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Why don’t F1 drivers have coaches?
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Why don’t F1 drivers have coaches?
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 Aug 2010   |  9:20 am GMT  |  177 comments

I was reading about tennis star Andy Murray the other day, who beat Roger Federer to win a tournament soon after dispensing with his coach. It seems to be quite a big deal and the more you read about it, the more you realise how central to an elite sportsman’s life his coach is.

If you think about it, most sportsmen and women still rely heavily on coaches even when they reach the peak at the elite level. Golf, tennis, all the Olympic sports, all the team sports like football, rugby and cricket, basketball, NFL – they have armies of coaches on the staff, who work with the players constantly.

Drivers rely on engineers to help them improve (Getty)


So what about F1 drivers? Many get some coaching on the way up; young driver programmes usually have a coaching component to them. They spend some time with a professional driver coach like Rob Wilson or John Stevens, but do they bring them into F1 and take them to every race? Certainly not.

Coaching is not part of the culture of F1.

But why is this? It’s not because the drivers are perfect, nor because there aren’t enough people who’ve done it in the past; there are hundreds of ex F1 drivers many of whom have little to do. No doubt some of them would make excellent coaches. It may be partly a macho thing, F1 definitely has that side to it, where it might be perceived as a weakness that a driver “needs help”.

Partly it has to do with the ever changing nature of the cars. I remember Michael Schumacher saying that he would have a short shelf life as an adviser to Ferrari and Felipe Massa in particular, as the cars would soon be quite different from what he raced. And the last fraction of a second is in the fine details of how you drive the car.

However there is no doubt that Schumacher really helped Massa improve. Once he came into Schumacher’s orbit, Massa made a massive step forward in terms of discipline and performance. Schumacher definitely helped him and, dare I say it, he seems to be missing that presence now. Schumacher himself is having a hard time adapting to the 2010 cars and particularly the front tyres, with only engineers for support. But who could coach a seven times world champion?

McLaren had a phase of putting their drivers through coaching sessions and I believe that Hakkinen, Coulthard, Montoya and Raikkonen all had sessions with both Wilson and Stevens. They also had Alain Prost on their books briefly, after he retired and before he became a team owner, to help the drivers. But it’s never caught on as a cultural thing. Surely that cannot mean that F1 drivers all have perfect technique and no problems to iron out?

Like any sportsmen, F1 drivers have good days and bad days. With other sports, every performance is analysed by the coaching staff and then they work on any areas of weakness. F1 is so engineering led, that any suggestions for remedial work tend to come from the engineers as they go through their debrief.

Together with the drivers they will analyse the data, look where time is being lost and suggest some alternative ways of driving certain sections of the circuit. But to a large extent it is then left up to the driver to sort out his own problems and because of the nature of F1 he has a limited amount of time in which to do so. He can’t just go out and try things because track time is strictly limited. Simulators are available, and perhaps will become a useful resource for coaching.

But F1 drivers seem to be obliged to rely on their talent more than other sportsmen. It’s up to them to fix any problems and I wonder how much they improve as a result. The really good ones are consistently there every week, but many F1 drivers seem to have erratic performances.


Looking at drivers who have struggled this season, like Massa, Liuzzi, and (until recently) Hulkenberg and Petrov, I wonder how much a coach could have helped them.

Stevens’ website has a load of testimonials from people he’s coached and the most interesting is from Adrian Newey, who started racing more seriously in recent years, as we know from last week’s shunt. He says, “Spending a day with John helped me greatly to translate my understanding of car dynamics into refining my driving techniques and instilled a much higher level of discipline, precision analysis and consequently speed into my driving. Although my driving is a hobby, from what I know of motor sport I believe that many of even the top drivers could benefit from John’s coaching techniques.”

If they use them at all, F1 drivers tend to use coaches like Wilson and Stevens on a one off basis, rather than as a constant feature of their lives. One of the problems is that a big F1 star would probably think “what can he teach me?”, another is that the team would have to be prepared to let the coach in on all the data and secrets, which would only work if he was a team employee rather than retained by the driver.

Aside from their race engineers, all F1 drivers have in their immediate support network, as far as I can see, is physios. I know a few of them quite well and they are very much focussed on the body and its performance, not on driving technique. They vary in the work they do for the drivers. Many help them get fit away from the circuit, warm them up before driving, give them massages after each session and talk to them about their performance. But none of them have any experience of elite race driving or of choosing a better line through a corner.


Many drivers keep notebooks with corner lines, observations and comments that they add to every time they visit a circuit, but it seems very unscientific.

For such a high level elite sport, F1 seems to have a very informal attitude to coaching. The idea is to arrive in F1 on the basis of your talent and results and then improve steadily from there. Can every F1 driver honestly say that they are achieving the maximum of their potential. And if not, how can they be helped?

After all it will only improve the spectacle for those of us watching.

I’d be interested to hear your views on this.

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177 Comments
  1. Kim Andrews says:

    Interesting that you dismiss the race engineers with a casual “apart from” – surely they are part of the explanation for the situation? The only sport I can think of that has anything similar is golf, where a caddy provides the same sort of immediate feedback and on-the-sport advice. Engineers do a lot of what a coach would do, I’d have thought. They have the data in front of them, and can advise on where tenths are being lost. With those in place, and with the team strategists input, team debriefs, simulations and the rest of the support, I’m not sure how much would be left for a coach to do?

    1. Eamonn Mc Cauley says:

      Well said.

    2. Darren says:

      Excellent analogy.

    3. Alchemy says:

      Agreed on this point, although I do think it’s an excellent subject worthy of James’ analysis. I suspect the only way forward is to have more people like John Stevens available and the teams being prepared to pay them. But ultimately, as ‘unscientific’ the driver’s note taking is as James criticises – I think the engineer is the coach and if it’s down to the driver – I’m totally fine with it. Why would Alonso want his team employed coach talking to Massa about Alonso’s weaknesses? The top drivers remain top because they are that great and can resolve problems to find time. World champions like Hamilton, Schumi, Alonso, Button managed to do it without coaches thanks to their experience. So I think there’s more of business case for coaches for No. 2 drivers like Massa and Petrov!

      1. Eamonn Mc Cauley says:

        Button’s a No.2 driver. A world championship winning No.2 driver but stil an No.2.

      2. Ron says:

        Button is no real WDC… it was all down the double diffuser scam the FIA ran in 2009.

        All things equal, Button would be at the back of the grid, as nomral.

        This year, his main results have come from tire gambles… no skill involved, just luck.

      3. Alchemy says:

        Button isn’t a number 2 driver, he’s an equal #1 with Hamilton. Clear #2s are Petrov, Massa, Hulkenberg until they prove otherwise – they’ll need the coaching!

    4. ChrisS says:

      True, but most golfers have coaches as well as caddies.

      I’ve often thought this is a strange thing about F1 for largely the reasons James sets out. Maybe (whisper it softly) it’s because the driver doesn’t make that much difference any more… ;)

      1. Rafael S. says:

        The one ingredient not yet mentioned it the ‘feel’ for a car that a driver has, which in my opinion separates a Jim Clark, an Ayrton Senna and a handful more from all the rest, yes, including Schumi, who is clearly struggling with an identical car driven by Nico. Drivers with that ‘extra feel’ always shine in any car under any circumstance, because they have the capacity to adapt their style to the car, while others need the car to suit their style, something extremely complicated today. So, once all the technical & strategic aspects are covered, how can a coach or an engineer communicate more ‘feel’ for a car, especially when they themselves do not drive the same car at the same track under the same circumstances? Only a teammate could, but then again, the other driver may ‘not have it’ and therefore, ‘may not get it’. This is the bottom line, precisely why after all the other ingredients are covered Lewis is faster than Jenson, Fernando than Felipe and Sebastian than Mark, with or without coaches.

