Those who have attentively watched a Formula 1 race will certainly have noticed that at the end of the race all the drivers weigh themselves on special scales, complete with helmet and Hans in hand, in the presence of the stewards. It is a practice designed to protect both the driver’s safety and the smooth running of the competition. It’s not just about the driver’s weight though, even the race suit is taken into account.
Before we find out why this practice is done, it is important to point out something that is increasingly central to today’s competitions: Formula 1 drivers are among the world’s fittest athletes, with unique physical and mental preparation. Strong physical, athletic and mental skills, such as endurance to exertion, the ability to make quick decisions under stress, eye-hand-foot coordination and extraordinary alertness are crucial in a series that is played on the thousandth of a second. How much weight they carry can make a significant difference in their performance.
Why isn’t talent enough?
The physical preparation of Formula 1 drivers
A Formula 1 single-seater car under cornering and acceleration can generate up to 6G of gravitational force-a pressure that also reverberates accordingly on the driver’s body, as is the case for reasons very similar to Air Force Top Guns. This alone would be enough to require unusual physical preparation. But there is more.
In fact, F1 adopts braking and steering systems with much reduced driving aids compared to those of road cars. Basically, the brake pedal and steering rotation are much “harder” (but also more precise and perform better) than those of a normal car. In order to have the strength to brake and steer, it is necessary for both the upper (arms, chest, shoulders, neck) and lower (legs) parts of the body to be well developed in the rider, both in terms of strength and endurance.
ATGATT – All the Gear, All the Time
Clothing also plays a key role. The pilot is clad in several layers between overalls (about 1 kg), underwear, jersey and balaclava composed mainly of Nomex (a flame-retardant material used by NASA for aerospace suits and tested between 600 and 800°C) not forgetting the helmet-which weighs 1.25 kg-and, as mentioned above, the Hans (head and neck support).
No surface of the body remains uncovered (for safety reasons, known very well by Romain Grosjean at the potentially dramatic accident during the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2020). As a result, the temperatures that can be reached inside the passenger compartment when so harnessed are prohibitive reaching up to 50°C with 80% humidity (in extreme cases). Conditions at the limits for a human being. This, together with the physical and mental exertion required to complete a grand prix, leads the driver to lose up to 4 kilograms of weight-primarily liquids-in the course of a single race.
In order to limit possible health and performance complications from such temperatures, riders try to maintain a reduced percentage of fat mass so as to help their bodies thermoregulate. To achieve this, they follow a special nutrition plan and workouts tailored to their needs.
Doing sports in sports: the off-track activities of an F1 driver
Typically, a Formula 1 driver’s training begins in the morning with activities focused on endurance, concluding in the afternoon with exercises to improve strength.
In the first case, it is sports such as cycling, running, rowing and swimming that take center stage-all activities that develop the cardiovascular system and keep metabolism high. High-intensity exercise (HIIT), preparatory to muscle activation, and strength training (strength training) are preferred in the afternoon.
A key part of the body that racers devote special training to is definitely the neck, which is stressed continuously throughout the duration of the race. Special exercises need to be done to strengthen the muscles in that area with machines developed exclusively for this purpose such as the GS Harness from Gatherer Systems.
In several videos on social media, drivers show off their skills on equipment capable of improving other critical details when under stress on the track. In fact, their training also focuses on coordination, concentration and reactive skills. Being able to react quickly to what happens on the circuit is not just a skill, but something that must be constantly trained.
Why are F1 drivers weighed?
The reasons for this customary practice fall mainly into two areas: medical and technical.
After a couple of hours aboard the single-seater, depending on the weather conditions, we said that a driver loses up to 4 kilograms of weight. It is necessary for medical personnel to be aware of this pre- and post-race data so that they know how to deal with the rider to help him or her recover. If he should have lost more weight than he should have, the following days’ workouts would be focused on recovering the strength spent the previous Sunday, thus less intense.
