Formula 1 is an extremely physical and demanding sport. The cars are fast, but they are especially fast in corners. This massive cornering speed is where driver fitness becomes really crucial. However, some people still debate whether Formula 1 drivers are athletes.
F1 is a sport, and Formula 1 drivers are athletes that need to be incredibly fit to keep control of their cars. The G forces involved mean they need incredible core and neck strength. An F1 driver’s heart rate remains upwards of 170 bpm for the entire 1.5-2 hours of the race.
Their lower body also needs to be incredibly strong as they push upwards of 100 kg (220 lbs) on the brake pedal for cornering. Many Formula 1 drivers run marathons or participate in Iron Man events to keep fit for the season ahead. Below, I take a closer look at just why F1 drivers can be considered athletes.
Why F1 Is A Sport
F1 involves physical exertion on the part of the drivers, and a lot of skill. Formula 1 also involves competition, between both individuals and teams. This means that not only is F1 a sport, but the drivers are also competitive athletes too.
A sport is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” This not only means that Formula 1 is a sport, but it is also a team sport.
In addition to the Wold Drivers’ Championship, there is also a World Constructors’ Championship in which the teams competing in Formula 1 earn points. Without the teams behind the drivers, there would be no cars to race!
It’s A Team Sport
Formula 1 teams are made up of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people who devote their lives to building and maintaining F1 cars (among many other roles). Over the course of the season, they are constantly working to improve their cars in order to get the edge over their competitors.
It takes a full team of people to assemble a car and work on it to prepare for a race weekend, and then to keep the car going at full performance over the weekend. Once the race is over, that same team needs to break everything down and ship it to the next race venue.
The team also plays a major role in the race. Teams have dedicated race strategists who analyze the perfect strategy in order to win races or make it to the end of the race. They are constantly reviewing and changing their strategies as the race progresses.
The pit crew can also be considered serious athletes. The car comes into the pit box and they are able to lift it up and change all 4 tires in under 3 seconds. It takes a huge amount of skill and coordination to pull off the perfect pit stop that can make or break your race, so the mechanics need to be incredibly fit and mentally sharp too.
Should F1 Be Considered A Sport?
F1 should be considered a sport because it meets all the criteria that define a sport:
- It involves individuals and teams competing according to a set of rules
- The drivers must also physically exert themselves
- They do so while entertaining fans
Is F1 The Most Expensive Sport?
F1 is arguably the most expensive sport. Formula 1 teams spend up to $135 million on the car and various other things that are included in the budget cap. However, teams will spend far more than this when driver salaries and other non-budget cap costs are taken into account.
Is F1 The Hardest Sport?
F1 isn’t necessarily the hardest sport. While it is very difficult, it’s hard to argue that it is any more difficult than other sports when considering those at the top level of their respective sports. However, there is no doubt that Formula 1 is a difficult sport, and the drivers are definitely athletes.
Why F1 Drivers Are Athletes
F1 drivers are athletes as they train relentlessly to be fit enough to handle the physical strain of driving an F1 car. From the G-forces to which they are exposed to the heat inside the cockpit, an F1 car is very demanding to drive, and there is no doubt that F1 drivers are athletes.
If you put an average, untrained person in an F1 car, it would most likely only be 5 or 6 laps (if they could get it up to full speed that is) before their neck muscles give in. Formula 1 drivers experience upwards of 5 G’s in fast corners. That means that your head plus your helmet (approximately 7 or 8 kg) weighs 5 times more during that time.
If they do manage to get the car up to its full speed of 210 mph down the main straight, they will need to push down on the brake pedal with about 100 kg (220 lbs) of force with only their left leg in order to get the brakes to actually work and slow them down to 60 mph in under 3 seconds. In addition, there would be a force of 40 kg pushing their head forwards while they are braking.
Staying Focused Isn’t Easy
All of this would be happening while adrenaline is rushing through their body and their heart rate is between 170 and 200 bpm. The level of concentration needed just to keep the car on the track is extreme. Formula 1 drivers do this while being in constant communication with their team, and adjusting settings on their car according to their race strategy.