      2. Martin says:

        I think even just feel is too simple. Schumacher was interviewed in Australia by Darryl Beattie, an ex 500cc race winner, and Michael’s comment was that to ride a bike on the limit a much greater level of sensitivity was required than racing a car. He said that the main benefit of racing superbikes was keeping his sensitivity levels up.

        What this feel is is the ability to detect small changes in the tyre contact patches and assimilate the change quickly. This means you can drive closer to the limit of the friction circle (really an ellipse), without exceeding it by too much. 2 per cent over the limit tends to lose more time than 2 per cent under due to the correction using up energy.

        All this tells you nothing about whether one cornering line is faster than another if you take both perfectly. One of the things Coulthard commented on when at Williams was that he was braking too late. The car was at the limit as he was driving, but he was compromising the aerodynamic performance through the corner due to pitch sensitivity.

        The neural processing capability that comes with feel doesn’t necessarily come with the muscular control to come on and off the brakes smoothly and at exactly the right rate for each corner. With the grip of an F1 car varying so much with speed (increasing downforce) corners of different speeds and lengths will benefit from different approaches.

        Feel comes in different forms too. Some driver are much happier with softer springs. Riccardo Patrese never felt comfortable in high speed corner in cars with active suspension. Feel doesn’t necessarily make a driver happy with a car. This is another psychological thing that some drivers get caught up in and others don’t.

        The overall driving package is developed over time. Jenson Button doesn’t like cars limited rear end stability now, but from what I’ve seen of karting and Formula Ford, he would have had to manage this in his early years. He has adapted to drive in a particular way, one that often works better in races than in qualifying. Alain Prost was generally a driver who stayed off kerbs. These days it is pretty much obligatory to make the track as wide as possible, but some drivers go further than others. Vettel’s delaminated chassis may have been a result of this.

        I think there are too many factors to just pick on feel. Some suggest that Senna improved once he “discovered” he had a divine right to win following Monaco in 1988.

      3. James Allen says:

        Thanks for that. Really interesting insight

    5. Carlos says:

      One big difference is that a race engineer is working for the team, and doesn’t necessarily move around with the driver if he changes teams. Their loyalty is supposedly to the team, and managing the driver from a non-technical point of view is not in their job description.

      Many drivers (I’m thinking Alonso) could use a coach who’s detached from the team and able to provide long-term guidance.

      1. Kevin says:

        Yes, exactly correct. A driver coach is exactly that. Independence from the team is of paramount importance for optimal effectiveness.

    6. Rupinder Singh says:

      It MAY be true for some engineers, but not for all. Call me biased, but as an instructional designer I often deal with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). The two biggest challenges I have faced with SMEs, and I have worked with quite a lot of them, is that a) They don’t have the time to coach and b) They don’t know how much to coach, which is a very crucial component of coaching. I remember working with an aircraft engineer who for some reason wanted me to understand how the tailfins of the craft affected its flight, while at that time all I wanted to teach was how to operate the business class seat! Engineers I think are more of SMEs than coaches. Some of them may have excellent coaching skills but they may not have the time, while others may not have coaching skills even if they have the time, and the majority of engineers I am sure have neither the time or the coaching skills. Bottomline – what I am saying is that while engineers may be a very good source of information, they may not be the best coaches, as coaching is a skillset on its own.

      Apologies if I ruffled a few feathers :-)

      1. Kim Andrews says:

        My feathers remain calm, thank you. :o) I think the problem with many experts comes from the same route as their strength: obsession.

        I wasn’t quite saying what you’ve implied, I think, though the difference may be subtle. I’m suggesting that much of what a coach does, and the information and views he or she would present, are already being fed to drivers by other means – primarily but not solely their engineer. Which isn’t the same as saying the engineers are coaching, only that a large part of the tool-kit of a coach may be borrowed, as it were, by these other people. My question was, therefore, what’s left for them to do that’s not already covered? Perhaps the answer is “interpretation”? Or “motivation”? Or just “focus”? I remember talking (excuse the name drop) to Jock Clear back when he engineered for JV and he’s a very smart guy, and was very obviously a lot more than just the guy who read numbers out during the race.

        So another aspect that occurs to me… the relationship between driver and engineer is a close bond, and involves a deep basis of trust to work well. Bear in mind: if a caddy recommends the wrong club, nobody dies. Is there psychological room there for a coach as well? Isn’t there a risk of damaging the dynamic between driver/engineer if another party is introduced into the relationship? Coaching must also require a close, trusting, relationship to work well, surely? I remain unconvinced (so far).

    7. Mark says:

      But are engineers honing the car to the driver or improving the driver?

      All you ever hear racing drivers talk is about making changes made to the car in order to improve their time, you hear little about them working to improve their own performance. The inference being that it is always the car that needs changing and their own performance is optimum?

      Engineers are an interface between car and driver, focused on engineering a solution to make the car and driver combo quicker, this is not the same as driver coaching, in my opinion.

  2. Nathan says:

    “After all it will only improve the spectacle for those of us watching.”

    - How exactly?

    Jock Clear said in the F1 Forum that you were part of that today’s drivers are almost perfect in their technique. They all brake at approximately the same time – equipment differences aside – and they are ultimately within a few tenths of the best to worst driver. I don’t see how ironing out a few creases in the worst drivers would in any way help the spectacle. It’s not going to help the spectacle if Karun Chandhok gets a coach and brings him to the level of Fernando Alonso if he’s in an HRT car is it?

    1. Andy W says:

      No but it would improve the spectacle of the sport if Vettel could be coached how to race and overtake, if someone could calm Alonso down that fraction of an inch that needs to be done when he starts to loose it….

      As it is I would say there is one clear case of a Race Engineer who is obviously a coach to his driver and that Rob Smedley and Massa, many of the radio transmissions between that pair make it quite clear to me that Rob is much more than just a ‘technical engineer’ to and for Massa.

      1. CH1UNDA says:

        True about Smedley and Massa – interesting though: it appears that Massa needs a lot of hand holding to perform (Smedley and Schumacher) and i guess that is where JA’s arguement about it not being macho comes in – the hand holding tends to bring Massa out as fragile and unreliable if left on his own.

      2. Eamonn Mc Cauley says:

        I wouldn’t be surprised if Smedley is working for another team in a few years. If he had delievered the move over message in the proper tone nobody would have said a thing. Same with Massa, he sould have let Alonso passed in a breaking zone. Both will have to pay the price if I know Ferrari.

  3. Pionir says:

    Rob Smedley appears to have taken over the coaching role for Massa in recent years :)

  4. Scotty says:

    Is Rob Smedley possibly the closest we have to a “coach” in F1? Seems to work for Filipe(baby) so I don’t quite see why it hasn’t caught on?

    1. ian says:

      It hasn’t caught on because it makes Massa look like a ‘baby’.

      1. Adam Tate says:

        It makes Massa look pretty smart if you ask me. Developing such a good and personal relationship with his engineer can only be a good thing, and judging by the encouraging, hilarious and genuinely kind hearted radio transmissions between the two, it works. I for one, love it.

