The typical winter training schedule of a Formula 1 driver

Older Formula 1 fans and will surely remember Nigel Mansell fainting on the Dallas straight in an attempt to get his empty-tank Lotus to cross the line - by pushing it. Then there were the images of the late Ayrton Senna being dragged out of his car, suffering from extreme exhaustion at the end of a particularly challenging Grand Prix.
Formula 1 is not just about races
Extraordinary scenes, back when Formula 1 was light years away from today's technological perfection and where athletic prowess was the exception rather than the norm. Back then, the drivers were drivers first, and athletes second – and mostly because they worked out with DIY training sessions.

That was thirty years ago. Now the tune has changed

Different regulations, different cockpits and different athletic preparation, which has now become an integral part in the preparation of a professional driver, who must be able to withstand the physical and mental stress that this sport requires.

As a result, drivers have a team of athletic trainers and physiotherapists at their disposal, figures who day by day take care of the physical condition of their patients. The Indian Balbir Singh is an emblematic figure, a permanent presence alongside Michael Schumacher between the end of the 1990s and the first lustre of the year 2000.

The importance of a physiotherapist in a team
In short, modern day Formula 1 drivers cannot ignore physical exercise, especially in winter when the competitive tension drops. During this period the foundations are laid for the coming season and nothing should be left to chance, both on the track during test-drives and in the gym during workout sessions. Success is not just the result of the quality of a technical project.

Outdoor activities

Given that the majority of Formula 1 teams are based in the Northern hemisphere, many drivers spend a few weeks away from the cold winter in countries with warmer temperatures, where they can engage in activities such as running and cycling, and keep fit mile after mile. Cycling in particular is very popular among riders: Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso, for example, are great cyclists and over the years have not hesitated to let us know by posting photos on social media.
Many drivers choose sports such as canoeing, trekking and swimming; drivers willingly opt for combinations of sports, to test the strain on even the most well-trained of bodies. Biathlon and triathlon are also popular activities among the aces of the tarmac. Jenson Button, now a retired driver, was particularly famous among the others for being an ironman regular, the discipline that combines running (42.195 km), cycling (180.260 km) and swimming (3.86 km).

However, there are also those who prefer the grandeur of a snowy mountain to the lull of the waves crashing on the shores, choosing to wear skis and engage in exhausting cross-country sessions, which harden the body and increase endurance under stress. It was the custom of the Swiss Sauber team - which became Alfa Romeo Sauber in 2018 - to take their drivers to a retreat in the Alps, testing them not only on skis but also in ice climbing challenges.

Lots of gym time to train the most stressed muscles

Driving a Formula 1 car, as technologically advanced as it can be, is not an activity that you can improvise: in the almost two hours of a Grand Prix, there are many factors that affect the body of the drivers, despite the fact that they are seated. Many are the factors that put their bodies under considerable strain: the sustained high speed, the driving operations and the pressure of the G force, which is particularly intense during acceleration, in sustained curves and in braking.
Alonso works out on a Technogym Leg Press
To withstand so much stress, it is essential to have well-trained muscles, especially those of the neck, arms and legs. Therefore, many drivers, followed by the watchful eyes of their trainers and pushed by the hands of the stopwatch, spend more time between the walls of the gym during the winter break than under the sun of the tropics. High intensity training sessions, indoor running and cycling, triceps and other weightlifting exercises, as well as training with the help of machines designed to simulate driving conditions, are the most common activities.

Nonetheless, in the gym there are those pilots who, like world champion Lewis Hamilton, in addition to the "controlled" exercises, vent stress by boxing, a sport he got close to – not really by his own volition - by his father Anthony. As a child, in fact, the British driver wanted to practice karate, but his father – his future agent, pushed him to put on the gloves. With these, he managed to beat an opponent who was bigger and stronger, a lesson that the driver still carries with him and encourages him to never give up, just like in the ring. Nevertheless, that is another story.

Go-kart racing
Returning to the winter training of the drivers, there are also those who have thought of combining pleasure with business, putting themselves behind the wheel of a go-kart. In fact, the Toro Rosso trainers, at the time of Carlos Sainz Jr., trained their drivers by making them race in go-karts with a helmet equipped with ballasts that increased their weight by 1.5-2 kg, thus simulating the impact of the G-force that they would encounter in the race.

In short, in a sport that is increasingly spectacular and technologically advanced, drivers are called upon to be at their best to face all the challenges that await them.

Challenges that begin in winter, between a machine that simulates driving on the track and a race on uneven ground, and ignite as the last red light goes out.

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