In Formula 1, Formula1, MotoGP, MotoGP

In the world of
motorsport
, the line between routine and superstition is often thin and blurred. Drivers and teams, immersed in a high-pressure, competitive environment, develop a set of rituals and habits that may seem bizarre to outside eyes and sometimes cling to rituals and beliefs that defy logic but fuel their determination.

But why are these practices so widespread? The answer lies in sports psychology and the need to manage anxiety and improve performance. In this article we will explore the most curious superstitions in motorsport, analyzing how they affect drivers and their performance.

The Number 13: A Universal Taboo

In motorsport, the number 13 is avoided like the plague. This belief comes from the Anglo-Saxon tradition that considers 13 to be an unlucky number. A case in point is Formula 1, where the number 13 was banned for 36 years until 2014, when Pastor Maldonado decided to tempt fate with less than encouraging results, his ill-fated season seemed to confirm the myth. However, a statistical analysis reveals that Maldonado’s performance was not significantly worse than his previous averages, suggesting that the perception of bad luck may be more influential than reality itself.

Amulets and Talismans: Protection and Fortune

Many drivers carry amulets and talismans as symbols of protection. Alberto Ascari, two-time world champion, avoided black cats and did not allow anyone to touch the bag containing his blue helmet.

Ascari was known for his collection of amulets, including a lucky stuffed animal. These objects, charged with personal meaning, serve as emotional anchors in times of intense stress. Their effectiveness, according to sports psychologists, lies in their ability to focus attention and reduce anxiety, allowing riders to enter an optimal state of flow.

Scaramantic gestures: Routine or Obsession?

Superstitious gestures are another key component of superstitions in motorsport. Michael Schumacher, for example, always got into the car from the left side and always carried an amulet with the initials of his family members These gestures, repeated with manic precision, help drivers create a feeling of control and familiarity, reducing pre-race anxiety.

The Psychological Roots of Superstitions in Motorsport.

The Power of the Mind on the Runway

Superstitions in motorsport are not mere whims, but reflect deep psychological needs. In an environment where control is everything, but paradoxically much is left to chance, these rituals offer an illusion of dominance over events. Recent studies in sports psychology have shown that such practices can actually improve performance, not by magic, but by increasing self-confidence and reducing pre-race anxiety.

From Superstition to Routine: An Evolutionary Path

What begins as superstition often evolves into a structured routine. Mental coaches work with drivers to transform superstitious gestures into effective pre-race rituals based on scientific principles of mental preparation. This transition marks the shift from an irrational belief to a practice aimed at improving performance.

Sports Routines and Rituals: Not Just Scaramancy

So sports routines are not reduced to simple superstitious gestures. They are basically mental strategies aimed at improving athletes’ performance.
Mental coaches work with pilots to create customized routines that promote concentration and reduce anxiety.
These routines have proven to be powerful tools for optimizing performance; in fact, through constant practice, athletes can:

  1. Improving self-confidence: Repeating specific actions consolidates a sense of familiarity and control.
  2. Sharpen concentration: Focusing attention on the key elements of performance allows distractions to be ruled out.
  3. Turning anxiety into energy: Routines help channel anxiety into a source of positive energy.
  4. Automating gestures: Repetition makes some movements automatic, freeing the mind to focus on the more important aspects of the competition.
  5. Fostering resilience: Routines offer a return to normalcy in stressful situations.

Technology and Tradition: A Winning Combination

In contemporary motorsport, routines have evolved by integrating advanced technology and traditional practices. Modern pilots combine personal rituals with sophisticated visualization and biofeedback techniques. This fusion of ancient and modern creates a holistic approach to mental preparation, optimizing both body and mind for the challenges of the track.

The Power of the Placebo Effect in Motorsport

Recent studies in the field of neuroscience have shown that beliefs can significantly influence physical performance through the placebo effect. In the context of motorsport, this means that a driver who firmly believes in the effectiveness of his or her pre-race ritual can actually experience measurable improvements in performance, regardless of the scientific validity of the practice itself.

When Superstition Becomes an Obstacle

However, there is a dark side to superstitions in motorsport. When these beliefs become too rigid or invasive, they can hinder performance rather than improve it. Drivers must be able to rationalize and adapt to unexpected changes in their rituals without suffering drops in performance; it is essential to maintain a healthy balance between established routines and mental flexibility.

