SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
“MICHAEL KNEW FITNESS WAS EQUAL TO LAP TIME AND HE BROKE NEW GROUND” PAT SYMONDS
In the mid-1980s, it wasn’t unusual to see Keke Rosberg light up a cigarette on the grid. Drivers would work out to strengthen their arms and necks for the increasing speeds and G-forces they experienced through corners, but it didn’t go much beyond that. When Michael Schumacher broke on to the scene in the 1990s he revolutionised attitudes towards fitness.
Today, every driver on the grid has a personal trainer in tow, constantly monitoring their physical condition, their health, sleep patterns, well-being and nutrition. Conditioning is monitored with scientific precision – and that’s the norm in Formula 1 now. But it was Michael Schumacher who did it first.
“Michael knew fitness was equal to lap time and he broke new ground,” says Pat Symonds, who helped engineer Schumacher’s double title success at Benetton in 1994 and ’95. “In testing we’d do race-distance runs, but when we stopped for tyres we would pause before continuing. In those breaks, Michael’s trainer would take a blood sample. By analysing the blood, when Michael next went into the gym he would train to a level that replicated those samples during testing, so he knew his aerobic rates for a race distance would be correct.”
In testing, Schumacher would bring a glass-sided mobile gym to the track. Then, in the evening, after 100-plus laps in the car, he would work out with a relentless self-motivation in full view of his demoralised rivals.
Every modern F1 driver is fit – Jenson Button became an accomplished triathlete late in his driving career – and some continue to explore the scientific quest for peak condition. Esteban Ocon explains how he spent last winter at the high-altitude Font-romeu training camp in the Pyrenees, which is normally used by Olympic athletes. “every day of the year, I will not miss one training session,” insists Ocon. “Last Christmas I took two
days off, trained at home in the week between Christmas and New Year, then went high-altitude training from 2 January. Most drivers who attend Font-romeu go for a fortnight; I stayed for two-and-a-half months.”
Working with specialists he describes as “body engineers”, Ocon continues to push the limits of fitness in the way pioneered by Schumacher. Evidence of his quest for optimum human performance is revealed when he reports that on his lean 186cm, 66kg frame, he carries just “4.8 per cent fat”. This relentless quest to harness lap time through peak physical conditioning is now endemic throughout the sport.
“IF WE NEEDED HIM TO TEST, I WOULD RING MICHAEL UP AND SAY ‘CAN YOU BE HERE TOMORROW?’ ‘YEP, WHAT TIME?’ WOULD BE THE REPLY. NEVER ANY HESITATION. OTHERS I WOULD RING UP AND IT WOULD BE, ‘I WANT TO SEE MY KIDS TOMORROW.’ YOU NEVER HAD THOSE DISCUSSIONS WITH MICHAEL” ROSS BRAWN
…whereas now, in the postmichael era,there is a scientific intensity to fitness. Like all modern F1 drivers Esteban Ocon is super fit and even trained at high altitude last winter