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F1 driver training: What's their workout regime, diet, cardio & more

It's well known that F1 drivers are some of the fittest athletes in the world, but how do they train and what do they eat? Find out that and more here.

F1 driver training: What's their workout regime, diet, cardio & more

Formula 1 drivers have to be at peak physical fitness in order to perform during a grand prix, with every element of their training and diet designed to make them go faster on race day.

It might not look it on TV, but drivers experience punishing forces over the course of a qualifying lap that most ordinary people would find intolerable after a matter of seconds.

When you consider that they do this lap after lap and that most races last around an hour and a half, it’s not hard to imagine why modern F1 drivers have to train like elite athletes.

It hasn’t always been this way – in F1’s earlier years, and even through to the 1980s, the benefits of staying fit were largely understood, although the meticulous approach to training and conditioning is a more recent phenomenon that was pushed first by the likes of Ayrton Senna, and later Michael Schumacher.

Michael Schumacher in the gym

Michael Schumacher in the gym

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Why do drivers need to keep fit?

Drivers subject themselves to enormous forces every time they get behind the wheel, with straight-line acceleration and deceleration among the most savage of any form of motorsport: from a standing start the cars can pull around 2G, and braking at the end of straights can result in as much as 6G in some cases. Around 1G of this comes purely from lifting off the throttle, and drivers have to apply around 160kg (353lb) of force to the brake pedal to achieve the rest.

The cornering forces are equally brutal, with some tracks causing drivers to experience six times their own body weight for brief periods, and between 4-5G in sustained turns. At the Tuscan Grand Prix in 2020, Lewis Hamilton posted 4.9G, 5.6G and 5.2G through Turns 6, 7 and 8 in practice at Mugello, while his team-mate Valtteri Bottas peaked at 5.2G through the famous Parabolica turn at Monza in qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix that same season.

Valtteri Bottas Italian GP 2020

Valtteri Bottas Italian GP 2020

Photo by: Motorsport Images

To endure these forces, drivers need outright muscle strength in their necks, in their core and in their legs, with enough stamina to perform from the first lap of a race until the last. They also need good cardiovascular fitness as heart rates can average more than 170bpm over the duration of a race, which is more than a healthy adult would typically experience while running.

It’s not simply a race to be the strongest, though. Until recently, drivers had to be as light as possible in order to keep the weight of their cars down and maximise speed on track. This meant many of them (especially taller drivers) had to take drastic measures with their calorie intake, often leading to illness and a lack of sleep. For 2019, a minimum 80kg (176lb) threshold for a driver and their seat was introduced, which meant anyone falling below this would need to add ballast to their cars to make up the difference. This has eased the pressure on certain drivers, and allowed them to maintain healthier weights and build up their muscle mass.

Even so, the things that F1 drivers’ bodies go through during a race are extreme. Hamilton has admitted that he can lose as much as 4kg during the hotter races, with humidity at venues like Singapore draining drivers of their fluids. On top of that, he claimed to have lost 4kg after contracting coronavirus, which caused him to miss the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.

Drivers also need to be as strong as possible to cope with impact forces should they crash, with physical fitness playing a big part when it comes to emerging from accidents unscathed. When Romain Grosjean crashed out of the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2020, the spectacular impact peaked at 53G. Back in 2007, at the Canadian Grand Prix, Robert Kubica’s heart-stopping accident peaked at 75G at the moment of impact.

Robert Kubica 2007 Canadian GP

Robert Kubica 2007 Canadian GP

Photo by: Motorsport Images

How do Formula 1 drivers keep fit?

Every driver is different when it comes to fitness programmes, although most base their regimes around gym work. This allows them to exercise various muscle groups in each session, making sure that they retain the core strength needed to complete a full race distance, during which they could use the brakes as many as 1200 times.

Most drivers employ their own personal trainers to manage their training and recovery throughout the year, and the relationship is crucial to being successful on track. The most recognisable of these is Angela Cullen, who has been Hamilton’s physio since 2016 and is often seen by his side in the garage and around the paddock. Such is her importance to his preparation each week, Cullen was the only constant presence in Hamilton’s bubble during the COVID-19-hit 2020 season. “Thank God for Angela,” said the seven-time champion last year. “I've tried to get her to go home to her family as much as possible, but it's not easy to spend time with anyone I think for long periods of time.

