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Special Feature

Behind the Steering Wheel – The Fascinating Health & Nutrition Habits of F1 Drivers

Driving an F1 machine is not as simple as sitting behind the wheel and steering – it's easy for the uninitiated to misjudge the things a Formula 1 driver must to do to earn his wages (and stature). After all, it’s just sitting in your car and driving to the finish line – how hard can it be, right?

In reality, to be successful in his career, a driver must maintain strict discipline in his habits, both behind the steering wheel and in his daily life as well. Let’s take a closer look at the typical training regimen of a Formula 1 driver and analyze how this affects his performance on the racetrack.

Core Training

Drivers need to keep a consistent regimen of core exercises to strengthen their bodies. Core, waist and neck strength is vital in preventing injuries during crashes and for withstanding the high amounts of G-forces that drivers are subjected to while driving.

To give you an idea of how intense these G-forces can be, consider the following: A driver’s head weighs approximately 7kg to 8kg, including the weight of the helmet. The strongest G-forces that he will be subjected to is known as longitudinal G-forces, and these are produced every time he brakes, like when he goes from 300kph to 0kph in just a few seconds – this can really wreak havoc on a human body. An average brake can apply up to 5g of force on your neck, this means that if your head weighs 7kg, there will be approximately 40kg of force trying to decapitate you every time you brake.

Having a fit core, neck and waist will help to counter these forces and keep a driver in the race for longer. Some good core exercises include Swiss ball pushups, Swiss ball balancing, and hammer pull-ups. Let's talk a quick, closer look at these three important exercises.

Swiss Ball Pushups. This first exercise consists of performing 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions of pushups while your feet are balancing on a Swiss ball. The constant effort to keep your balance will engage all your core muscles, and the pushups themselves will strengthen your upper body and arms.

Swiss Ball Balancing. This second exercise is used to further strengthen the core and also train the neck muscles. While sitting on a Swiss ball lift one foot and keep it in the air until fatigued, then rinse and repeat for the other foot. This exercise will train your lower back muscles, and if you simultaneously push your head into the palm of a training partner while doing the leg exercises, your neck muscles will get strengthened as well.

Hammer Pull-ups. Last but not least, this third exercise is meant to strengthen the forearms and develop a stronger grip. The exercise itself is very basic: with your arms extended and palms facing in, pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, then hold until fatigued. This exercise is particularly important since it can prepare drivers to grip a steering for upwards of 2 hours at times without feeling the burn of fatigue.

These are just a few examples of typical F1 driver exercises; all the big racing companies have their own version of these, which they adapt to the requirements of their machines and the type of driver. In the end, the most important thing is that the driver trains his arms and core with the aim of effectively countering the G-forces while driving his machine.

But of course, an exercise regimen is only half the battle. A Formula 1 driver must also maintain a strict diet, which allows him to maintain a healthy mind and body.


The thing about F1 racing is that every kilo of extra weight from the driver can have a significant effect on the performance of his machine. That’s why the pilot must be as light as possible without sacrificing his health. In that sense, he must maintain a strict diet, low in carbohydrates during regular days, and then foods with high glycemic content to regain energy after the competition. Drivers must strive to maintain less than 10 percent body fat – although companies like McLaren encourage its drivers to aim for 8 percent.

Usually, F1 drivers go through a bit of weight manipulation; they want to be as light as possible for the final weigh in, but not too light, since they may get disqualified. Last year (2014), the minimum weight requirement for the driver plus the machine was 691kg, so major race teams needed to aim to be as close to this limit as possible; if lighter than the requirement, they would face disqualification. And if heavier, they would lose their edge on the track. After the final weigh-ins, the drivers are forced to put on at least 2 kilos, so they can still retain their ideal weight after the race. That’s right, a driver loses around 2 kilos in sweat and fat after a race; the use of the driver’s muscles in counteracting the severe G-forces from piloting a race car is an exercise in itself!

Last but not least, a driver must also follow a diet high in protein, to account for the muscle loss every time he races. The weight he can lose during competitions has to come from somewhere, and since these athletes have very low body fat, their muscles are what usually suffer. A high-protein diet can help a driver stay energized during races, without significant lean-muscle loss.

The combination of rigorous exercise - racers get around 45 hours of training monthly, in-season - with healthy eating regimens keep most drivers extremely fit. So even while doing most their jobs sitting down, they’re still as fined-tuned as the machines they drive.

About the Author: Juan López is a freelance writer living in Venezuela, and offers all sorts of writing services to any interested parties. You may contact him at his personal email, or on Facebook.