Training Like a Formula 1 Driver Is No Joke: ‘They Sweat Out Almost 9 Pounds in Body Fluids’

Some people may not think of racing cars as a physically intensive experience. But that sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth. Drivers put their bodies through hell just to reach the finish line in one piece. The physical toll of a NASCAR race is tough enough, but the intensity of Formula 1 is on a completely different level. Near-death experiences, pummeled organs, and a lot of sweat: This is what faces every person who gets behind the wheel. 

Formula 1 drivers’ training keeps them in incredible shape

The act of driving can mean a lot of things to different people. But most do not think of it as an expression of athleticism. But the demands on the bodies of NASCAR and Formula 1 drivers are much higher than those who just need to get to the supermarket on the weekend. 

Competing in a top-level race takes a much higher amount of physical power than many realize, as WTF1 on Youtube explains. Steering the vehicles alone takes a decent amount of upper-body strength due to the prolonged strain put on a driver’s arms and shoulders.

NASCAR drivers frequently have a heartbeat over 100 beats a minute. They also need to retain an intense mental focus to avoid accidents and maneuver past opponents. (Some drivers even pee in their suits during races. That doesn’t have anything to do with exercise, but it’s another example of the dedication needed to win.) In order to survive on the track, each driver has their own workout routine to keep them sharp behind the wheel. 

Drivers’ disturbing stories about what’s happened to them during races

Daniel Ricciardo wipes the sweat from his eyes during practice
Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo sweats during practice | Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The speed and build of the cars make professional driving a dangerous enterprise. There have been many deaths and terrifying accidents over the years. The cars are safer than they used to be. But there’s no way to drive 200 miles per hour without accepting health risks, especially when there’s a group of vehicles doing the same thing. 

Even drivers who come through a course “unscathed” are worse for wear in the aftermath. “The G-forces are so extreme that their organs are constantly being squished, and in Melbourne this year, at the end of the straight, Lewis [Hamilton] was telling me that it was pulling the tears out of his tear ducts, and he could see them splashing on to his visor under braking,” a team official told Australia’s The Sunday Morning Herald.

Cornering, braking, and acceleration are the main sources of extreme forces in F1 cars. The weight of those forces is similar to the ones felt by fighter pilots. But the verticality of those forces means that G-suits can prevent the loss of blood flow to their brains. F1 drivers must use their necks to keep themselves upright. During a turn on one of those eight-G corners, their heads alone effectively weigh 88 pounds. 

Feeling your head become as heavy as a fifth-grader has a real effect on the human body. “When he first came to F1 racing, back in 2007, Lewis had a 14-inch collar size, today he’s got an 18-inch collar,” said a Mercedes official. “And that’s typical of all drivers these days, their necks just go straight down from their jawlines, and they really have to train those muscles to do the job.”

Engorged necks and ravaged tear ducts are not the extent of the punishment. Over the course of the race, when the temperature of the cockpit can reach over 130 degrees Fahrenheit, drivers sweat out nearly nine pounds of water. This can decrease one’s brain function by 40% and leave their bodies so weak that Formula One has rules about how heavy each trophy can be. 

Some drivers make it even worse on themselves in the name of championships. Lewis Hamilton drives without seat padding to he has a better understanding of how the car’s battery is operating. It’s hard to question his decision given his untouchable success. But riding around with an increasingly warm butt can’t feel great. 

What are the differences between Formula One and NASCAR?

Formula 1 and NASCAR are both popular racing divisions that began two years apart. (NASCAR was created in 1948, and Formula One was founded in 1950.) But they each bring their own nuances to the art of driving that makes them different from one another. 

The most obvious difference is the pace of each sport. F1 races are over in about two hours, while NASCAR events can often take up to three or four hours. Formula One also has a shorter racing season (20 to 36) and fewer drivers on the track (24 to 50). 

Variety is much more encouraged in Formula One than in NASCAR, both in terms of track designs and in vehicle creation. F1 teams have to build two vehicles from scratch, and NASCAR teams use the cheaper chassis of a sedan-style car. The trade-off is that NASCAR vehicles are heavier in order to deal with the physicality of other nearby cars or the walls of the circular course. 

Despite the weight disparity, the average speed of NASCAR and F1 cars are very similar. The contrast comes in the form of lateral G forces, the measurement describing the impact of changing directions horizontally. NASCAR vehicles only reach about 2 G’s of force, and Formula One vehicles can get up to 5 G’s.

There’s also a difference in the fanbase of each sport. NASCAR is almost entirely an American interest; F1 is much more popular worldwide, which makes sense considering its races take place in locales like Mexico, Abu Dhabi, and Brazil.

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