Why Do F1 Drivers Have Thick Necks?

Share this article

There is no doubt that F1 drivers are some of the fittest people on the planet. This might not seem true to those that don’t know much about the sport, but the harsh conditions of the car and the forces the drivers endure mean that they need to be surprisingly fit. But why do they have thick necks?

F1 drivers have thick necks as they are very muscular. They need to be strong because during the race they experience large forces on their entire body, sometimes more than 5 times their weight. Their necks need to be able to withstand these forces to keep the driver’s head straight through corners.

The forces that drivers endure throughout a race are very strong, and their entire body needs to be up to the challenge. Below, I’ll take a closer look at the kind of pressure and strain F1 drivers need to deal with in the car, particularly on their necks.

The Physical Demands Of An F1 Race

F1 races usually take place over the course of around 90 minutes, with the longest a race can take being two hours (of driving time). This is a long time to spend doing any intense sport, and although it may seem like the drivers are simply going around a track, there is a lot more to it than simply operating a few pedals and turning a steering wheel.

First, the conditions inside the cockpit are very harsh. Temperatures can reach upwards of 50°C, which means the drivers lose a lot of water very quickly. They are also in quite a small and cramped space, as teams try to make the car as light as possible, meaning there is not much room to move around. This means the drivers have quite the endurance test each race.

A Lot Of Force Required

Next, the drivers need to operate the pedals without any power assistance. Power assistance is common in road cars, and it is why you can gently brush the brake pedal and glide to a stop. In an F1 car, drivers need to slam their foot to the floor (although in a controlled manner) in order to slow down, which requires a lot of leg and foot strength. The action requires the entire leg and all of its muscles.

Although the cars do have power steering, the amount of force required to turn a car round a near 90° corner at more than 100 mph is still quite substantial. This, paired with the fact there may be several of these corners lined up in a row, means the drivers need to have a lot of fine control over their steering movements while still fighting against the car and tires moving the other way.

The G-Forces

The forces that the driver puts on the car are nothing compared to the forces the car puts on them. Under intense acceleration and through tight but fast corners, the drivers can experience more than 5 G’s. This means they feel the force of around 5 times their weight pushing them into the back or sides of their cockpit. They need to be able to work against these forces in order to remain in control of the car.

The drivers therefore have very strong core muscles, along with strong arms and legs to operate the pedals and the steering wheel when travelling at 200+ mph. But they also need to keep their eyes on the road, and this means keeping their heads straight through the corners. With five times their head’s weight acting on their neck, this can become very difficult to do.

The Safety Aspect

It’s not just in the corners that having a strong and thick neck matters in F1, as it also provides an element of safety too. Crashes can put the drivers under immense strain, as Carlos Sainz found out at the Russian Grand Prix in 2015. He walked away from his 46G crash unharmed and was even able to race the very next day.

But tamer crashes than that can put the driver through 10-20G, which means their necks need to be able to keep their head safe without too much movement. The cars do have multiple safety devices in place to prevent them from being seriously harmed, but having a strong neck will also go a long way to preventing potentially dangerous movement around the cockpit during a crash.

How Strong Are F1 Drivers’ Necks?

Because they need to hold their head’s weight and that of their helmet up straight through fast, high g-force corers, F1 drivers must have very strong and therefore very thick necks. The helmet alone can end up having an equivalent weight on their neck of more than 7 kg (15 lbs), and combining that with their head means they may have more than 40 kg (88 lbs) acting on their neck through high g-force corners.

So, an F1 race is essentially one long workout for the drivers, with a lot of focus on their necks. The strength of their neck is hard to quantify, but the g-forces endured alone give a good idea of how much strength they have. Fernando Alonso has famously used the strength of his neck to crack walnuts open, which is no mean feat on its own without trying to do it with your neck!

Thicker Necks

As for the size of the driver’s necks, and how thick they are, there are often stories of driver’s necks growing substantially as they progress throughout their F1 careers. A Mercedes official said that back in 2007 Lewis Hamilton had a 14-inch collar size, but he now has an 18-inch collar size. This is purely due to the amount of muscle he has put on while training his neck and through racing.

KEY POINTS

• F1 drivers have very thick and strong necks

• They need them to be strong in order to withstand the high g-forces they are subjected to in the cars

• This can make their heads feel like they weigh 40+ kg in the corners

Training Regimes Of F1 Drivers

In order to build up strength in the neck, and to be able to withstand the g-forces throughout the race, F1 drivers need to train their neck muscles just like they would with any other part of their body. If they don’t, they will find racing to be very painful, and they may even struggle to race at all without losing control of the car as they lose their balance with their head moving around too much.

The training regimes will vary from driver to driver, but the main goal is to strengthen the neck. Some drivers, such as George Russell, get someone else to pull and push on their neck as they resist in order to build up strength, while others use resistance bands or even weights attached to their heads to build up muscle and simulate racing conditions.

A Different Kind Of Strength Training

This kind of strength training builds muscle in the neck just as doing bicep curls or leg presses would in the arms and legs. This leads to their necks not just becoming stronger, but also much thicker, and since F1 drivers tend to be skinny as well, it can mean they look slightly out of proportion. But it is essential for the drivers if they want to race well and remain safe and comfortable in the car.

Final Thoughts

F1 drivers are known for driving very fast, and for being very fit. They often have very thick necks, and this is because they also have very strong necks. They need them to be strong in order to keep their heads up straight through fast corners, experiencing forces of 5G or more, in order to maintain control of the car.