Physical challenge of Malaysia takes its toll on drivers

3 Comments

Lewis Hamilton’s victory at yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix might have appeared to be a formality, but it was in fact one of the toughest physical challenges of the British driver’s career. Indeed, all of drivers that raced at Sepang yesterday will have been through a strict preparation regime in the build-up to deal with the extreme ambient temperature and humidity.

In Malaysia, there are two types of weather: extreme heat and thunderstorms. Qualifying was a case of the latter as rain showers made conditions incredibly tricky, but the downpours stayed at bay for the race on Sunday. As a result, it was important for drivers to take on fluids and adhere to a preparation programme that would have been tailored individually.

More than ever, this year’s race was a challenge because of the new regulations. Although the weight limit has been increased, the majority of this excess has been taken up by the new engines. Indeed, many of the drivers were worrying about their own weight as a result. There were even stories of teams rejecting Nico Hulkenberg for a drive because he was a portly 74kg, whilst Mark Webber – another heavier driver – was pleased to be getting out of the sport so he could stop “living off of rabbit food” as he put it. In a feature on the BBC’s F1 coverage in the UK, Webber was found to have gone up from having 4% body fat to 5%. LMP1’s not that laissez-faire about weight…

Quite a worrying story began to circulate on Saturday after former F1 driver Martin Brundle reported that a current driver had passed out at a media event earlier in the week due to severe dehydration, which is oddly part of the routine in Malaysia. Just as racehorse jockeys deliberately become dehydrated to be as light as possible, some of the drivers were using a similar tactic. It’s quite a brutal and worrying programme to have on a race weekend.

After the race in the cool-down room, race winner Lewis Hamilton quickly grabbed the bottles of water on offer and drank away. His overalls were totally drenched in sweat following 56 hot laps in the Mercedes, whilst Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg also looked exhausted.

The proof of the physical brutality of the Malaysian Grand Prix was put into a figure by backmarker Max Chilton. The British driver finished for the 21st race in succession (he has never retired from a grand prix), albeit as the last car on track, but he tweeted after the race that he had lost 3kg in fluids because of the hot conditions.

Given that he usually weighs in at 65kg, this equates to almost 5% lost across the course of the race.

In the pursuit of performance, the drivers are putting themselves through some quite brutal preparation routines. Although Malaysia is something of a special case, it does get you thinking about the extreme steps that are taken in this sport.

To quote Ernest Hemingway: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering, all the others being games.”

Anyone that says Formula 1 drivers are not athletes are much mistaken.