Driver fitness

Formula 1 drivers are some of the most highly conditioned athletes on earth, their bodies specifically adapted to the very exacting requirements of top-flight single-seater motor racing.

All drivers who enter Formula 1 need to undergo a period of conditioning to cope with the physical demands of the sport: no other race series on earth requires so much of its drivers in terms of stamina and endurance. The vast loadings that Formula 1 cars are capable of creating, anything up to a sustained 3.5 g of cornering force, for example, means drivers have to be enormously strong to be able to last for full race distances. The extreme heat found in a Formula 1 cockpit, especially at the hotter rounds of the championship, also puts vast strain on the body: drivers can sweat off anything up to 3kg of their body weight during the course of a race.

In simple terms, the fitter the driver, the less susceptible he is likely to be to fatigue-induced lapses of concentration. Most drivers undergo an intensive period of cardio-vascular training ahead of the season and then taper their exercise regime to maintain their fitness levels throughout the year. Popular training methods include running, swimming and cycling.

F1 drivers also do strength training, though for weight saving reasons they are always mindful of building too much muscle. The unusual loadings experienced by neck and chest muscles mean that these are the most heavily targeted areas. However, since the forces experienced in F1 racing are not easily replicated by conventional gym equipment, many drivers use specially designed 'rigs' that enable them to specifically develop the muscles they will need to withstand cornering forces. In fact, the G-forces experienced negotiating a bend can make the head and helmet weigh around five times as much as normal, and the neck must support both. 

Although F1 cars have power assisted steering, strong arm muscles and a strong core are also required to enable the car to be controlled during longer races. To improve hand-eye coordination, concentration and reaction time, drivers will often incorporate other activities into their physical training regimes. A popular training aid is the batak reaction board, where the aim is to hit as many randomly-lit lights on a specially designed board in 60 seconds as possible.

In terms of nutrition, F1 drivers tend to have extremely regulated diets. Recent trends have seen drivers trim their weight as much as possible so that they can use carefully positioned ballast to bring their car up to the minimum weight. A typical pre-race meal might include chicken (or another protein like fish) and vegetables, although some drivers still prefer to eat carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta ahead of a race to provide energy. 

It is also vitally important that drivers drink large amounts of water before the race, even if they do not feel thirsty, as failure to do so could bring on severe dehydration and possible cramping.

Like athletes in other sports, Formula 1 drivers are subject to random drug testing.