      2. Dave Roberts says:

        I agree, if there was such a thing as ‘F1 Personality of the year’ I would vote for Smedley. I think he is brilliant. I consider that Smedley manages the driver as an extension of the car and just as he considers what is needed to maximise the car he tries to maximise the driver’s ability to improve the whole package.

        Another example of an engineer maximising his driver’s ability seemed to Andrew Shovlin when he engineered Jenson. In fact Mercedes other engineer Jock Clear is very partisan with his driver. I remember his reference to the “other side of the garage” comment last year when speaking to Rubens.

  5. Francis says:

    I think it’d be cool if drivers had coaches. The info you shared about Schumi helping Massa is enough proof that coaching helps. One can always use the advice of a sage racer, whether or not he(or she) is up to date on the latest tech. No matter how developed a car gets, racing lines remain basically the same (as far as i know). Most of what needs to be ‘taught’ by the coaches is attitude and mindset to push things to the limit, not techniques on racing… so i therefore conclude that coaching, to a certain extent, helps or should help an F1 driver.

  6. sw6569 says:

    To an extent, Massa has Smedley coaching him and I would also say that the drivers physio’s might count as a ‘coach’ of some sort.

    But as to why there is no coaching culture, I think its because driving a car is so unique to each driver that it can’t really be taught as such. Its very much a natural gift. Furthermore, it glorifies the past heroes using them as coaches – which goes against the mentality of most F1 drivers – which is to be the best. They may have inspirations, but like their driving, they only look one way: forward.

  7. martin_tf says:

    I think you got it right in the bit about Schumacher helping Massa. Only a current F1 driver knows how extreme the sensations and loads of a current car are. So apart from the data from engineers they are pretty much on their own out there.

  8. Banjo says:

    Maybe they don’t like the idea of being coached by somebody they think of as a lesser driver? Incase they pick up bad habits or lose their magic spark? For the Rookie drivers I see your point. It could vastly improve their initial performance. Very interesting article. Not a question I’d ever thought of before but it shall certainly get me thinking.

  9. Monji says:

    “It may be partly a macho thing, F1 definitely has that side to it, where it might be perceived as a weakness that a driver “needs help”.”

    So true, I wonder whether the drivers or fans are the ones to blame for that, but based on what happened in Australia (2010) fans seemed to be praising a driver’s ability to judge changing conditions (Jenson) rather than relying on engineers (Lewis) which was seen as a weakness.

    As for the drivers I guess no one would want to be the first driver to have a coach.

  10. Tim says:

    Thanks James, really interesting article.

    I’ve often wondered why there is no coaching in F1, as in virtually every other topline sport. What’s interesting from other sports is that its actually quite rare for a coach to have achieved at the same level as a performer as the subject of his coaching. For example, very few athletics coaches have won Olympic gold medals.

    But what a good coach does is have a strong understanding of the technical requirements of the sport, has the ability to analyse the sportsman’s performance and modify technique to effect improvements, and just as importantly, understands the psyche of the athelete. This is where the battle is mainly won and lost, in the mind, and great coaches not only facilitate technical improvement but can help the athlete access that ability more consistently and at a higher level.

    As with most sports it will take one driver to succeed with the help of a driver coach and that will blaze a trail for others to follow.

    1. Zobra Wambleska says:

      I fully agree with you on this. There was a time in my life when I spent many hours discussing the performance of athletes with a good friend and well respected sports psychologist. From those discussions and seeing his results it became very apparent that performance gains could really be made by helping the athlete understand where and when he was dropping his mental edge. My friend Jack couldn’t tell the player how to throw the ball, but he could see when the player was loosing concentration or letting outside factors come into play and then helping him with his “mind game”. Not to pick on Alonso, but his driving mistakes and his over concern with Hamilton this year have had a huge impact on his results and this is where a good coach would have helped bring his focus back to the real task of driving the car.

      1. James Allen says:

        Interesting, thanks

  11. Graeme says:

    I seem to remember reading a story about Jos Verstappen when he was at Stewart. He and Jackie Stewart were on some sponsor day driving road cars for Ford, and it became apparent that Stewart was lapping faster than Jos. Stewart attempted to give Jos some tips that he felt would improve his driving and Jos basically told him to get stuffed. Jos took the attitude that he couldn’t learn anything from some old geezer, even if he was a 3xWDC who was still faster than him in a road car!

    Professional Road Cycling seems to have a similar lack of coaching across the board. Cyclists are generally expected to turn up to a race fit to do a job for their team. How they get fit is their own business, and the team rarely get involved. There are exceptions to this (Team Sky for example), but they are exceptions, rather than the norm.

    1. kayjay says:

      Stewart has been advocating for a long time,that teams and drivers would be better served by professional driver coaches.

      When you think about it, how much better would very young drivers like Vettal be if they had someone they could go to for help in the mental side of racing.

    2. er,go says:

      Well explained, Graeme. To take advice, you do need to be a tiny bit humble!

      Coaches also need to be respected by the sportsman, so you can see why Massa was able to be coached by Schumacher. The older and more experienced the driver, the higher likelyhood of the modicum of necessary humbleness. It, however, is the younger driver who would benefit most from consistency and stress management coaching.

    3. Mike says:

      You said:

      “Professional Road Cycling seems to have a similar lack of coaching across the board. Cyclists are generally expected to turn up to a race fit to do a job for their team. How they get fit is their own business, and the team rarely get involved”.

      As a former track sprint cyclist competing at a fairly high level, and with reasonable knowledge of what the road teams do, I can assure you that you are completely wrong.

      1. James Allen says:

        I agree. The cyclists have amazing coaching. I went to a talk by Dave Brailsford the head of UK cycling team which won all the golds in Beijing. They want for nothing on coaching

      2. Graeme says:

        I was referring specifically to professional road cycling as opposed to track cycling. Just look at the comments from Chris Boardman about the pro teams he rode for. He said they turned up the morning of a team time trial where they were defending Boardman’s yellow jersey with no previous practice as a team, having barely ridden their time trial bikes before. Boardman said the only thing that made them a team is that they were wearing the same jersey. If you look at Cadel Evans’ recent experience at Omega Pharma Lotto then it doesn’t look like an awful lot has changed!

    4. Alistair Blevins says:

      Wasn’t it Jan Magnussen?

      1. Graeme says:

        I remember it as Jos Verstappen, but I might be remembering it wrongly.

      2. Alistair Blevins says:

        Now I’m not sure.

        I seem to recall Stewart tried a spot of coaching with Magnussen when he was struggling in ’97 and early ’98 (despite previously describing him as the best prospect since Ayrton Senna!).

        Either way you’re right; it wasn’t well received.

  12. Rungs says:

    I suppose to truly be able to coach an F1 driver, the coach would need to be driving the same car.

    A tennis coach can play tennis with his student, show him how it’s done etc. But that’s not possible in F1.

    So if a coach cannot give specific detailed advice on how to drive a specific car, all they can do is impart general driving tips and advice, and then it’s up to the F1 stars to just work things out themselves on the track.

    Maybe test drivers have some kind of role in coaching – and I suppose the two drivers in a team may even ‘coach’ each other in a way – most of them discuss setups and lines through corners, breaking points, ways of driving through a car’s flaws etc – that’s about as close as it gets, right?

  13. Tim says:

    I think you summed it up pretty well. F1 is so reliant on brilliant engineering rather than pure skill/talent/luck. I believe any f1 driver given a red bull car would be at the op of the table too. Their skill levels are surely very similar, it jut comes down to experience. So I doubt a coach can do anything except help mature a driver rather than enhance skill.

