Formula 1 Drivers and Their Various Training Habits

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2015

Formula 1 Drivers and Their Various Training Habits

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    Mercedes' Nico Rosberg.
    Mercedes' Nico Rosberg.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    To the casual observer, Formula One drivers may not seem very athletic—after all, how hard can it be to drive around in a car for a couple of hours?

    The reality, though, is that the level of fitness—both mental and physical—required to compete in a grand prix compares favourably with what is needed for any other professional athlete.

    In an article about driver fitness for BBC Sport, Sarah Holt wrote that former F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen, "has a resting heart beat of 58 beats per minute but his average rate during the race rises to 170—the same as a marathon runner—before the adrenaline pushes it even higher."

    Drivers must be strong but light; tough but quick. Over the years, as with other athletes, driver training regimens have become more intense and drivers have branched out from traditional activities like running and weightlifting in search of an edge.

    Last season, Nico Rosberg lost the drivers' championship to his teammate Lewis Hamilton at the final race. Recently, he said he has been working on his breathing behind the wheel as he looks for an edge. "I learnt some things from over the winter, for example my breathing was something I could work on in the race car," Rosberg said, per ESPN F1. "When we go through fast corners we hold the breath because there's so much G-force and you can't really breathe properly so I tried to work on that a little bit in the winter."

    With that in mind, let's look at some of the training techniques other drivers have used in the past to improve their performance on the racetrack.

Juan Manuel Fangio

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    Juan Manuel Fangio at the 1956 British Grand Prix.
    Juan Manuel Fangio at the 1956 British Grand Prix.STF/Associated Press

    One of the greatest drivers in F1 history, Juan Manuel Fangio was also an early adopter of the strict healthy living that most drivers today practice.

    Fangio won the world championship five times in the 1950s, but he was already 40 years old when he won his first title. He worked hard to keep his body in top shape, though, to allow him to compete with his younger rivals.

    According to his biographer, Gerald Donaldson, Fangio slept 12 hours every night, ate small, healthy meals, rarely drank and played hours of football on the beach with his girlfriend's teenage son.

    He won his last championship when he was 46, retired the following season and lived to the age of 84.

James Hunt

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    James Hunt
    James HuntUncredited/Associated Press

    At the opposite end of the spectrum from Fangio was James Hunt, the 1976 world champion and a notorious playboy. He seemed to enjoy the lifestyle of an F1 driver as much as he did actually driving an F1 car.

    With all the time he spent partying, there was not necessarily a ton of time left for training. A team principal at the time noted that Hunt's preparations seemed to include nothing more than, "champagne and Marlboros and shagging," according to the Guardian's Tim Adams.

    Unfortunately, Hunt's lifestyle eventually caught up with him and he died of a heart attack at the age of just 45.

Ayrton Senna

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    Ayrton Senna
    Ayrton SennaPascal Rondeau/Getty Images

    Ayrton Senna was a three-time world champion and a proponent of all-around physical and mental fitness. His training methods helped introduce a more professional approach to training for F1 drivers.

    Jacques Dallaire, a doctor and performance specialist who worked with Senna early in his career, told Auto123.com's Rene Fagnan: "He was not aware of the level of physical demands Formula One was asking for. We evaluated his physical fitness in the lab and provided him with a tailored, complete training program." This led to Senna hiring a personal trainer in Brazil.

    According to his official website, Senna's training program included runs of up to nine miles (14.5 kilometres) per day as he sought the conditioning that would allow him to perform at the same level throughout a two-hour race.

Michael Schumacher

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    Michael Schumacher in 2012.
    Michael Schumacher in 2012.Manish Swarup/Associated Press

    Michael Schumacher is famous for his fanatical approach to fitness. Will Gray wrote for Eurosport that Schumacher, "spent hours in the gym honing himself into a lean, light and strong performance athlete, with a combination of endurance training and core strength exercises.

    "In comparison to his peers, he was in a different league and he set the standard for young drivers coming up through the ranks."

    Even at 40 years old, training for a comeback, Schumacher's dedication in the gym did not wane. According to the Guardian's Kate Connolly (via Gulf News), he was training for six hours each day, "improving his physical strength, his reaction time, his coordination and flexibility. ... Schumi's daily routine also involved the regular monitoring of his heart and circulation, through blood tests, MRTs and CTs." 

    Although his comeback was not particularly successful, Schumacher won seven championships and 91 grands prix in his career—both all-time records.

Jenson Button

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    Jenson Button competing in a triathlon in 2013.
    Jenson Button competing in a triathlon in 2013.Clive Rose/Getty Images

    As part of his training for the rigours of modern F1, 2009 world champion Jenson Button competes in triathlons. He enjoys them so much that he even hosts his own race to raise money for the charities he supports.

    During the 2014 summer break, Button entered an Ironman triathlon in the Philippines and finished 11th out of 1,675 competitors, according to the Daily Mail's Elliott Bretland. Some vacation!

    So, the next time someone tells you F1 drivers are not athletes, feel free to send them here.

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