“But we're room-mates and you know, pretty much best of friends. So we work well. And pretty much we do everything together. We always skydive together, we surf together, we run together, we go to the gym, we do everything pretty much. We do yoga together, meditate now. So we're very much aligned in terms of things we like to do.”

Lewis Hamilton with Angela Cullen

Lewis Hamilton with Angela Cullen

Photo by: Motorsport Images

How to train like an F1 driver

Neck

Trainers are responsible for creating some of the peculiar-looking exercises that are sometimes pictured on social media, and more often than not these are exercises designed to strengthen a driver’s neck muscles. Lots use resistance bands to mimic the forces experienced in high-speed corners, while others use weighted helmets to perform reps and build muscle mass. Capable of shifting up to 40kg with their neck muscles alone, F1 drivers are thought to have the strongest necks in motorsport.

Arms

Even though F1 cars have used power steering for decades, that doesn’t mean drivers can get away with having a scrawny upper body. Pull-ups, press-ups and bench press lifts are especially good when it comes to working the arms and shoulders, giving drivers a solid platform for their highly developed neck muscles. Meanwhile, strong biceps, triceps and forearms make it easier to operate the steering wheel while being subjected to high g-forces: steering is one aspect of this, but making delicate changes to the buttons and dials also requires stability at speed. Imagine trying to adjust the time on your watch while being spun around by your ankles.

Legs

Drivers will tell you that the key to maintaining an effective training programme over the course of the year is to keep it varied, so that the exercises never get boring. But a typical gym session will feature squats for glute strength, which is needed for stability. Deadlifts can strengthen the hamstrings and quadriceps, helping drivers to deliver the incredible braking force needed to stop an F1 car several times per lap. The calves can’t be overlooked either, and exercises like box jumps, curls and simple tip-toe raises (often with dumbbells in hand) are very effective.

Core

As for core muscles, one popular exercise involves drivers sitting on the floor, holding a similar position to the one they’d find themselves in inside the car. They then rotate a weighted disk clockwise and counterclockwise to mimic the act of steering. More conventional static exercises like planks and bridges can include a number of dynamique variations to keep things fresh.

Example F1 driver training programme

The number of sessions per week varies depending on the time of year, with drivers using the off-season to recuperate and then build up their fitness for the coming season. “Winter time I train about six days a week,” explained Bottas in 2017. “We focus a lot more on neck training. As a Formula 1 driver, it’s a very unique sport handling the g-forces. You need the right amount of strength in places but also endurance."

Leading up to the delayed 2020 season, Daniel Ricciardo’s trainer shared one of the Aussie’s kettlebell (a type of weight) routines on social media:

Reverse lunge press – 10 reps
Front squats – 10 reps
Kettlebell swings – 10 reps
Thrusters – 10 reps
Sumo deadlift – 10 reps
Military press – 10 reps
2 minute rest
Repeat five times

The Aussie is also known to box with training pads as part of his gym sessions; a practice that many F1 drivers find can help with hand-eye coordination and add variety to their workouts.

When the season starts, training programmes shift towards maintaining muscle mass rather than increasing it further, with drivers normally operating at their target weight for the first race. This means less weight work and more focus on reflexes and coordination. You’ll often see drivers testing their reflexes with tennis ball games when warming up for a race, and this type of drill helps drivers to react instinctively behind the wheel.

Jenson Button used triathlons to train

Jenson Button used triathlons to train

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Cardio

Regular cardio workouts throughout the season are incredibly important, and training methods here vary more widely depending on what an individual driver enjoys doing. Former world champion Jenson Button was known for his love of triathlons in his F1 racing days, while Grosjean makes cross-country skiing a key part of his pre-season regime. Running, cycling, and rowing are all popular for aerobic fitness in F1 circles.