    1. Ted the Mechanic says:

      2009
      Lewis Hamilton 49 points
      Heiki Kovaleinen 22
      2008
      Lewis

    2. Ted the Mechanic says:

      2009
      Lewis Hamilton McLaren 49 points
      Heikki Kovalainen McLaren 22
      2008
      Lewis Mac 98
      Heikki Mac 53
      Fernando Alonso Renault 61
      Nelsonho Piquet Renault 19

      So you think Heikki or Nelsonho would be at the top of the table if only they had a 2010 Red Bull at their disposal? Or perhaps Sakon Yamamoto or Kazuki Nakajima?

  14. Ben James says:

    Hi James

    Another brilliantly written article. You would add so much more value to F1 Racing if you contributed to it regularly.

    This is an interesting point you have highlighted. I have recently been filming a young 13yr old lad called Daniel O’Bierne who is karting under the guidance of his father Adrian O’Bierne who worked on Ayrton Senna’s Toleman and had a lot or personal racing experience.

    His father’s expertise in coaching him is invaluable. Both on and off the circuit. Ultimately though it is the coaching on getting the best out of any given circuit that young drivers need. Adrian’s personal experience of racing then is key to Daniel’s success. Daniel is on a constantly steep learning curve. Should he get to F1, who will be taking on the coaching role? The rate of development must drop off massively.

    Clearly there is a need for coaches in F1, using telemetry and simulators is extensive but doesn’t go far enough. As you rightly point out, in a sense drivers get to F1 and then have to try and steadily progress from there, out on the circuit on their own. Imagine the feedback a coach could give from a blast around the track in a two seater F1 car? F1 driving is all about feel. I would love to see Button develop his driving style to cope with difficult cars rather than having to have everything perfect as it greatly limits his opportunity for for success. Imagine a coach being able to develop the range of driving styles of a driver, rather than let them only excel and develop one by themselves?

    It has been commented that Hamilton is learning from Button’s calm approach. It would be nice to see Button learning from Lewis’ more aggressive driving style. But this opportunity to learn from each other would be more efficient and beneficial if there were coaches tasked solely on the development of driver skill.

    However, with the extensive restrictions on testing, how could such a concept be introduced without budgets going up and disadvantaging the smaller teams?

  15. Ben G says:

    Well argued, I’ve always wondered the same.

    But I think JA nailed it when talking about Schumacher and Massa. At the level of F1, cars develop so quickly that any ‘old hand’ trying to give a driver advice would find themselves redundant after a season or two.

    So it is no wonder that driver coaching, to the extent that it is available in F1, comes from the engineers, as only they can analyse the data and see where a driver is behind compared to all their rivals, or what they need to do to get the tyres at the right temperature. Listen to Rob Smedley and Massa on the radio and you’ll see what I mean.

    As to the teams’ wider reluctance to employ coaches, I guess they have to assume that any F1 driver is, theoretically, one of the 24 or so best drivers in the world at that time, so what can they be ‘taught’ as such? And there comes a point where driving an F1 car is instinctive; you either have the physical and mental talents to keep a car on the edge or you don’t.

    One area where drivers should take more advice, however, is in the mental preparedness before races. After all, so much sporting excellence comes down to approach, rather than ability. Of today’s drivers, Vettel, in particular, could do with someone to teach him to calm down and approach racing situations in a better, more focused frame of mind.

    If I were to hazard a guess, I would say today’s F1 drivers, particularly the younger ones, probably want more practice than coaching. But the testing restrictions make that impossible. And really, from our point of view, the punters, we would not have such exciting races if there was more testing.

  16. Stuart Fenton says:

    I saw this guy on BBC breakfast at the start of the year http://www.kerryspackman.com/. He was promoting his self help book but mentioned he had worked with various F1 drivers, I think he mentioned Mclaren by name (his book has a little anecdote about an aggressive racing driver that could very easily be Montoya). His website has some videos of ‘success stories’ that feature racing rivers. I also think there is some stuff on youtube, I remember seeing an interview with Lewis Hamilton, GP2 era, discussing how Mr Spackman helped him in life and behind the wheel. He’s also worked closely with Jackie Stewart to make a Discovery documentary on how using psychological techniques can help racing drivers. Very vague I know, but it boils down to lifestyle coaching, helping people achieve their potential. I was suprised that F1, with its macho/ego centric attitude, would embrace such a ‘namby pamby’ thing. And yes, he convinced me to buy the book

    1. Julian F says:

      Stuart
      Was the book any good, or hot air?

      Cheers
      Julian

    2. JJ says:

      Stuart
      Thanks for sharing. I bought the book after reading all the amazon reviews and I’m also a sucker for self-help books! Looks pretty good thus far.

      Specific to this post, he states that an ‘F1 Champion’ is a combination of driver ability, mental fitness, physical fitness, commercial and technical knowledge. And it’s a good point which James raises, that the “driver ability box” is not being maximised by a lot of drivers.

  17. James North says:

    I think Sir Jackie Stewart used to coach his drivers when he had his race teams, even to the extent that Barrichello and Magnussen got a little irritated with it.

    Yet a coach with real experience would always be a bonus as it’s an extra pair of eyes with maybe a slightly different perceptive but with enough credit to help improve a driver’s approach and form.

    1. Curro says:

      I was thinking of Magnussen while reading James’ post. It didn’t make any difference for him to have JYS on his ear telling him about mind management. I can see the point about coaches, still I go with the general trend that a successful driver will somehow find it within himself without external help other than technical input.

      1. James Allen says:

        He was all over the place. He smoked and was totally disorganised. But a great talent for driving a car fast. In F1 he came unstuck because he relied too much on talent and didn’t work at it JYS tried, but realised he’d bitten off more than even he could chew

      2. Werewolf says:

        Thanks for the Magnussen comment, James, it clears up a longstanding mystery for me.

        Moreover, it epitomises the phenomenal abilities needed to succeed in modern F1. Where else could such natural talent be so inadequate?

        And as much as I still love ‘the old days’, the fact remains that in the 50s, 60s and early 70s, Magnussen’s natural talent would probably have been enough. It is only relatively latterly that there has been talent in sufficient quantity in F1 for it to need to be properly managed and applied.

        I think Jackie Stewart (probably my all-time hero) was, perhaps, the first to understand this as a driver, so how ironic that Magnussen should have been such a disappointment.

      3. Julian F says:

        Yeah – Magnussen was a real disappointment in that he was a massive talent but didn’t (wouldn’t? couldn’t?) go that last mile.
        Shame – he was great in karts and the lower formulae.

        Cheers
        Julian

    2. mtb says:

      I remember Jos Verstappen saying that JYS drove him around Silverstone and showed him where to brake – Jos was not impressed!

      1. Adam Tate says:

        I can understand a driver being irritated by having another try and give him tips like that. But only an idiot would turn down advice from Jackie Stewart! Has anyone here seen the Top Gear episode where Jackie Stewart drives James May in a TVR around a track and with his tips get’s Captain Slow to lower his lap time by something like 10+ seconds!!!

    3. John Pinx says:

      I’m not surprised – he can be very irritating – from my personal experience ;)

  18. Maverick says:

    Is Coulthard involved in anyway in coaching at Red Bull? If not, what is he offering them?

    1. kayjay says:

      Only promotional stuff as far as I can guess.

