit and well whilst at Grands Prix, Ceccarelli is also responsible for the health of drivers Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli.
And with Glock and Trullis heart rates averaging more than 180bpm over a race distance, their neck muscles undergoing extreme G-forces, and their bodyweights losing almost two per cent through perspiration, its no mean feat
What work do you do with the team?
Ricardo Ceccarelli: I am like a family doctor travelling with the team so I deal with every problem that comes up. I have a small pharmacy with me and I treat team members so they can recover as soon as possible and work at their best. If the condition is more serious I decide whether it is necessary to visit the medical centre or even a hospital, where I stay with them to make sure they receive the proper care. I also work with team members to make sure they are generally looking after themselves as well as possible; for example I prepare a special mineral drink and distribute this in the garage during the race to make sure they are hydrated properly. The aim is to make sure every team member is as fit as possible to do their job - a driver can't stay in the hotel on a Sunday afternoon to recover and neither can anyone else in the team.
You work closely with the drivers, so how fit does a Formula One driver need to be?
RC: There is no other sport in the world which compares to the demands Formula One puts on the heart. The heat rate of a top driver can average over 180bpm for a race distance of 90 minutes or more. This is huge and no other sport keeps a heart rate so high for such a long time. On top of that there is a lot of muscle work for the whole body - heavy work for neck muscles to cope with the g-forces, high loads on legs and arms and good lumbar strength to stabilise the body. A normal person could do two or three laps in a Formula One car under those stresses before physically they couldn't continue.
What about the mental aspect of driving?
RC: The demand on the muscles is important but the load on the brain is amazing. Formula One is a sport where the brain has to be working hard for the whole race. In tennis you have a break every few seconds, in boxing you break every three minutes, in shooting you break all the time. This means a Formula One driver's brain is working in a different way. When you compare a Formula One driver's brain to an average person, the way it works is completely different.
Does a driver react differently in qualifying compared to the race?
RC: Yes. When a driver is racing he is driving differently to a qualifying lap, which puts more intense physical strain on him. In qualifying a driver is right on the limit, always very close to a mistake and his heart can be beating 50bpm faster than a normal racing lap. This shows the body is doing a massive amount of work, which is possible to sustain for a few minutes but not a whole race.
How does excessive heat affect team members and drivers?
RC: It is a simple fact that when you have a fever you feel weak because your body is not working properly; like a car when the engine is overheating, the performance goes down. When you are working or driving in hot conditions, like in Bahrain, and you can't cool down, the temperature in your body goes up like you have a fever, so you have the same reaction. As soon as the body temperature goes up, you brain, muscle and reactions suffer. Sweating is the body's cooling system so you also lose fluids through sweat. So in extreme heat you feel weaker due to the temperature and also the loss of fluids.
What effect does the loss of fluids have?
RC: When you lose two per cent of your body weight as fluid you start to lose an important part of your capacity for psychological and physical performance - if you are 60kgs that is just over 1kg of sweat. Sometimes the drivers can lose up to 3kg in a race and if you lose four per cent of your bodyweight you lose around 40 per cent of your psycho-physical capacity. So it is normal in hot conditions that a driver would lose a bit of performance if nothing is done to combat the effect of heat.
So what can be done to reduce this?
RC: The small things, if you put them all together, can be quite effective. First of all drink a lot and always have a bottle of fluid available; mainly this is water but also you can add some minerals. The second thing is to be very careful with nutrition. It is best to eat simple food which is easy to digest; fruit and vegetables are the best things to eat. Finally, for a driver, you try to get him as cool as possible before the race, which means putting ice in his helmet, his shoes in the fridge, that kind of thing, so when he first steps into the car he is not already overheating.
If a driver is not completely fit, how would that affect his performance?
RC: The affect on the driver is really subtle and difficult to see. Before I worked with Toyota, I saw a driver who was starting the race after having a very bad infection for four days. He lost a lot of fluids and he arrived on Sunday feeling really bad, but he had to start. He told me after the race that he felt he could collapse at any point but he finished in the top six because he had a good car. When a driver who is normally super fit is sick, he is likely to be four tenths - maximum half a second - slower than usual in the race.