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You might think driving a car is a low-energy pursuit, but racing a Formula 1 car for up to two hours is a very different matter. F1 drivers must achieve fitness levels similar to athletes to build the strength and stamina to survive the rigors of a race—which means training like athletes do.
F1 cars aren’t built for comfort. There’s very little compliance in the suspension; the seat is hard carbon-fiber shell; and, once at racing speed, the driver is hit by forces many times that of gravity as the car accelerates, decelerates, and goes around corners. For example, because of the effect of engine braking, aerodynamic downforce, and energy-recovery systems, simply lifting your foot off the throttle while traveling at speed makes the car slow down sharply—about as much as if you hit the brakes in your road car hard enough to make all the wheels lock up. And that’s before the F1 driver starts braking.
At Monza in Italy, for example, the cars must slow from over 200 miles per hour to just 30 miles per hour for the first turn. That takes just 100 meters and around 1.9 seconds, during which the driver is subjected to over five times the force of gravity while standing on the (unassisted) brake pedal with a pressure equivalent to doing a 135-kilogram single-leg press in the gym.
Cornering forces also put the drivers through levels of physical stress common to fighter pilots, particularly in the neck area. Drivers target this area in the gym, along with other parts of the body that must grapple with the car—but here they have to be careful: muscle bulk alone isn’t the answer. Adding muscle also adds weight, and since the driver is counted as part of the car’s minimum weight allowance, heavier drivers can be at a disadvantage.
Cardiovascular fitness is also essential because drivers have to manage the onboard electronic systems of the car while racing. Fatigue would diminish their ability to do that.
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