Rest and recovery are of paramount importance too, with massage used to increase blood flow to sore muscles and ice baths taken occasionally to reduce inflammation and help flush out waste products post-exercise.

And another ingredient that can’t be ignored is sleep. Nico Rosberg, the 2016 world champion, sought specialist help to manage the jet lag that comes with travelling around the globe as part of the F1 circus, and getting the right amount of sleep at the right time was one of the many factors Rosberg credited for his title-winning campaign. The lessons he learned are widely used among the drivers and teams today.

Lance Stroll stays hydrated

Lance Stroll stays hydrated

Photo by: Motorsport Images

What do F1 drivers eat?

F1 drivers’ diets can vary wildly, which isn’t surprising given that all sorts of foods are popular in the different areas of the world that they hail from. That said, an F1 driver’s diet will be made primarily of clean, healthy foods, with a typical day looking like:

Breakfast

Scrambled eggs and fish for protein
Limited amount of coffee to help boost alertness
Porridge oats for fibre
Vegetables for carbohydrates, minerals and antioxidants

Lunch

Meat, poultry and fish for protein
Vegetables, quinoa and brown rice for carbs

Dinner

Salad and more vegetables
Fish (e.g. grilled mackerel) for protein
Sweet potato mash

Snacks

Protein shake or
Greek yoghurt mixed with oats, nuts and seeds

Naturally, drivers will need to keep hydrated throughout the day too, so a bottle of water will never be far away. If they do end up craving a hot drink, chamomile tea is ideal later in the day as it contains no caffeine.

Not all drivers follow the same principles, though. Hamilton switched to a plant-based diet in 2018 and says it’s made him more alert and quicker to recover from races. However, some experts believe going vegan can actually be detrimental to performance in sport, so the science is disputed.

Le Mans at night

Le Mans at night

Photo by: Motorsport Images

How do drivers from other series compare?

There are few (if any) motorsport series in the world that will allow you to get away with no training whatsoever. Different types of racing require different types of fitness, although the need to be as light as possible in order to go as fast as possible is universal.

In the World Endurance Championship, drivers sometimes need to endure quadruple stints that can last for several hours at a time, which means their bodies need to be prepared adequately in order to limit fatigue behind the wheel. Although the g-forces aren’t as great as those experienced in F1, stamina is vital in order to be able to make the same precise inputs on the throttle, brakes and steering wheel, lap after lap, hour after hour. At events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans it’s little wonder so many mistakes can be attributed to tiredness.

WEC drivers also have to be able to deal with intense heat. At the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in 2016, track temperatures peaked at an unbearable 44 degrees celsius at one stage during the race. The cars don’t have air-conditioning, and ByKolles driver Oli Webb claimed to have lost seven kilos in body weight over the course of the race. Fortunately, he and several others were able to rely on heat chamber training to get through it, while some were so exhausted afterwards that they collapsed in the paddock.

The physical demands of IndyCar are different to F1

The physical demands of IndyCar are different to F1

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Meanwhile, in IndyCar, the demands placed on drivers are also very different to those in F1. Although the cars are slower like-for-like (Bottas’s F1 pole time at COTA was 14 seconds faster than Will Power’s IndyCar pole time in 2019), they are arguably more physical thanks to their lack of power steering.

Speaking after his first experience testing for Dale Coyne Racing in February 2021, Grosjean said: “I discovered the joy of not having power steering, and I don't regret all those hours in the gym.

"It's definitely the hardest steering wheel I've had to cope with. The first few laps, the muscles weren't quite warmed up or ready for it. It got better at the end, which is always a good sign. I'll know exactly where to work in the gym and what to do.”

The only way to remove a racing driver’s weight from the equation is to stipulate a minimum weight for both car and driver. NASCAR Cup Series cars have to weigh at least 3200lb (1451kg) without a driver and fuel, as well as 3400lb (1542kg) with those two elements included. That means teams have to add ballast to make up any shortfall and, while that negates any weight advantage for lighter drivers, that ballast can be moved around the car to improve balance and overall performance. So, even when weight is equalised, there are still gains to be made by being as lean as possible.

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