  19. Alan Dove says:

    It’s a very interesting subject, but it is worth noting that Roger Federer never really relied upon coaches either – http://sports.espn.go.com/sports/tennis/wimbledon08/columns/story?columnist=harwitt_sandra&id=3473761

    He is recognised as one of the most independently thinking sportsmen ever. The idea of not having full-time coaches isn’t totally alien to world sport now.

    F1 is a very tricky sport because unlike any other sport only 20 men actually get to race it in it’s current form every year. For a coach it’s very hard to relate.

    However, I’ve worked with drivers on driving fundamentals that are more about moulding the mind to be able to cope with changing conditions and situations. The problem with F1 is you can’t go out and try something new because you can’t test them. And if you want to test a car it costs a fortune.

    And here is the key James. This is the reality of the situation. With other sports, generally, you are reliant upon your own body, your own mind, to win. In motorsport you can just out spend rival drivers. No amount of coaching can bring you extra hp. And if the cars are equal then the wealthier drivers can practise more. You can be coached all you want but if you can’t practise it’s hard to put what you learn into practise.

    I worked with a driver who was absolutely superb. A possible world beater. But because they were entirely self-funded they had no chance. His mind set was absolutely bob-on. A lost talent! He just didn’t have a millionaire dad.

    So you do get drivers who have ‘full-time coaches’ but they are usually drivers who lack the wealth to buy the best engines and so on.

    It’s a very complex subject, but the nature of motorsport and the strains it puts on wealth means it’s still quite far away from being a truly ‘professional sport’ though the FIA are trying their best to make it so.

  20. Darren says:

    Didn’t David Coulthard employ a diver coach when he was struggling with one lap qualifying at McLaren?

    That’s the only example I can think of. I’ve quite often wondered why there isn’t more support for the driver.

    1. Rich says:

      He did. Coulthard flew Rob Wilson out to Suzuka to help him nail a flying lap.

      I’ve been coached by Rob, its fascinating to hear him talk you through turns. And if you make a mistake, [post corner] he’s quite happy to give you an almighty slap on the wrist!

      The guy is a racing legend, F1 folk would do well to use experts like him more often.

  21. Peter says:

    Given the competitive nature of F1 you would have thought that if there was anything to be gained by having a driving coach, however small, they would be doing it and the team managers would be insisting on it. I don’t see how it could do harm so I don’t understand why not.

    Didn’t JYS once say that he thought it would be very useful and driver coaching should be used, but I don’t think it was implemented when he had his own team.

    I know F1 drivers ego’s are big, but to let it get in the way of performance doesn’t add up. Perhaps they get coaching in secret or it really doesn’t help.

  22. SparkyJ23 says:

    “Many drivers keep notebooks with corner lines, observations and comments that they add to every time they visit a circuit, but it seems very unscientific.”

    Why does this seem so to you? The corners in a lot of places don’t change year to year, for example the top 5 drivers know exactly what line to take through Eau Rouge and unless the weather changes those lines will not change.

    I’m intrigued in how did they learn to drive at the F1 level? Who taught them the basic “Racecraft” i suppose and at what age?

    Looking from the outside i don’t think Button,Webber,Alonso etc got any better over time with regards to driver skills they just got better cars.

    1. Paul Kirk says:

      Well, Sparky, lines may be the same but the technique throughout the line is what counts! And the sensitivity of the driver to feel the level of adheasian, (both lateral and forward Gs), is what separates the good (which all F1 drivers are), and the special,(which only very few drivers are), (not only F1 drivers). Racecraft—- well,drivers learn that at a young age doing Karting, Formular Ford, and various other forms of motorsport that they might be involved in, but it seeme to me that when they get into F1 they’ve got to learn it all again, because the rules tell them how to/how not to, pass, how to follow, how to go up the straights, how to behave when in front of/behind another competitor! ETC., ETC.!!! (or whan the green lights are shown after the safty car, Shumaker/Alonso). Seems to me that drivers have to learn driving all over again when they get into F1! They suddenly seem to have to comply with what all the “expert stewards/officials” seem to say, even though they’re not actually on the track, just watching on TV! And then there’s “team orders” but let’s not go there!!!
      PK.

  23. mayhemfunkster says:

    I honestly think this revolves around the “hero worship” aspect of F1 drivers. Fans and in many cases, teams, seem to rely on the x-factor of their drivers without seeming to understand how or why it works for them. I know they have mountains of data, but if they truly understood it, each driver would extract the maximum from a car. Just look at Barrichello and Williams. I shudder to think how quick he could have got the 2009 car going…

    Drivers are considered by everyone else to be the mercurial fighters doing “their stuff” in the car. There is an invisible line that, from what I can see, is transgressed only by Smedley and Massa. Rob will tell Felipe how to driver the car, literally. From the comments of Brundle, Davidson etc I can tell that this is definitley NOT normal.

    Take that worship away, and its clear that of course ALL drivers can improve from coaching. As humans we never stop learning and they are no different. That must be the case otherwise the experienced driver would not be having their resurgence!

    1. Zobra Wambleska says:

      I think the experienced driver resurgence has more to do with the testing ban than any learning curve.

  24. Interesting article. I think part of the answer lies in the psychological component. I can think of no other sport in which the competition is so close, where the sport is conducted at the very limits of physics and the physical. The psychological pressure which a driver endures over an entire season is crushing. Only those who have an unbelievable discipline in coping with mind games of your own and others making, make it to the top. This lies in the nature of the sport, which all call a team endeavour but which is experienced by the driver often as incredibly lonely. How can a coach teach a complex human being how to cope with his own, very specific psychological demons. He would need a shrink! As far as driving skills go, this is also so particular in the relationship of the car and driver that I doubt a coach would be much help. Massa has his race engineer telling him what to do – and I find that rather displeasing!

  25. Conor says:

    Didn’t Jo Ramirez act like a coach to Senna at some stage at McLaren? I remember reading about it in the old F1 Magazine from about 10 years ago, and as a result, Senna gave him a helmet which Ramirez calls the best present he has ever receive. think he was called in to give some direction to Raikkonen too at some stage. Great article James ;)

  26. johnpierre rivera says:

    great question to keep the us distracted from the fact that we still have nine days to go until spa. it seems to me that the team takes the place of a coach. the drivers engineer, the team principle and the group assigned to the divers -all the the different parts of the sum that becomes “the coach” i think you made the correct call. in the lower disciplines as a driver is coming up, there are many people that take the roll of coach, but by the time these drivers reach F1, that role is now assumed by the team. as far as someone still coaching the actual driving, that seems unlikely due to the fact no one but the driver actually drives his own car and how would someone that hasn’t been in the cockpit instruct or give insight on how to take a certain line, when to brake, when to lift, step on it. seems to me that is what telemetry and the engineer are assigned to.

  27. Loti says:

    Is this not a little different to, say, playing tennis or running? Do not the driver’s physios not also coach them in the ‘inner game’.
    Historically there have been good drivers who have thrived at some teams and sunk to lower mid-field at others, and it can’t be put down only to the car. Of course my experience is history but a confident, happy un-stressed driver is going to do better than a tense, miserable one, unless of course you channel the un-happiness, but then adrenaline fuelled driving is more likely to lead to mistakes.
    In my limited experience, sportsmen and women have to be, to some extent ego maniacs, after all, if you don’t think you are [or could be] better than your competitors you have lost the first battle!
    You are quite right about Filipe and Michael, and at least Filipe had the sense to watch and learn. Rob Smedley seems to be a good man for Felipe to have on his side but how can someone who is not a driver possible tell you how to drive when we can see that there are many different styles, and we have seen this year that even Michael had trouble when having to change his style to suit the car.
    Perhaps if you find a coach who thinks [and drives] the same way as you do then it would help, I don’t think Adrain Newey can really be sited as an example of it helping, it could do exactly the opposite!

