Breaking new ground in motor racing – Latest from the Hintsa Lab

Motor racing is known to be physically demanding, however, there hasn’t been any published information comparing fitness variables of elite level drivers across the various different championships. Until now. 

At Hintsa we have a large network of scientists and specialists developing new and innovative ways to improve human wellbeing and performance. We have various ongoing projects, spanning physical and virtual spaces. My colleague James Hewitt has previously written about our work on innovation, cognitive performance and future of work, but we are also doing groundbreaking research on the sports side. As in the earlier posts, I have included three themes to this edition of our Hintsa Lab blog series: a project we are working on at Hintsa, a question for you to consider and some further reading on the topic.

What we are working on

There is a huge void in the research in motorsports, and our recent paper comparing Formula 1 drivers with drivers of other categories was the first sports science paper ever to be done in Formula 1. As a company, we are about providing sustainable high performance, and the only way of doing this is by understanding the sport and the athlete better, then making informed decisions based on the data, and as a result, being able to track and measure improvement.

We have been collecting a lot of data on drivers so that we can better understand their training, their physiology, psychology, and lifestyle factors, as well as the demands of the sport, in order to offer a better level of support to them. In sports science, this is called a ‘needs analysis’. In essence, we are doing a long-term needs analysis, so we know how to train the athletes more effectively, and help them to realise their potential and reach their goals in a sustainable way.

Our most recent paper shows that Formula 1 drivers have a higher level of aerobic capacity (fitness), greater neck strength, and are leaner than drivers in 3 other professional categories namely IndyCar, NASCAR and sports car racing. Basically, the demands of the sport and the fitness requirements in Formula 1 are higher, and thus their levels of fitness, strength and body composition are superior in these drivers. This is important information for up and coming drivers and Performance Coaches to understand the levels of top-level drivers, in order to know how fit they have to be.

We are currently working on a project that is a biochemical study looking at blood profiles of drivers and how this may change over the course of the year due to the demanding travel schedule and subsequent fatigue, as well as the stresses of training and competition. Results of that are coming up later.

We have multiple research partners including Michigan State University (with whom we published our most recent paper), University of Washington, Roehampton University and Leeds Beckett University.

Question to consider

What I have learned during this research process is that we should all be asking ourselves questions like, am I actually more productive and what metric am I using to show this improvement?

Am I actually more productive and what metric am I using to show this improvement?

What areas of my daily life can I monitor that will link directly to improvement in health and wellbeing. For example, I personally track a number of metrics including:

  • Hours of sleep per night (minimum 7 hours)
  • Resting heart rate
  • Exercise time and frequency (minimum 1 hour, 5 days per week)
  • Daily quiet time
  • Daily review of my goals
  • Number of days worked

Why do I track these metrics? I know from the research that we need a minimum of 7-9 hours sleep per night, and from years of not setting an alarm, I know that I do not need 8 or 9 hours, but somewhere between 7 and 7½, and so I set my minimum at 7 hours for myself and not higher.

I also know that strength training is linked to improvements in healthspan, due to the slowing down of sarcopenia, increasing androgens, improving mobility and function, and increasing bone density, among many other benefits. So I track my exercise and include strength training in my programme.

I also know that those who review their goals daily are more likely to achieve them. By writing them down you can be up to 10 times more likely to achieve them, as neuroscience shows that a process called encoding takes place. By reviewing your goals you are more likely to put plans in place to work towards your achieving them, and ‘course correct’ as times goes on.

Recommended reading

I’m a big proponent of daily disciplines and habits for long term improvements and gains. Big successes are the result of the accumulation of small disciplines over a long period of time. Good habits bring delayed results. The cost of good habits is in present, for example, if you want to get fit, training generally hurts. The cost of bad habits is in future, for example, if you consume an excessive number of calories every day, you will be considerably heavier at the end of the year than you were at the start.

Bad habits feel good immediately, and good habits often feel bad immediately. But what kind of future are we aiming to build for ourselves? I like the work of James Clear on habits. You can sign up to his articles on his website. Habits are the mechanism for achieving our goals, but the only way we can really quantify our progress is by measuring and tracking.

The Hintsa Lab is a blog series showcasing the latest news from Innovation Lab. In each article, we will reveal something we are working on, something worth reading, and a key question to consider.