If you want to take it even further, the cockpit of a Formula 1 car can reach a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), and drivers can lose up to 5 kg (11 lbs) of bodyweight over the course of a 1.5-hour race. You don’t need to go on a diet to lose weight, just become a racing driver!
At the end of the day, Formula 1 cars cannot be compared to driving your standard road car on the highway. These cars require an extreme physical (and mental) strength to drive fast.
KEY POINTS• F1 is a sport, and the drivers are definitely athletes
• The cars require immense physical and mental fitness to drive
• Formula 1 also ticks the competitive and entertainment aspects of being considered a sport too
How Fit Are Formula 1 Drivers?
Formula 1 drivers are very fit. While many may not realise it, F1 drivers are under a lot of physical strain when driving their cars. The heat in the cars, along with the G-forces the drivers must contend with, make F1 a very physically demanding sport, and F1 drivers are definitely athletes.
The drivers weren’t always fitness focused though. If you have ever looked back at old Formula 1 footage, or have even watched the movie Rush, you would have seen a lot of drivers spending their time drinking and smoking, living a bit of a “playboy lifestyle.”
This was made famous by James Hunt as you would see in the movie Rush (highly recommended by the way). However, it all changed when a young German driver arrived on the Formula 1 scene in the early 1990s.
The Schumacher Effect
That driver was Michael Schumacher. He is the one that changed the game when it came to driver fitness. He was the first driver to really take his health and fitness seriously in Formula 1 and it showed.
He was able to perform much better in races and get the edge over his competitors. It showed in the longer, hotter races, where he was able to still push his car to its maximum potential while other drivers were getting tired, losing focus and making mistakes.
Ever since then, drivers have realised that Formula 1 demands huge amounts of physical strength, and that they can get the edge over their rivals if they are able to perform at their peak for longer. Since then, the cars have become much faster and more difficult to drive, and now fitness is an essential component for any Formula 1 driver (and most racing drivers in general).
Why Do F1 Drivers Have To Be So Fit?
F1 drivers have to be so fit because driving an F1 car is extremely demanding. The conditions in the cockpit can become very hot, and the drivers must also be able to withstand lots of G-forces in the corners and under braking, so they must train heavily in between races.
F1 drivers experience around 2 G at most when accelerating, which is twice the normal G forces we feel pushing down on us on Earth, but this time in the lateral direction. This pushes the driver into the back of their seat, and while it’s definitely noticeable, it’s not the most strenuous part of driving an F1 car.
Deceleration is the hard part. Formula 1 cars can go from 200 mph to 0 in about 4 seconds. Formula 1 drivers can experience up to 5 G’s during this heavy deceleration. So, if your head with your helmet weighed 8 kg (18 lbs), it would suddenly feel like it weighs 40 kg (88 lbs), and it would be pulled forward with that much force.
The G-Forces Involved
This deceleration is so extreme that the driver’s face actually deforms for those few seconds of extreme braking. On top of that, your neck needs to be strong enough to keep your head upwards and looking into the corner while braking. So, Formula 1 drivers can move a weight of 40 kg using only their neck!
Key Fact: Some corners on the F1 calendar put the drivers through about 6 G’s laterally, and these are the really difficult ones as they pull the driver’s head sideways, putting lots of strain on their necks.
Leg & Core Strength
Included in the braking is the force you need to put on the brake pedal in order to get the car to slow down. Drivers need to put 100 kg of force on the brake pedal to get the brakes applied for these heavy braking zones. Next time you go to the gym, try to put 100 kg on the leg press machine and lift it only using your left leg. Now try and do that for 1.5 hours straight 15 times every minute!
Key Fact: While there’s no doubt an F1 brake pedal is hard to press, the truth is they get a bit of help from the G forces effectively ‘pushing’ their leg into the pedal for them as they decelerate.
The G-forces also require lots of core strength to endure. Although they are strapped tightly into the car, they still need to be able to steadily hold their steering and keep their body in position while these G-forces are pushing their body is all different directions.