    1. Greg says:

      Well stated Loti. After reading the article I was thinking the same thing, coach the “inner game”. Many in F1 need this type of coaching more than where to turn in or how to find the apex. All F1 drivers can do that in their sleep!

      Yogi Berra a retired American baseball player who played for the New York Yankees was always mixing metaphors and saying funny things that were not supposed to be funny. One such quote was, “90% of the game is half mental”. At the elite level true in any sport.

      While F1 is VERY physical it is more mental and emotional. I think this is where a coach could do well. And perhaps it need not be a retired driver. A retired footballer, golfer or tennis player may be able to talk the mental game as well as a former racer.

  28. Merlinghnd says:

    Coaching is generally about repetition through practise. How many balls does Roger Federer hit between tournaments and between matches? The nature and cost of F1 does not allow that. In fact, we want to see mistakes and other drivers pouncing and taking advantage of others mistakes to make an exciting spectacle. In an ideal world team mates would be open with each other to try improve each others performance but then you have to first be seen to beat your team mate in F1 to be given any credit. Finally the mindset of an F1 driver is what makes them successful and is an obstacle to allowing a “driver coach” into their circle of advisors.

    Great website.

  29. F430-FOX says:

    Interesting topic James!

    I think the key here is what you already mentioned in your article: F1 is too much engineering driven.

    F1 drivers are already at the top of their game, so any improvements they trying to achieve (the last 1/10 or 1/100 of seconds in lap time improvement) requires a lot of technical input from the engineers. Any coach would need to be let in on this data to identify the areas requiring improvements.

    And this won’t happen unless the coach is a team member and not employed by a driver.

  30. Lee R says:

    Coaching is a funny one – like you point out James the cars change all the time from era to era, and no doubt each car within the era is hugely different and therefore requires a different style.

    With Football or Tennis for example, the equipment (balls, rackets, etc) are all pretty much the same, so the coach can focus on getting the best out of the player within very tight parameters. They also look at latest techniques (serve volley, two handed backhand etc) and can pass that onto their pupil/sports star – they can even look to invent their own techniques/shots etc.

    So I guess you could have a coach that looks at the different techniques drivers use to drive a car (left foot braking, heel toe etc) and pass them on and that would be possible to observe era to era, but would still make it hard from car to car within the era.

    My guess is that F1 teams are always looking for extra speed and performance and if Driver Coaches added even the smallest fraction of a second per lap, teams would spend tens or hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – to get the best coaches in.

    1. Werewolf says:

      Heeling and toeing makes a couple of my favourite roundabouts more fun but I doubt it’s much use in a modern, two-pedal F1 car!

      Thanks for the reminder, though, of past skills. Perhaps, those were the days when driver coaching would have been most beneficial, when the skills levels were far more widespread across the field than today and, in the right circumstances, a really skilful drive could a bigger difference.

      1. Lee R says:

        I did think at the time the heel and toe example may be a bit outdated… but you could replace it with braking points, turn in, lines etc all change from car to car era to era, so trying to determine the best way via a coach would be harder than kicking a ball for example.

        I find left foot braking quite fun into roundabouts… it’s funny when all your passengers fly forwards as you stamp on the brake with the ‘wrong foot’!

      2. Werewolf says:

        Try right-foot braking but feathering the throttle with the outer edge of the shoe.

  31. nickname says:

    Interesting article, I think that coaches
    don’t feature in f1 and in motorsport in
    general is that we have a sort of hybrid
    sport where the driver/machine ratio is
    such that the “machine” aspect is considerably
    more substantial than other “equipment utilising
    sport”,some say (in f1) the car brings up to
    70% to the table and the driver 30, therefore
    the impact of a driver-centric coach would tend
    to be quite minimal.

  32. Bert says:

    The cynic in me says that it is mostly the car, and down to those 2 days of testing/practice to get the confidence level and setup right going into quali. A coach wouldn’t help much with that.

    The other side, dealing with adversity, the media, and battles with teammates and such, you’d imagine it could help quite a lot. It’s an interesting thought, the idea for driver coaches. F1 is stuck in it’s own bubble a little bit. This affects not just things like driver coaches, but also lack of HD coverage, lack of proper online support (like better live timing, live streaming of video, choice of driver team radio etc). Driver coaches definately wouldn’t hurt.

    And for the first point, the drivers/rookies that are struggling, maybe it could help. The first point assumed the drivers were winning races and in top cars. The WDC contenders in other words. I would also argue though that more testing would help these young drivers more then coaches would. The experience behind the wheel.

    NASCAR drivers are always driving for example. Pretty much a race every week and the races are much longer. In F1, it’s very small amounts of time they get to drive. So it’s all about making it work during those 2 or 3 days once every 2 or 3 weeks.

  33. Pete Doughty says:

    As you say James, the Physio is the one visible ‘coach’ that I am aware of as a TV viewer.
    I presume that aswell as helping out with the body and physical fitness, diet etc – they do also play quite an important role in the psycology of the drivers?
    I recall that recently there was an issue where the drivers physios were not allowed on the grid – which seemed to have upset some of the drivers unduly. So maybe they are currently fulfilling this role of ‘coach’ – albeit without the racing knowhow that Stevens or Wilson could add.

  34. Alex says:

    I’d hate to be the one that suggests to Kimi Raikkonnen he should get a coach!!

  35. Werewolf says:

    F1 driving at the top level is exponentially more complex than golf, tennis or football, partly because of the impact of and relationship with the car (and its own infinite intricacies) and partly because of the speed and number of decisions, inputs and reactions necessary.

    To fully understand all this and then vocalise it meaningfully in a manner that could be truly helpful, especially without having driven the car in question, is no mean feat. Even the greatest and most eloquent exponents of the sport might find this a tall order. Then one has to factor in different but equally effective driving styles, personalities, language and abilities of the driver himself to communicate what he is feeling in the car. An F1 driving coach would be no off-the-shelf commodity!

    It seems to me that a driver’s natural talent is his primary asset once inside the car, supplemented by his abilities to learn, adjust and understand and react to his engineer’s data.

    I think that other than, perhaps, young drivers or new drivers to teams where the outgoing pilot is available, F1 driver coaching, would have to be more about mind management, discipline, communication and overall approach than actual driving. And that is probably valuable enough, given the transparency to the engineers of everything a driver does in the cockpit.

  36. Tim says:

    The coaching dynamic works differently in different sports. A tennis player or a golfer wins or loses as an individual so is the sole focus of their coach. A football or basketball coach works with the whole team, who win or lose as a team, so part of their role is getting the players to work as a team, as well as extracting their potential as individuals. F1 is a team sport, but one where the individual wins on behalf of the team – an F1 team is focussed on its drivers. In this respect, perhaps the best comparison is with professional cycling where a whole team of riders works together to give one of their number the best chance of success.

    I think there are coaching relationships in F1, even if they’re not described as such. You only have to look at the relationship between Felipe Massa and Rob Smedley, which goes well beyond the conventional driver-race engineer relationship. The fundamental role of the race engineer is to understand how the car is performing and make changes to its set up to make it faster. Smedley plays a key role in keeping Felipe’s head together when things aren’t going well, as well as motivating him to go faster – Massa’s pole in Monaco in 2008 owed a great deal to Smedley.

