Jenson Button keeping fit to perform at his peak
22 June, 2009
Formula One drivers have to maintain their impressive levels of fitness during the close season as much as when they are racing. But why is fitness so important for an F1 driver? We asked Jenson?s physiotherapist Mike Collier.
?There are three or four factors that mean Formula One drivers have to keep fit in order to perform at peak condition,? explains Mike. ?For one, the demands on the driver from the heat and stresses of driving the car are enormous. There are also the demands of the race season as a whole which combined with the travel, PR appearances and sponsor events, can be really exhausting. Drivers need time to recover but the ability to cope with it will depend on overall fitness. At no point must they lose their competitive edge. Additionally, if a driver becomes injured, for whatever reason, the recovery needs to be as swift as possible, and that requires them to be 100% fit and healthy.?
Without doubt the days of cigarette-smoking, alcohol-swilling drivers in Formula One are long gone. For one, in bygone eras of the sport the chances of death or career-ending injury were much greater than today, and several drivers were famous for enjoying life as much as possible while they were able. Increases in safety mean that such tragedies are almost unheard of. But they also mean that speeds have increased and the demands on the human body have gone up markedly.
A modern F1 car can accelerate from 0 to 160 kph and back to 0 in less than five seconds. The mechanical and aerodynamic grip is such that drivers will experience lateral loads of up to 6G – in other words the sideways force on their bodies (and internal organs) will be six times greater than normal. Drivers will also endure temperatures inside the cockpit averaging 50 degrees centigrade and will lose two to three litres of water through sweat during the course of a race. All the time they will be driving inch-perfect laps, making tactical decisions, making adjustments to the car and feeding back information to the team. It?s not hard to see that supreme fitness comes with the territory in Formula One.
All professional sportsmen and women require a certain level of fitness, so how does an Formula One driver compare? ?It?s very difficult to say,? says Mike. ?Certainly F1 drivers are right up there in the elite group for overall fitness, but if you were to compare Jenson with a footballer then it isn?t so clear cut. The footballer would probably beat Jenson over a 30-yard sprint because that is what is required for their sport, but the outcome would be the opposite over a longer distance for sure. While a premier league footballer?s training regime will focus on short bursts of energy, Jenson focuses specifically on endurance work; he needs to function at peak levels for two hours at a time.?
Physios will spend a great deal of time with their drivers. Mike attends each of the 17 Grands Prix and will spend two or three days prior to the race training with Jenson in the local area. Add to that approximately 95 days of work away from the Grands Prix and it?s clear he?s a busy guy.
?It?s my job to recognise Jenson?s specific training requirements,? explains Mike. ?Before each season, Jenson and I will make two trips to a facility in Lanzarote where we assess every area of his muscular and skeletal capabilities and obtain a baseline fitness level. This will highlight where Jenson is strong and where we will need to have extra emphasis in training during the rest of the year.?
So what are the main areas of focus for a Formula One driver? ?Aside from making sure he is able to climb out of the cockpit without any problems at the end of each race, there are certain key areas that must be concentrated on,? Mike says. ?His neck muscles need to be strong; if not it can cause pain and that?s the last thing Jenson needs to be worrying about in the last few laps. We also know that, as most races run clockwise, his left side will be stronger than his right, so we will have to spend time away from the circuit correcting the bias.
?But although everyone talks about the neck it isn?t the only area of a driver?s body that needs to be strong. The lower leg muscles, for example, need a lot of strength. Not many people think about the pressure that needs to be applied to the brake peddle to stop a car travelling at 300 kph.?
As well as muscle strength, a driver requires 100% focus, both at the circuit and in training, and this is an area in which the physio can also play a role.
?Jenson needs to be in the right mindset to do his job properly,? says Mike. ?He has to have absolute focus and he needs to be able to deal with any distractions that may be thrown his way. I will help make sure he can just get on and do his job; try to eliminate any distractions.
?Generally he?s very good at keeping himself motivated but there are some occasions when I can sense a little pep-talk or word of encouragement will help. In those cases I?ll take him to one side and get him back on the right track.?
A carefully considered diet is fundamental to a strong mind and body. Mike will make sure that the fuel that goes into Jenson is as optimal as the fuel that goes in the car. ?Proteins are important to maintain the muscle strength, carbohydrates will ensure he has plenty of energy, and fats are also essential to help with energy and vitamin control. What we have to avoid is peaks and troughs of energy – a post-lunch lull on a race weekend would not be a good idea!?
Hydration is key at all times and specially-developed electrolyte sports dinks help keep fluid and nutrient levels up during and following a workout. Alcohol, of course, is kept to a minimum but Jenson doesn?t rule-out an occasional glass of wine. ?He won?t touch any alcohol from the Monday before a Grand Prix but he does appreciate a fine wine and might have a glass over dinner between races.?
In 2008 Jenson was screened for the first time for allergies and intolerances to food, which can sometimes go undetected and therefore cause mystifying problems. His results came back negative, meaning Mike is not limited in the food that he prescribes. ?It?s important to know and good news that we got the all clear.?
While Jenson could be considered a fitness fanatic, he?s not such a fan of training in gyms. ?He prefers to be outdoors, especially running, swimming and cycling, which is why he likes to take part in triathlons which are perfect cross-training activities.? Jenson and Mike regularly take part in mini triathlons while in Lanzarote but have also begun entering UK events, including the Olympic distance Royal Windsor Triathlon in June 2008. In a time of 2hours 22 minutes, Jenson finished an impressive 117th out of the 1700 entrants with Mike crossing the line 12 minutes behind.
However the gym does have a role to play, and is important for the weight-training part of Jenson?s programme. ?Free weights are much better than machines as there?s much better feedback to the body. With machines you can sometimes end up working your stronger areas more than the weaker parts without knowing it.?
A typical gym workout for Jenson will take 60 to 80 minutes and be extremely intense, incorporating dumbbells, barbells, Swiss balls, medicine balls and more, but with high repetitions and very short breaks in between exercises. ?It?s pretty much non-stop once we?re in there,? says Mike. ?Whereas most people will use a piece of equipment and have a two-minute rest, for an F1 driver it?s all about maintaining an increased heart rate for the entire duration of the session. It?s tough but effective, and I think the results show.?