by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Drivers ‘fittest they can be’ for searing heat of Malaysia


Woking, United Kingdom, Apr 04, 2011

How Lewis and Jenson cope with the humidity and temperature of Sepang

The Formula 1 circus is, as we speak, off to the searing heat of the Sepang International Circuit in preparation for the Malaysian Grand Prix, which takes place on April 10. The heat, combined with almost unbearable humidity, awaits all those making the trip to the southern Asian country – it’s widely regarded as being physically the toughest race on the calendar for the drivers and their machinery.

Lewis and Jenson will be racing the 310km to the chequered flag in near-90% humidity and cockpit temperatures of over 50C – all while wearing fireproof overalls and having to cope with up to 4.0G in lateral G-forces through the circuit’s quickest corners.

In order to quantify just how tough this race is on drivers, caught up with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Human Performance Programme manager, Clayton Green.

“The reason why the Malaysian Grand Prix is regarded as the toughest race on the Formula 1 calendar is the environment the guys are racing in, mainly the temperatures and humidity,” said Clayton. “However, the track is also arduous, contributing to its difficulty. It really is the most humid and uncomfortable environment to be in for up to two hours.”

No specific training is done by either driver for the race, but this is because they have built up their fitness levels over the winter. According to Clayton: “During the winter they would have done the majority of their training, so Lewis and Jenson are the fittest they can be at this point in the season – they’re very well prepared already.”

Sometimes the drivers take time to acclimatise to different environments by being there a couple of days before they’re needed, however most of their ability to perform at optimum level in such conditions comes from their fitness training which begins long before the season starts.

A key area is the drivers’ hydration. Over the course of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend, Lewis and Jenson can expect to lose up to five kilograms in bodyweight – up to three kilograms in the race alone, and this weight is all lost through perspiration.

It isn’t ideal for them to sweat off all those fluids – Clayton says that once the human body begins to get overly dehydrated, nervous system function is impeded, as is the ability to physically perform to the best of one’s abilities.

To help mitigate the effects of dehydration, the team formulates a specific drink to be used at each race. Different drinks are formulated for different climates, so there will be one for European rounds of the championship and another for races in the Middle East, where conditions are very hot and dry, and another ‘tropical’ races such as Malaysia and Singapore where it is hot and humid.

On each day of the Malaysian Grand Prix race weekend, Lewis and Jenson will be drinking upwards of three litres of the specially-formulated sports drink, with anything else they want to drink on top of that.

The key aim of the rehydration process is to maintain electrolyte balance. Electrolytes, which are minerals in the human body having an electric charge, can be found in blood, urine and other body fluids. Maintaining the right balance helps blood chemistry and muscle action, amongst other processes.

Sodium and potassium are two of the main electrolytes which are lost when a person becomes dehydrated, so the team ensures there are plenty of these in the fluids being consumed by the drivers. In order to help absorption of electrolytes into the body, sugar, glucose or sucrose is added to the concoction. These sugars also help drivers to maintain their energy levels.

Clayton adds that drivers always say this is the toughest race – they get out of the car after completing the race distance at other venues feeling relatively comfortable due to their remarkably high fitness levels. Sepang, however, is different.

“They never get out of the car in Malaysia and say they were comfortable. It’s quite horrendous for them. It’s bad enough working in the heat of the garage in the paddock, never mind working in the car! It must be very uncomfortable for them,” he says.

Another physical stress on the drivers at the Malaysian Grand Prix is the increased strain on their hearts. At most races, they operate at about 80% of their maximum heart rate, but this goes north of 85% of maximum heart rate at Sepang – 190 beats per minute plus.
The figure is quite astonishing considering the average human heart rate at rest is 60-80 beats per minute –more so considering that they have to sustain that elevated rate for up to two hours. No other sport in the world puts as much strain on the heart as Formula 1 does.

* Official photos and details courtesy of VODAFONE MCLAREN MERCEDES *

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