With new rules making formula one cars faster and heavier, teams have been upgrading their most crucial components: the drivers. At McLaren’s HQ, these changes are inspiring training innovations that promise to fast-track strength and endurance gains for F1 drivers and fitness fans alike
The glass and steel buildings, futuristic laboratories and high-tech workshops of the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey, home of the McLaren-Honda formula one racing team, evoke the exciting allure of technical innovation. But some of the most cutting-edge developments are taking place not in the cars but in McLaren’s state-of-the-art fitness centre. A major shake-up of formula one regulations this season has put the focus back on the strength, endurance and agility of the drivers.
With new regulations meaning that bodywork and tyres are now wider and heavier (to boost the cars’ downforce and grip on the track), F1 cars are three to five seconds faster per lap and around 20kg heavier than last season, meaning drivers have to be stronger and sharper than ever.
“F1 drivers have to be highly conditioned to tolerate the rigours of racing at speeds of over 300km/h,” explains Simon Reynolds, driver performance manager at McLaren Applied Technologies, who oversees the physical training of Spain’s former double world champion Fernando Alonso, exciting Belgian star Stoffel Vandoorne and, in his new advisory role at McLaren this season, Britain’s 2009 world champion Jenson Button. “The faster and heavier the machine, the more stress and load the driver will experience.”
Although the McLaren team has had a slow start to the 2017 season, there’s no doubt its drivers are some of the fittest on the circuit.Steering a 722kg car at speeds of over 300km/h is hard work: during races drivers burn 1,400 calories, lose up to 3kg of their bodyweight and work at 80% of their maximum heart rate for two hours.
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On corners they endure forces of 5G – the equivalent of having 40kg of weight tearing at their neck and shoulders – and every braking manoeuvre feels like executing a heavy gym lift. “Imagine doing leg presses with 100kg on one leg – that would give you some idea of what drivers have to do every time they brake,” says Reynolds.
To prepare the drivers, McLaren has developed new physical training regimes which mirror the forensic detail and precision of its aerodynamic research and car telemetry systems. Every detail of training is carefully planned – from the order, timing and phasing of gym workouts to the importance of psychological recovery and the neuromuscular benefits of reaction-training drills.
The same attention is seen in the drivers’ diets, from the bloodflow-boosting polyphenols in their morning blueberries to the anti-inflammatory properties of the garlic in their post-workout stir-fries.
“It’s in the last 15-20 laps of a race when the fit guys get the advantage,” says Alonso, who as part of a pre-season programme once completed 936km of cycling, 91km of running, eight hours of swimming and seven hours of gym work in one three-week training block. “That’s why, for me, training is the base. Everything else that makes you successful is built on top.”
This workout, created by McLaren Applied Technologies coach Simon Reynolds, is designed to build muscular strength and endurance. “Formula one is a muscular endurance sport, whereby the driver must endure moderate to high repeated loads such as those created by G-force and braking, for a two-hour period,” says Reynolds.
1 Romanian deadlift
Sets 3 Reps 10–15
Why “It helps the drivers maintain perfect posture, so no energy is wasted when braking,” says Reynolds.
How Stand upright holding a barbell. Hinge at the hips to send the bar down the front of your thighs until you feel a strong stretch. Straighten up.
2 Goblet squat
Sets 3 Reps 10–15
Why “The muscles involved help the driver develop their strength and endurance for repeated braking and steering manoeuvres,” says Reynolds.
How Hold a dumbbell at chest height, then simultaneously bend at the hips and knees to lower towards the floor. Then stand up.
3 Dumbbell press-up
Sets 3 Reps 10–30
Why “This challenges the deep core muscles, which are crucial to help stabilise the spine and counteract G-forces,” says Reynolds.
How Get into a press-up position while holding two dumbbells. Lower your chest to the floor, then press back to the start.
4 Inverted row
Sets 3 Reps 10–20
Why “This exercise complements the press-up, as the reverse movement,” says Reynolds.
How In a Smith machine, hang from a bar with your heels on the ground and your body in a straight line. Pull your chest up to the bar, then lower back to the start.
5 Gym ball pike
Sets 3 Reps 10–20
Why “This builds shoulder endurance, challenging the muscles to hold perfect alignment,” says Reynolds.
How Start in a press-up position with your shins on the gym ball. Contract your abs to raise your hips, forming an inverted V, then return to the start.
6 V-sit and steer
Sets 3 Time 30 seconds
Why “The driver must hold the position, minimising movement while using a weight plate to mimic steering manoeuvres,” says Reynolds.
How Sit on a Bosu ball with your heels on a medicine ball while holding a weight plate. Rotate the weight plate back and forth.
7 Kneeling Pallof press
Sets 3 Reps 10–15
Why “This exercise is a counter-rotation movement, which challenges the driver to hold correct hip and back alignment,” says Reynolds.
How Kneel side-on to a cable machine and hold the D-grip handle in the middle of your chest, then press it out in front of you.
8 Bosu side plank leg raise
Sets 3 Reps 15–20
Why “This exercise really challenges the shoulder muscles and the added leg raise works the glute muscles,” says Reynolds.
How Get into a side plank on a Bosu ball with your body in a straight line. Raise then lower your top leg to complete one rep.