Why do Formula 1 drivers have such thick necks?
The extreme G Forces experienced during a Grand Prix during high speed corners can put al lot of pressure on the drivers’ whole body, but it’s the driver’s head that pays a special toll. To be race-ready, F1 drivers use special resistance training exercises and equipment. The result? an incredibly strong body and a very thick neck.
I recently happened to see an interview with Charles LeClerc, driver of the Ferrari team, and one of the first questions they asked him was just this: why do you have such a big, muscular neck?
With everything you can ask Formula 1 drivers about technology, innovations, and speed, this remains one of the most popular curiosities among fans. An odd question but one that does, in fact, make sense: what’s with the super thick f1 drivers neck?
All Formula 1 drivers have taurine necks because when they are on the track they experience continuous stress caused by G-force, a term used to refer to and measure the force values experienced by the body during an acceleration or deceleration.
Formula 1 drivers, as well as astronauts and military pilots, experience a force or acceleration of many “g’s” when they perform a particular braking, acceleration or change of direction.
G-forces: what are they and what do they cause to drivers?
Let’s start with the definition of G-force: it is the unit that measures the inertial stress on a body under rapid acceleration; it is a force that causes a feeling of pressure and weight pushing backward while moving very rapidly forward. Do you know the roller coaster, when suddenly there is a curve or when you fall down? That’s the feeling that g-force causes.
Formula 1 drivers experience it continuously over the course of a race; they are said to experience 5 g when braking, 4 to 6 g when cornering, and 2 g when accelerating.
In military aviation, pilots are constantly subjected to g-force, and at very particular times in the flight they may even experience blackouts, or loss of consciousness, due to a lack of blood supply to the upper body. That is why the Air Force wears special suits, specially made to prevent blood from flowing downward. The force these materials can withstand is up to 10 Gs.
How much is too much?
Unfortunately, racing at high speeds is not the only part of a Grand Prix when G-Forces are involved. Crashing is sadly part of the equation too. And while security systems, track run-offs and protection devices have improved tremendously, sometimes things go a bit too south and walls get hit.
When Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen hit the wall at the 2011 British Grand prix after a collision with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, he suffered a 51G impact. He was disoriented, but also able to walk away uninjured.
One year later, at the Saudi Arabia round in Jeddah, Mick Schumacher crashed his HAAS car in a 33G shunt: once again, he left without a scratch.
This shows how much safety (and training) have improved in Formula 1, thanks to systems like the Halo, the Hans and other technologies that keep our heroes’ bodies safe.
Neck training and g-force: how to get a strong neck.
To be able to withstand such heavy and constant stresses, and to counterbalance the enormous g forces for more than 1.30h of racing, Formula 1 drivers must train their necks to make them stronger and more ready.
How is it done? Weights and elastic bands, as well as newly developed special machinery are commonly used off-season and during the championship for this purpose.
Surely you have seen videos of drivers with a headband from which cables or rubber bands come out; those bands are just to train the neck muscles and make them stronger. The personal trainer pulls the rubber bands toward one direction, and the driver resists and tries to balance the weight. This is why Formula 1 drivers have such strong necks; after years and years of training and strain, the muscle bands are thicker and more prominent.
Likewise, there are videos where drivers can be seen maneuvering steering wheels that look like concrete, hard and rigid precisely because they are blocked by weight; this, too, is an exercise they do to train the muscles that will later have to support them on the track.
Drivers: extraordinary athletes
F1 drivers, as well as MotoGP riders have been top-level athletes for many years now. Indeed, they must be muscularly strong but also light, agile and able to endure extreme physical activity of long duration, aerobically but also anaerobically. Training, in and off season, has become incredibly important.
Think of MotoGP riders, who in a race must have the strength to move the bike from corner to corner for 40 minutes, yet at the same time be light, because body weight can often make a difference in speed and overall performance. This very issue, that of minimum weight, has recently been raised in SuperBike by Scott Redding, who laments the presence of 80-kilogram riders on the grid as 60.
Also in a very interesting interview about the lifestyle and training of pilots, the former Formula 1 world champion, Nico Rosberg, recounts that in the year he won the championship by beating teammate Lewis Hamilton, he realized that the color of the paint on the helmet increased its weight, so he had the paint removed to lose a few grams. He also changed his training and together with his trainer found a way to train effectively without overgrowing his legs, and thus saving some weight from that as well.
The driver’s head. An essential part of Formula 1 racing
While the heading above may sound silly, there’s a lot of science, research and development going on around the “head area” in F1. While the driver’s arms, legs and body are inside the cockpit, the head and the neck are pretty much out there in the open.
Not only, then, there’s a massive amount of research around the helmets, that have improved dramatically, both from a safety and an aerodynamic perspective, but also on specific pieces of equipment made to cope with the high g forces or in case of a crash.
Quite possibly, the most famous piece of kit is the HANS device. The HANS device is basically a head restraint, helmet attached and made of carbon fiber, that sits on the drivers’ shoulders and is positioned behind the driver’s head, helping keep the neck straight.
It has been scientifically proven that the HANS device reduces neck motion by 46% during a race and the force load by 86%. Of course, every device is custom made, since the collar size, the length of the collar bone and the neck are different for every driver.
“Mechanical” and environmental stresses. The effects of body weight on racing
Drivers, both Formula 1 and MotoGP, often race in locations with extreme weather conditions: from the heat of the Qatar desert to the sands of Bahrain, from scorching Spanish summers to the humidity of Southeast Asia. Ability to endure great exertion over a long period of time, combined with great concentration skills are therefore essential.
On average, Formula 1 drivers lose about two to three kilograms of water per race, rising to more than four in races with particularly hot and humid weather. In Singapore, for example, humidity can exceed 70 percent-a feeling exacerbated by helmets, suits and gloves that offer little breathability.
The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi has the record for the “hottest” track with over 42C under the scorching desert sun. This is also why pilots train, with spinning sessions in saunas or long rides at the sunniest times of the day.
In short, a truly comprehensive workout for these incredible athletes who are perfect endorsers for all brands that have to do with fitness, training, fitness, nutrition, and hydration.