In the recent Formula One (F1) Singapore Grand Prix, racers came in from all over world to participate in a contest of speed. Perhaps unlike sprinting or cycling, one may be tempted to view F1 racing as a non-physical sport: the speed produced is after all completely dependent on the car, or is it not?
Let’s break it down
F1 cars connote loud screams of engines that power the impressive speed capable of lifting a car off the ground. What stabilises the cars and keep their wheels on the ground lies in the design of the car. Instead of generating lifting force on the car, F1 cars are designed to produce downforce on the car when it speeds through the air. However, this means that the same downward force that keeps the car grounded is also acting on the driver inside the car. The faster the car, the more downforce is needed to hold the car down and the more pressure is experienced by the driver!
How much force is acting on the body?
Considering the average weight of a driver as 67kg, the head being roughly 7% of the body weight (4.69kg), and the helmet (1.2kg) worn by the driver, a 230N of force (23.45kg) is acting on the head!
This implies 2 things:
1. The neck needs to be strong enough to counter that gravitational force (g force) just to keep the head upright and to prevent neck injuries.
The spine is just as much susceptible to injury from the sudden changes in movement while making a corner.
2. If the car goes faster, the body needs to be better conditioned to withstand the physical demands.
F1 cars have indeed gotten faster since its plateau from 2004, and the drivers are having to overcome more gravitational force than ever.
This means that even though technically the car generates the speed, without an appropriately conditioned driver, that speed can never be achieved in an F1 race.
How do the drivers handle the speed then?
Like any other contact sports that are high-impact (ice-hockey, rugby, etc.), an F1 racer has to build adequate muscles on their necks, chest and back to prevent injuries. This is often overseen by a group of professional physiotherapists.
Physiotherapists put drivers through training intended to build specific muscles to withstand the cornering forces and to last the full distance of the race. Screenings and musculoskeletal assessments are also conducted to track the drivers’ health. According to the results, personalised training can be implemented to better improve the adaptability of the driver to his car.
As technology increases the speed of cars, the F1 is a sport like no other. The competition is now not just against other drivers, but also a race against the advancement of technology by conditioning the body enough to handle the physical demands of newer and faster cars.