SPORT Seize the moment: how to train like a Formula 1 driver

5 min

Discover what it takes to meet the physical demands of racing’s most prestigious stage.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 24: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 leaves the garage during day two of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 24, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

To compete in the highest echelons of motorsport, you need grit, persistence, racecraft, and the right team behind you. But that’s not all. You need to finely tune your body and your mind, so you’re prepared for anything. Throughout the course of a Formula 1 season, the races come at you thick and fast. It can be brutal and exhausting. That’s why drivers train so hard. Their fitness regimes are unique because the goal is to find the right balance between opposing forces. Formula 1 drivers need to be both strong and light. They’ve got to have lightning-quick reflexes as well as the ability to endure all sorts of racing conditions. As the 2023 Formula 1 season kicks off, let’s explore what it takes to meet the physical demands of racing’s most prestigious stage. 

The build up

Formula 1 drivers get a three-month break in between seasons. Of course they get a short window to put their feet up and get some much-deserved downtime. But the drivers also have to make time to train for the upcoming season. And so they spend much of their off-season doing a mix of strength training and cardiovascular exercise. Drivers need to be able to control their 800 kg (1,800-pound) cars. So the focus is to build muscle mass while also working on all-round fitness. Off-season training is vital because once the season starts, there’s barely any room for anything other than recovery. 

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 23: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing talk during day one of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 23, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Muscle hustle

Formula 1 drivers are exposed to G-forces as high as six times the force of gravity. Every turn, every burst of acceleration, every brake slammed affects the driver’s body in some way. And that’s why the neck muscles are an important muscle group for any Formula 1 driver. To strengthen these muscles, drivers use harness and resistance bands to optimize strength and endurance. It’s also vital to build muscle in the lower parts of the body. The focus is often on the shoulders and forearms, as drivers need these muscles to steer their cars over long periods of time. There’s also an emphasis on the core, back, glutes, and hamstrings.

Takes your breath away

Did you know that Formula 1 drivers spend about 70% of a lap in apnea, i.e. they’re not breathing? The G-forces don’t just affect a driver’s muscles; they impact their breathing. That’s why endurance exercises and cardio work are a big part of training for Formula 1. These routines help train the heart and lungs to be more efficient when drivers find a moment to breathe during a race.

  • BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Race, recover, repeat

Most Formula 1 drivers are at their heaviest at the start of the season. This is partly because they get lighter and lighter as the season progresses. In fact, drivers shed a lot of weight over the course of a race week. Some drivers say that they can lose 6 or 7 pounds (3 kg) during practice and qualifying and up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) by the end of a race. That’s why after race days, the focus turns to rest and recovery. Light cycling, a bit of core and neck strength, maybe some cryotherapy. And then it’s onto the next race.

The weight debate

While drivers must be strong, their crews also need them to be as light as possible. That’s why the weight of a Formula 1 driver is a constant struggle. A single kilogram can make a huge difference in the heat of the battle. That’s why drivers have got to hit the right number almost every time. Carry too much weight and the car slows down by microseconds. Carry too little and the driver might fall below the regulation weight. (The rules state that the minimum weight for drivers is 80 kg, which includes the gear and equipment they wear.) 

As you can tell, training like a Formula 1 driver isn’t easy. It takes a lot of drive, a lot of time, and a lot of exercise. 

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