    The driver/engineer relationship is probably the closest F1 gets to a coaching relationship – the bonds formed can be very strong indeed. Former drivers don’t necessarily make the best coaches as proper coaching requires a very different skill set – just because you can do, doesn’t mean you can teach. Jackie Stewart tried to work with Jan Magnussen when the Dane was at Stewart GP to improve his driving and Jackie’s back to basics approach reportedly went down like a cup of cold sick. Stewart may be a three time world champion but Magnussen felt utterly humiliated at being taught how to drive by someone who hadn’t raced regularly in decades…

  37. Robert says:

    Really interesting article James, Thank you.

    Something else to add into the pot as well would be a mind coach, Justin rose recently won twice on the US shortly after employing a mind coach. Whilst simply employing one may be a placebo, but surely there are drivers out there who could do with someone to talk to and to teach them techniques that will make them stronger mentally.

    Do you know if there are any in F1 at the moment?

    1. James Allen says:

      I have a follow-up post on that

    2. David Clark says:

      My buddy was big into Autocrossing, when he started he would get “lost” in the cones. His Wife is a Hypnotherapist. She helped him improve his focus, he got up to speed quickly after she put him under a few times. He calms it was what he needed. Just a thought.

      ps Your is the first Formula One site I open each day.

      1. James Allen says:

        Wow imagine having a wife who can get you to do exactly what she wants!!

      2. Andy C says:

        That is most wives James ;-)

        hypnotist or not

  38. RKU says:

    Lewis had a coach – his father. Look how good he is.

    F1 drivers are already robotic, I cannot believe how precise they are, how they drive the same line and consistent times lap after lap.

    Coaching will make grand prix 90% an engineering sport.

    I want differences between the drivers. I just think they’ll become too perfect with coaching, as strange as that sounds

    1. mtb says:

      Was Anthony Hamilton the coach or the manager?

      1. RKU says:

        Both

        From what I’ve read, Anthony used to watch Lewis through corners, letting him know if someone else was braking later than him. Don’t know if such coaching continued into f1 though

      2. Adam0 says:

        Maybe thats all it is though, the thought of someone ‘having your back’ as they say in the US. F1 drivers, although they participate in a team sport, are solitary animals, they are there to do it for themselves and in some ways it must be a pretty solitary experience mentally speaking. We see very often how a driver performs better when he knows he has the team around them. F1 drivers are incredibly ambitious, competitive and egotistical, which they need to be in order to succeed because of the nature of formula one. But perhaps being able to share some of the load, knowing there are people or someone in particular that can share your thoughts and concerns etc really adds to a driver’s performance. I can see how a coach could help in this role, a person who the driver feels is on their side and on their side only. Some drivers have that relationship with their engineer (some people have spoken about massa and rob smedley for example) and I can imagine Hamilton had that relationship with his father, although perhaps when he came into F1 and caused such a storm he got a bit big for his boots and thought he didn’t need it anymore. And maybe he doesn’t. But certainly there are drivers who need to know someone is on their side. You get the impression that Webber has that relationship with his trainer.

        I don’t think there are many drivers who would sit and take driving advice from anyone else, even a former champion. But they would benefit from having someone to offload onto, someone they can trust and who understands the challenges that come with being an f1 driver in a mental sense.

  39. Rafael says:

    As always, great article James! This is actually one of those subjects Peter Windsor loved to talk in his column during his F1 Racing days.

    I agree with you, F1 Drivers aren’t perfect and yes, they could perhaps benefit from constant coaching. However, I think some obstacles that prevent this from becoming more effective are:

    (1) You mentioned the “macho” mentality of F1 drivers, I think this applies not only to the current era but previous ones as well. For example, Jackie Stewart; he has a wealth of experience and wisdom and a very economic technique. However (based on his soundbites/interviews), he tends to suffer too much from the “I remember a time”/”back in my day” syndrome – a sign of an inability to let go of his past. I actually recall Jos Verstappen before saying he got pissed when Stewart drove him around Albert Park offering “advise”, politely telling him to “piss off” and saying something along the lines of, “you drove in another era. Things are different, more advanced and difficult now.”

    This is just me, but I think that what got to Jos was Jackie’s approach. How could an ex-driver coach a current one when he himself could not let go of his pride and open himself up to the new variables of the modern era? Mind you, I think Nikki Lauda and Stirling Moss would make great coaches though! They seem humble and low key.

    (2) Also, to get the most out of the car, F1 drivers seem to change their driving styles drastically as they move from one series and/or one team to another; rather than just ample fine tuning here and there. No wonder then that a multiple time world champions, like Michael Schumacher, can still get trounced in Karting! It shows driving a Kart calls for a vastly different approach from the way he drives an F1 car.

    This is hugely different from other sports such as, basketball, football or tennis. Usually, when the guys in those sports go pro they adjust their styles only to adapt to the higher level of performance in terms of the pace and aggression a game is played. Rather than having to adapt completely to a new set of variables (aero, etc.), their progress is more linear and level based. Hence, when an NBA pro goes up against NCAA players, the difference in performance is highly evident.

    (3) Last, it’s hard to see what an F1 driver is doing, even with telemetry. Unlike in golf or basketball, the coach can easily see if a player is a bit off in terms of form or stance. In F1, you can’t really see anything! Or yet alone measure precisely the amount of effort a driver inputs in terms of steering/braking/throttle and why.

    Which is probably why guys like Wilson and Stevens use a road car, so they can see and at the same time feel the dynamics of a driver’s input. Although, road cars are still a far cry from the real deal. There’re simply too many variables come race day.

  40. Howard Hughes says:

    Very interesting post James. I have several views on it.

    If you consider the difference in lap times that must occur on Top Gear between the ‘star’s’ first go round thr track and their last, and the difference the Stig obviously makes to refining their techniques, then it’s obvious that coaching on any level can make a difference. I think maybe the issue is that F1 is quite unlike any other sport, in so much as a) so few men on Earth get to attain that elite level that it’s perceived that, finance notwithstanding, a superhuman ability is required, and therefore once that ability has been proven only the driver himself can refine and improve it, and b) that there are so many variations of attacking a corner, defining an apex etc, that if a driver has his own patented method, developed over years in junior formulae, then what good (indeed what harm) may a coach do if his technique is different?

    I think personally that an excellent driver with up to date experience could probably benefit Schumacher in adapting better to this generation of tyres and grip – my mind immediately thinks of Heidfeld. But then where does one draw the line between ‘coaching’ and ‘testing’, and are hours spent on a simulator with another participant coaching you really going to help that much..?

    It’s a complex issue…

    Then again – Gaston Mazzacane never needed a coach, and look at how well he did. Maybe more people should just take a leaf out of the great Gaston’s book and just man up and improve themselves.

  41. Matt M says:

    because they would roll over on the corners

    1. sw6569 says:

      best reply yet :P

      1. mtb says:

        I am surprised that the mini-bus joke hasn’t appeared anywhere.

  42. Howard Hughes says:

    Another aspect I’ve thought of is that of perception. I think coaching would only work if everyone or no-one has it.

