Formula one racing is a highly competitive physical battle

FORMULA ONE weekend in Melbourne means it is time to get your ear muffs ready.

Not for the trademark screaming engines - apparently this year new high-tech, turbo charged 1.6-litre V6 engines are in fashion and, while still unbelievably loud, will emit a lower frequency engine 

growl.

Plus, listening to roaring engines at a car race is as fantastic as standing next to the speakers at a rock concert. You feel part of the action.

No, no, you need the ear muff for that other high-pitched sound that accompanies formula one weekend.

The whinging from those who claim car racing is not a real sport.

They try throwing their dictionary definitions about (the Australian Oxford has sport as “a competitive activity; a game or pastime involving physical exertion; these collectively”), but the often loose definitions often work against their favour.

Then they get all jumbled in their own arguments and start questioning anything outside their mainstream contests (footy, netball, cricket, soccer).

And talkback radio clogs up with endless debate.

Those who think race driving is no harder than driving fast on a freeway are no better than those who heckle the slow, steady marathon runners in a fun run.

You fail to understand the intricacies – the blood, sweat and tears – it takes to get to race day.

Formula one drivers are among the most highly conditioned athletes in the world.

You do not need to be a devoted rev-head enthusiast to appreciate them.

These guys may be sitting on their backsides on race day but their bodies are carefully primed for the stress their bodies go under at top speeds up to about 300kmh, powerful g-force, and in losing an average three-kilograms in weight through sweat.

It is a gruelling endurance sport, often likened to the physical stress levels of marathon running, that elite drivers repeat all season.

McLaren high performance programme manager Clayton Green told London’s The Telegraph this week just how brutal a race could be on a driver, particularly with regular heavy braking.

“Given that the weight of the head is about 7-8kg once you include the helmet, if you are braking at 5g you have a weight of up to 40kg effectively trying to rip your head off your shoulders whenever you brake,” Green said.

For anyone that has ever been passenger to one of those ‘brake as you get to the corner’ style drivers, Green’s words make your neck feel a little tender at the thought.

There is special training equipment to help build a driver’s neck and chest muscle strength.

Endurance is built through intense cardio-vascular training – cycling, running swimming, cross-country skiing (Jenson Button is a keen triathlete) – and there is a strong focus on diet to stay light and lean and on hydration, due to limited amounts of fluid able to travel in the car.

Without getting into the whole science of formula one – and it is just as much a finely-tuned science as it is a sport – the difference between the world’s best drivers is minute. Literally, 10s of 1000s of a second.

The best consistently maintain that margin.

Every tiny difference between drivers can have a massive impact on the race result, no matter what car they are driving.

So yes, formula one drivers are impressive athletes.

Drivers are also formidable tacticians.

You can have the best crew dictating instructions to you but defining decisions are made in split seconds on a track.

Sure, there is machinery (the car and pit crew mechanical work) involved but it is up to the driver, and importantly their acute mental and physical preparation, to execute the race plan perfectly.

Formula one racing is a highly competitive physical battle.

melanie whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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