Going into the details of the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) regulations, starting with the 2022 season, the driver’s weight on board the car must be a minimum of 795 kilograms (down from 764 last year). In particular, the weight of the seat with the rider in place must be at least 80 kg. If it did not reach this figure, additional items would be added to the passenger compartment (ballast) for it to be judged compliant.
This rule, effective in 2019, is intended to protect those pilots who would be disadvantaged compared to their more petite colleagues because of height and constitution. If we were to compare Alexander Albon ‘s size (186 cm for 74 kg) with Yuki Tsunoda ‘s (159 cm for 54 kg), it would be evident that the Japanese would gain significant advantages because of his light weight.
After the race is over, the driver and the car are weighed separately, both to have the accurate measurement of both, and to allow the various podiums/winners to be able to speed up the process and participate in interviews and award ceremonies. Should a car’s weight fall outside the parameters set by the regulations (with particular focus on too low a fuel load) the team would incur penalties such as a penalty or disqualification depending on the severity and judgment of the stewards.
Detail obsession: how much does weight matter in Formula 1?
In a sport where thousandths of a second make a difference, weight is one of the most critical points as it affects speed. Nico Rosberg, the world champion in 2016, knows this well, and he said that during the race to win the championship he considered every aspect that could give him an advantage. In addition to removing the paint from his helmet to lighten it, he also discontinued one of the sports he played for the same purpose:
“I stopped biking because in the summer I was really going crazy trying to figure out how I could lose another pound in the middle of the season. I could not go on a diet because it would be too hard mentally and physically, so it was not the right thing to do. And so I stopped biking to reduce my leg muscles.
I lost a pound that summer and in Japan I was on pole 3 cents behind Lewis. Leg muscles were worth 4 hundredths of a second. Winning that race gave me a big advantage in the championship.”
The history of F1 has been influenced by this factor from the very beginning: just think of the nickname “Silver Arrows” given to Mercedes racing cars in the early 1930s. That appellation comes from the insight of engineers at the time to scrape the paint off the car to gain in lightness, showcasing the “naked” silver aluminum body. In order to make the cars lighter, they started from these small things to the present day: entire engineering studies on the most sophisticated materials in automotive-such as carbon fiber-to arrive at the perfect mix of lightness, aerodynamics and speed.
So why do Formula 1 cars weigh more and more?
As some might rightly point out, the weight of single-seaters has increased over the past decades. Suffice it to say that about 50 kg have been added compared to the 2021 season. The trend seems set to grow, thus constituting an increase of nearly 100 kg in the last 8 years alone.
Justifying this countertrend were the advances made in safety and efficiency. As the past unfortunately teaches us, an F1 accident often involved serious-if not fatal-injuries in most cases. Today it is much rarer, and it is a relief to see drivers emerge unharmed from crashes that once might have had different outcomes.
What matters most to the many is that the increase in weight has not affected showmanship; on the contrary: lap times and the battle on the track tend to improve from year to year. Also-last but not least-the liveries and breathtaking curves of the single-seaters have not been affected at all, remaining among the most fascinating four-wheeled masterpieces ever built by man.
In the course of this article-which later became an opportunity for a general discussion-it was possible to dissect the various facets concerning the importance of weight in F1.
While maintaining a healthy weight can pose a significant challenge for the drivers, the comprehensive guidelines including the minimum weight requirement are critical to ensure not only the driver’s safety but also maintain a level playing field. The sport demands a thorough understanding of how much weight the driver and the car can carry, exactly how much weight the drivers lose due to sweat, and how much excess weight might affect the car’s performance. Furthermore, with the weight restrictions set by the FIA, the drivers have to maintain their weight loss within the acceptable limits, ensuring that the drivers weigh neither too much nor too less. However, given the extreme physical exertion and stress during the race, drivers losing more weight than anticipated is a genuine concern. With all these considerations, the sport of Formula 1 is a remarkable display of high-level athleticism, engineering prowess, and marketing opportunities.
Attention to detail starts from the clothing composed of cutting-edge materials, from the ad-hoc structured trainings for each pilot’s needs, up to the current rules on cars-a picture that explains just some of the reasons why Formula 1 is one of the most competitive and exciting sports on the planet.