Warm-up and regeneration: how F1 stars stay physically fit

Noel Carroll is the Physical Performance Coach of Scuderia AlphaTauri driver Daniil Kvyat. Carroll outlines in an interview what his protégé does before he gets into the car on race day and which type of regeneration is the most effective.

How exhausting is a Formula 1 Grand Prix for an athlete’s body?

I think there is a slight misconception that Formula 1 racing is somehow not a physically demanding sport. In actual fact, there is a very unique combination of factors, including the heat and weather, but also from the car itself, the layers of fireproof clothing and also the helmet, which means that it is very difficult for divers to lose any heat. Drivers are therefore always presented with the risk of heat exhaustion. Then there is also the physical demand of driving a Formula 1 car in a very unforgiving environment: they are not like the cars that we might drive to work, which are built for comfort, as F1 cars are built purely for speed. The driver very much has to drive the car, he has to use force through the corners, that requires good muscular strength on the driver’s part. There is all of this combined with the fact that everything is happening at up to 300 kilometers per hour. Plus when you consider there are very technical decisions happening around them, as well as information coming from the engineers that might involve changing settings in the car - there are a number of factors that ultimately lead to fatigue. It’s not like other sports, for example running a marathon, where the physical demands are more obvious.

Is there any specific warm-up program for Daniil before the race?

Daniil does indeed go through a specific warm-up before he gets into the car. We use skipping to raise his body temperature and his heart rate. After that, we do a general whole-body warm up focused on flexibility - nothing too unusual. We then start to concentrate on the upper body, as this is where we have the forces that are used to do the steering, and we want to prepare the stabilizers around the shoulder joints. At the same time we want him getting his hands ready for the tasks he faces in the race. We also do some lower body work because he has to exert huge pressure onto the brake pedal to control the car during the race. Next are a mixture of reflex games, as he needs to be very alert, and trying to develop his peripheral vision skills - so quite often it’s a hand-eye-coordination. Using a mixture of tennis balls and different things to catch to test his reflexes. Last but not least, we finish by warming up the neck. There are very high forces through corners that the neck has to withstand so that he can keep his head up at all times.

Daniil Kvyat I warm-up  © Red Bull Content Pool

How long does the warm-up take?

The physical component takes between 10 and 15 minutes, and then Daniil will finish with some breathing exercises so that he is completely ready and focused as he gets into the car.

What does Daniil do right after the race to relax his muscles?

Immediately after the race the drivers have to be weighed on the scales by the officials before going straight into TV interviews. Consequently it is actually quite difficult for him to start slowing down. The main thing we start to work on is replacing the fluid that he has lost during the race. We know that this can help to relax the muscles and hopefully prevent anything like cramps coming on. It may take some time though before he actually gets back to his driver’s room to properly relax. It's kind of a reactive process after the race. For example if it has been a very hot race, we might use some cold towels to bring his body temperature down.

How long does it take the body to fully recover after the race?

This will depend a lot on the type of race. We saw on Sunday there were quite a lot of safety car intervals, so there was less of the strains of high speed racing than usual, but in order to keep the car and the tires warm they have to do a lot more steering work, which involves a lot more upper body work. There are two kinds of fatigue. One is peripheral fatigue, which includes the arms and legs, let’s say the muscular system, and that takes a different amount of time in comparison to the central fatigue from the brain and the central nervous systems that help him to make decisions in the car while he is racing. Together these systems typically recover between 28 and 48 hours after the race.

How stressful is a back-to-back-race physically for the drivers?

It’s unusual for the drivers to stay in the same place for two races. One of the advantages of this is that they don’t have to travel between the races. Sometimes they have to fly from one country to the next and race in very quick succession. But what happens is that fatigue and stress do not recover in a linear fashion, so it's like you're adding a little bit more stress on top of an existing level of stress. But we have trained hard to try and get ready for this. Daniil’s training program has hopefully prepared him for this as much as possible. One important consideration is, while we're staying here and doing back to back races at the same course, is to get some time away from the circuit and get a change of scenery – this will help to keep him fresh but also help him to mentally prepare for the next race.

Are there any specific tricks to speed up the regeneration?

Recovery topics are a very hotly debated subject. There are many different kinds of technology and equipment that you can buy. I honestly believe though that sleep, good hydration and good nutrition in the early stages after the race are the most important techniques. And with individual athletes especially, the best recovery tool is the one they believe in. It doesn't have to be a very fancy or technological component, these might add an edge, but honestly you can't beat the basics. If you can do these well, it is absolutely possible to maximize recovery, but I don't think there's any tricks

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