The cockpit of a Formula 1 car can reach extreme temperatures during the course of the race. This is especially true for races in exotic locations where the ambient temperature reaches much higher than usual. This may leave you wondering how F1 drivers stay cool in the heat of a race.
F1 drivers stay cool without any sophisticated cooling aids during races, and they can only rely on the open cockpit design of their cars and cooling pads in their clothing to help cope with the heat. Heat conditioning and training is the most effective way in which F1 drivers are able to stay cool.
When it comes to the hottest races, it is an extreme challenge for drivers to stay hydrated and not overheat during the 190-mile event. Below, we go into more detail about the heat F1 drivers face and how they deal with it.
The Heat F1 Drivers Deal With During Races
Formula 1 drivers need to put up with really high temperatures during races. Let’s take one of the most extreme examples on the F1 calendar: the Singapore Grand Prix. Despite being a night race, the ambient temperature in Singapore can reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) and 80% humidity.
This sounds punishing enough already, but drivers have to wear fire resistant underwear, a balaclava, a race suit (which is equivalent to 3 layers of clothing on its own), gloves and a helmet. Then they are strapped into a car where the engine is directly behind the driver’s back. This leads to cockpit temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).
Under normal circumstances, drivers can lift their visors to get a breath of fresh, cool air. However, in Singapore, with 80% humidity, that doesn’t offer much of an effect. This means their core temperatures can increase by several degrees for the duration of the race.
Drivers Lose Several Kilos Through Sweat
As Singapore is usually one of the hottest events on the Formula 1 calendar, drivers can suffer severe dehydration in these conditions, and some lose up to 5 kilograms in body weight during the course of this race (about 11 lbs).
So, it is important that drivers are fully prepared and equipped to take on this challenge. They do this in various ways, and they have developed various technologies in order to keep themselves performing at their peak level.
How Do F1 Drivers Keep Cool?
F1 drivers keep cool by hydrating during the race, but other than that they can’t do much in the cockpit to cool down. While there is a small hole at the front of the nose of an F1 car for driver cooling, the cockpit of an F1 car still gets very hot, depending on the climate they’re racing in.
Key Fact: This hole at the front of the car is relatively tiny, and it likely yields more of an aerodynamic effect than offering any noticeable cooling for the driver
Over the course of a race weekend, F1 drivers will take regular ice baths in order to keep their core body temperatures down. With a tightly packed schedule, drivers don’t always have the time to do this, so they keep their ice baths down to around 10 minutes before and after sessions.
Formula 1 cars, as you may have guessed, do not have any real cooling elements for the driver. Air conditioning and cooling units add a lot of weight to a car. All teams are fighting for the smallest of margins, and they try to shave as much weight off the cars as they can. This means F1 cars don’t have air conditioning systems, as is common in other racing series too.
F1 Cooling Vests & Pads
As such, teams have developed technology in order to help keep the drivers cool in the car. The first is a cooling vest, which is worn by the drivers underneath their race suits. These are specially made to be as thin as possible while still keeping an element of fire resistance to them. They also include sleeves in various areas (such as the chest and back) where they can keep freezing pads.
These freezing pads are put into the sleeves right before a session starts, but as you can imagine, they heat up rather quickly. In addition to the cooling vest, driver’s can also make use of a cooling collar, which goes around their neck, and this can cool the blood flowing to their heads before an event.
They’re Not That Effective
However, the freezing pads do not benefit the driver’s performance and they only offer some (minor) comfort. The freezing pads do not lower the driver’s core temperatures by very much either, so it’s not a super effective method unfortunately. The old-fashioned way that drivers can use to keep cool on the grid is by simply wrapping a cold, wet towel around their neck.
When the cars are in the garage or on the starting grid, drivers can make use of fans connected to dry ice boxes in order to cool themselves down. They act as a sort of air conditioning unit for drivers. However, once they leave garage, these air conditioners are gone, as they’re not connected to the cars.
Key Fact: Teams will also use these dry ice fans to cool parts of the cars in between sessions, such as the brakes and the engine
Why Is It Important For Formula 1 Drivers To Stay Cool?
It’s important for Formula 1 drivers to stay cool as otherwise they could overheat within the car. As F1 cars are open cockpit cars, there is constant airflow over the driver. However, the temperature inside the cockpit can still reach upwards of 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Overheating can impact a driver’s cognitive functions, which is obviously far from ideal when they’re navigating corners at 150 mph or more, and battling with 19 other drivers at the same time.
KEY POINTS• It gets incredibly hot inside an F1 cockpit
• Drivers have limited ways to stay cool before and during a race
• It’s vital they don’t overheat, as this can affect their performance and become very dangerous
How F1 Drivers Stay Hydrated
As we mentioned earlier, Formula 1 drivers can lose up to 5 kilograms of weight (11 lbs) during the course of a race. This is largely due to fluid loss caused by sweating in the extreme heat, as F1 drivers don’t usually pee in the cars! It is therefore crucial for drivers to properly hydrate in preparation for a race, and during a race as well.
They will often drink lots of water before the race, and afterwards too. They’ll do so in accordance with a personalized hydration plan, which will be tailored to them to ensure they are adequately hydrated before the race begins.
Formula 1 cars also have a (small) drinks bottle built into the cockpit. The drinks bottle is filled with a liquid containing electrolytes that help them keep up their hydration and energy levels. However, the bottle is not kept cool in the car, and in fact it sits pretty close to the hot engine!
Even if the liquid is frozen at the race start, it will probably only remain cool for the first few laps of the race. During the course of the race, this drink can become more like a hot tea for the drivers. Therefore, it does not actually have a cooling effect for the driver, but its main purpose is to keep the driver hydrated throughout the race.
How F1 Drivers Train To Stay Cool
Formula 1 drivers use their training to prepare for the extreme heat they will experience in the cockpit of the car during a race. This is similar to how long-distance runners will train at high altitudes in order to prepare for a marathon. There are various training techniques drivers use in order to achieve this.
Some drivers like to do some physical training in a sauna. This is beneficial because they are making their body work under the same kind of circumstances that they will be experiencing in the car in terms of humidity and heat.
Others prefer to train outdoors. This kind of conditioning also helps drivers to prepare their body for the temperatures that they will experience in a race.
Training With Their Racing Gear
Another conditioning technique used by some drivers is to train with their full racing gear on. Training while wearing a race suit will condition their body to experience heat while wearing full safety gear, simulating some of the conditions in the car.
How Do F1 Drivers Breathe?
F1 drivers breathe like any other sportsperson. They don’t have oxygen supplied through their helmets, as they take in enough air through their helmet. F1 drivers shouldn’t have any trouble breathing while driving, although the high G-forces can make some corners difficult to breathe in.
While an F1 race does put a driver through their paces, elevating both their breathing and their heart rate, they can still breathe perfectly normally while driving. Plus, they do extensive training all year round to ensure they’re used to operating under such physical pressures.
KEY POINTS• F1 drivers must hydrate before and during a race
• They have a drinks bottle they can use while driving
• Drivers will train extensively in order to prepare themselves for racing conditions
Formula 1 drivers have to condition their bodies to perform at their maximum in extreme heat. They do this by training between races and in the off season. While they have some cooling methods at their disposal, they simply have to be able to withstand the high temperatures in the car.
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