Finally, the drivers also need a lot of grip strength. With all the G-forces involved, drivers need to be able to hang on to their steering wheel for the duration of the entire race. If you have ever gone karting before, you would have noticed that despite how slow they might be in comparison to a Formula 1 car, your hand will start to cramp after about 30 minutes of holding the steering wheel!
KEY POINTS• F1 cars are incredibly physically demanding to drive
• This is in large part due to the G-forces the drivers must endure while racing
• They might experience up to 6 G’s under intense deceleration or high-speed cornering
How Demanding Are F1 Races For Drivers?
F1 races are very demanding for drivers, as they are not just long but also very physically intense. With immense G-forces in the braking zones and in the corners due to the high levels of downforce of the cars, drivers feel lots of strain in their core and neck muscles.
The cockpit of a Formula 1 car is also very hot. Drivers need to cope with the extreme heat in the car while having adrenaline flowing through their body for 1.5 hours. A driver’s heart rate can stay above 180 beats per minute for the duration of the race. This is the equivalent of a marathon runner.
Resting breaths per minute is about 10-12. However, while driving a Formula 1 car at full speed, a driver’s breaths per minute can reach up to 40. This is also similar to other top athletes, such as long-distance runners.
Losing A Lot Of Weight
As I mentioned earlier, drivers can lose up to 5 kg (11 lbs) of body weight during a race. So, it is crucial for them to stay hydrated in the build up to a Grand Prix weekend, and also during the race through their in-car drinks bottle, which is connected to their helmet and activated using a button on their steering wheel.
Formula 1 drivers have incredible reaction times. Very much like Usain Bolt would do at the start of a sprint race, Formula 1 drivers need to react within a fraction of a second when the lights go out in order to get a good start. But it doesn’t end there, as drivers rely on their lightning-fast reactions during a race as well.
When you are traveling at 200 mph and a car spins in front of you, you have a fraction of a second to react and avoid crashing into them. These reactions are instinctive with racing drivers. When traveling at that speed, your brain will most likely only register what has happened a few seconds after you have passed the spinning car.
The Mental Pressure Of Formula 1
On top of all these physical requirements, driving a Formula 1 car also takes huge mental focus. Take a look at all of the different buttons and settings on a Formula 1 car’s steering wheel. Drivers need to know exactly what all of these do and when they need to use them.
Sometimes drivers even change these settings multiple times over the course of a lap. There have been cases where a driver needs to change settings to override the electronics on the car, which requires scrolling through multiple menus all while going at 200 mph with their race engineer explaining to them what to do.
F1 drivers must deal with a lot of mental pressure, both when in the car and outside of it. They must maintain maximum concentration when driving, but they must also remain focused throughout the season to limit their mistakes. This requires a very strong and mature mindset.
What Do F1 Drivers Do To Train?
F1 drivers will train using a variety of methods. Most will use a training program made up of lots of cardio exercises, along with various strength training exercises, with a focus on core and neck strength. F1 drivers will usually travel with their own dedicated personal trainer too.
Most F1 drivers train every single day, sometimes even twice a day. However, they must also remain “race fit,” which requires training in the car (or other race cars/karts). This is fitness training that replicates the experience of driving an F1 car.
Neck & Core Strength
Drivers use weighted helmets to train their necks and simulate the G forces they will experience in the car. They also focus heavily on core training in order to stay strong enough to keep the car under control for the entire duration of the race.
Many drivers use marathons and Iron Man events during the off season to stay fit enough and to prepare for the upcoming racing season. Drivers focus on overall strength and stamina during their training sessions.
However, you won’t find F1 drivers that look like bodybuilders. They stick to a strict diet and training regime and most weigh under 80 kg (176 lbs). This is because, in Formula 1, the teams try to keep everything on the car as light as possible to make the car as fast as possible – and that includes the driver!
Formula 1 drivers are elite athletes. They have seemingly superhuman strength despite how little they weigh. They have incredibly fast reaction times, and they have the stamina of a marathon runner. On top of that, they experience G forces that rival those felt by fighter pilots, and this puts immense pressure on their bodies during a race.
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