Trivia and Anecdotes: Stories of Superstitions in Motorsport

The Case of Pedro Rodríguez

An interesting anecdote concerns Pedro Rodríguez, who lost his lucky ring, a reminder of his younger brother who died in an accident years earlier on a plane flight. After having a copy forged, he confessed to reporters that he no longer felt safe. A few months later, on July 11, 1971, Rodríguez lost his life in a minor race accident at the Norisring, further fueling superstitious beliefs.

The Scaramancy of Enzo Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari, founder of the legendary team, was known for his aversion to the number 17. This number was associated with the death of his friend Ugo Sivocci, who lost his life in an accident during practice for the First European Grand Prix in 1923.

Valentino RossiIcons and Rituals: The Most Famous Superstitions of MotoGP and F1 Riders.

MotoGP

Valentino Rossi, The “Doctor” is famous not only for his exploits on the track, but also for his meticulous pre-race routine:

  • The packing of the suitcase follows a specific order, with special attention to the race socks, each with a specific role.
  • In the box, Valentino arranges objects almost maniacally, a gesture that also helps him put his mind in order.
  • Before getting on the motorcycle, Rossi always crouched to the right of the vehicle, touching his shoulders, hands and legs in sequence. This gesture has become one of the most recognizable in the MotoGP paddock. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsgpUCGExew

Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso, when they were on the grid, always left the bike to go to the bathroom before finally entering the track. This seemingly mundane ritual was an integral part of their mental preparation.

Hiroshi Aoyama, a former Japanese rider, had a habit of blessing the box and the bike every morning, sprinkling both the bike and the helmet with rock salt. This gesture, which blends superstition and cultural tradition, highlights how personal beliefs can influence a pilot’s preparation.

Marc Marquez: Despite claiming not to be superstitious, the Spanish champion revealed that he always wears red underwear on race day. For evidence, opt for a blue pair instead. This color habit has become an integral part of his mental preparation.

Max Biaggi: The “Corsair” had a particularly curious superstition: he wore the same underwear throughout his career.
This extreme gesture shows how strong the bond between a pilot and his “lucky” objects can be.

Danilo Petrucci: The Constancy of Socks, From Friday’s free practice to Sunday’s race, he always used the same socks.

Sebastian vettel

Formula1

Sebastian Vettel always inserted an image of St. Christopher (patron saint of motorists) in his racing shoes and always got into the car from the left side, as did his boyhood hero Michael Schumacher. He was also carrying a number of randomly found coins.

Niki Lauda Always kept a coin in his gloves during races.

Ayrton Senna He never changed his racing gloves, even when they were very worn.

David Coulthard Always wore blue underpants given to him by his aunt, until they were cut off following an accident.

Felipe Massa He did not change his underwear for the entire race weekend.

Kimi Raikkonen Wore the same socks for years.

Jacques Villeneuve used only suits at least one size larger than normal.

Stephen Modena He had a specific way of buckling up, always got into his car from the left side and insisted on having his car positioned on the right side of the box.

Mario Andretti He could not race without his gold medal around his neck.

Emerson Fittipaldi He always carried his daughter’s photo with him.

Between Superstition and Scientific Preparation

These superstitions, as bizarre as they may seem, play a key role in the mental preparation of pilots. In a sport where psychological pressure is extremely high they offer a sense of control and familiarity in a highly unpredictable environment.

Whether it is lucky socks, blessings, or simple repeated gestures, each driver finds his or her own way to get into the right mindset before facing the challenges of the track.They may seem irrational to outside eyes, but their psychological importance cannot be underestimated.
The modern approach tends to integrate these practices into a broader framework of mental and physical preparation, recognizing their value in creating a sense of control and confidence.

Ultimately, whether it’s avoiding the number 13, following a strict pre-race routine, or wearing a lucky charm amulet, what matters is thepositive impact on the rider’s mind.

In motorsport, where margins of victory are measured in milliseconds, any psychological advantage can make a difference.
The key lies in striking a balance between superstition and scientific preparation, allowing riders to make the most of both mind and body strength.

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Riccardo Tafà
Riccardo Tafà
Managing Director for RTR Sports, Riccardo graduated in law at the University of Bologna. He began his career in London in PR, then started working in two and four-wheelers. A brief move to Monaco followed before returning to Italy. There he founded RTR, first a consulting firm and then a sports marketing company which, eventually, he moved back to London.
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The Subtle Boundary between Routine and Superstition in Motorsport: A Journey through Rituals and Beliefs, RTR Sports