    The ‘piranha club’ is so fickle, and so judgemental, that any driver perceived as having a ‘weakness’ finds that his standing and appeal to team bosses suddenly decreases. How often have people equated the fact that Massa relied on Schumacher and now Smedley as a sign of his flaws? In a culture where drivers are routinely exalted or dismissed on the basis of their past handful of race performances, it’s certainly easy to believe that if a mid-grid driver was known to be using a coach that upper-grid team owners would automatically find themselves pigeonholing that driver as second-tier as a result. Maybe, just maybe, someone as enlightened as Ron Dennis would have recognised it as an indicator of a progressive attitude, but for the most part the people who decide who to sign up for next season are going to see it as a sign of weakness.

    Don’t believe me? Think of how many sniggered when Ralf Schumacher started openly wearing glasses in the paddock… it takes nothing for a ‘chink in the armour’, imagined or otherwise, to become paddock wisdom. “XXXXX? Nah, he needs a bloody coach, doesn’t he? Who else is available?”

    1. Zobra Wambleska says:

      Do you think that attitude would hold if the guy suddenly stared lapping .5 seconds faster?

      1. Howard Hughes says:

        Good question. Probably not of course, but there might always hang the supposition that the extra .5 had only arrived due to someone else…

  43. Rayhan says:

    But there is a fine example of coaching in F1 – Rob Smedley is surely as much a coach to Felipe Massa as he is a technical engineer. Constantly guiding and advising Felipe during the race, Rob provides a Jiminy Cricket like presence. What would Massa’s fortunes be without Rob Smedley by his side?

    1. mtb says:

      Jock Clear used to do something similar with Sato, but often in real-time – not sure how effective it was.

  44. Ben says:

    I think that the nature of F1 puts a lot more emphasis on the ego of the driver and as a result the mentality of the drivers mean that they have that self belief that they don’t need help because they are naturally the best.

    If I remember correctly, when Kimi joined Ferrari he refused Schumacher’s input because he said he didn’t need it, whereas Massa was happy to accept it.

    I saw a clip of Hamilton from his karting days where in an interview he said he would never listen to anything his father had to say about racing because he hadn’t been out there on the track.

    And finally, in an interview Vettel recently said that he needed the self affirmation that he was the best. With that sort of mentality I do not think that he would be prepared to accept advice relating to his driving technique.

  45. Ian Court says:

    Interesting article James, I think what seperates motor racing from most sport’s is driver/rider performance can be easily judged from within the team as every single input they make is recorded and logged and simulation work has already pretty much determined optimum performance to gauge against, meaning a race engineer takes up a sort of coaching role.

    We have seen in the past also engineer’s encouraging driver’s along as you would expect a coach in other sport’s to do so, notably Massa/Smedley and Sato/Clear spring to mind.

    The psychological side is where maybe a coach of sorts is more appropriate, helping with the mental preperation and approach to driving and dealing with the various pressures involved, to the best of my knowledge there are a number of people who do such or a simmilar role currently for driver’s.

    Racing driver’s at most level’s tend to have a belief of “what can he teach me”, so maybe coaching really is present it just comes under a different guise.

  46. Mark V says:

    If I was in charge of an F1 team I would make my drivers see a coach on a regular basis. World Cup skiers know full well there is no way you can analyze your own technique while trying to stay alive at 85mph on course so a race car driver should be no different. Having a second pair of eyes plus another brain to go over your race performance or practice sessions with video replays, telemetry etc to aid is invaluable. Even Tiger Woods gets coaching from time to time.

  47. Tony Kulla says:

    I love this site, James. Another excellent topic, and a multitude of intelligent, well thought out comments. A rare thing online.

    As for the subject at hand, I think there just aren’t enough people qualified to coach an F1 driver, and those that are qualified are already very rich and busy people.

    F1 drivers by nature are amazingly gifted. They have a superior “feel” that when combined with hard work and dedication has brought them all the way up to the top. But how many of them really understand how they do it? The truth is that most of them probably don’t know why they are so fast – they seem to be doing the same things as lesser drives but end up being faster. An engineer can look at a trace and see that one driver is carrying more speed here and braking later there, but for the driver it all seems normal.

    In other sports, you’ll often find coaches played at a very high level, but tend to be the types who weren’t in that elite talent level – they are the guys that had to extract every little bit of talent from their bodies to compete. They had to learn every trick and understand their game better than their opponents. And because they’ve worked so hard for so long just to be in the game, they tend to be better adjusted, more empathetic people. These are the things that make them excellent coaches, and it’s why it’s rare for elite players to do the same.

    There were some excellent comparisons to tennis in the comments, but I think F1 is actually a bit more like golf. The game is almost entirely mental. In golf, the player has a caddie who provides technical information (a golf engineer – they should change the name) but the player has to execute the shot.

    1. Matt says:

      I agree with everything you said, but you’ve only shown half the story in regards to golf. Yes, golf players have caddies, which they all depend upon to differing extents; the caddy’s role is to assist with shot selection, club selection, accounting for weather conditions and possibly some element of mind-management.

      OTOH, most golf pros also make use of coaches. Rather than accompanying the player to tournaments, the coach works with the player outside of competition, and helps them to improve the mechanics of their game. The coach’s role essentially covers two aspects: firstly detailed analysis of the biomechanics involved in the player’s swing, and how that can be adjusted in beneficial ways; and secondly in helping the player to find mental processes that help them reproduce their best play when they are in pressure situations.

      I think many if not most golf pros would be receiving some level of coaching, albeit intermittently. The biggest names in the business, like David Leadbetter and Hank Haney, are well-known to golf fans.

      It’s hard to see how the same can be applied directly to F1. Still, if a driver is prepared to admit that he can do better and would like to make improvements to his driving, then I am sure that time spent in a simulator (with detailed telemetry) in the company of an appropriate coach would be beneficial.

      1. James Allen says:

        That’s really interesting, thank for that

  48. BillDay says:

    Doesn’t each driver’s teammate serve a coaching function? He provides a reference point vis-a-vis what the car can do on a given track, and also very powerful motivation to be mentally tough and to improve.

    From an American perspective, F1 is similar to major league baseball. Every baseball team employs coaches for fielding, hitting, and pitching, but often the coach’s main job seems to be to keep out of the way. Hitting, in particular, is very individual, and sometimes hitters are ruined by coaches that try to make them more “correct” technically. At the lower levels, ball players get a lot of instruction; but once they get to the big leagues only they can coach themselves. Read interviews of great hitters like Ted Williams or Don Mattingly, and you see how they taught themselves to constantly analyze and trouble-shoot their own performance, probably because no one else could (or would dare to). F1 drivers seem to be the same.

    1. James Allen says:

      The opposite. If he finds a better way around a corner he keeps it to himself. They share information on set up and technical matters, but the first person you have to beat is your team mate

      1. BillDay says:

        That’s kind of what I was trying to say. A reference point to beat.

  49. Andrew Carter says:

    In a way the drivers engineer already acts as a driver coach. All the drivers on the grid have to form some sort of relationship with their engineer so that they can work together on getting the best out of a car. I cant see a coach in the sense that you mentioned James being much help as the drivers all have very specific driving styles that they have honed over more than a decade of driving, from karts upwards, getting someone like Jackie Stewart or Alain Prost to coach Hamilton would not work because of the fundamental differences in the way they drive a car.

    Then there’s the fact that the modern F1 cars are extremely complex, to the point that the only way to be fast in them is to know them inside out and that requires testing. This is the reason that Grosjean and Algersuari struggled when they were thrown in at the deep end last year, limited testing and no chance to learn the car. And this is before we talk abut the minute details of the way each of the 4 compound of tyres work and react in a whole host of different situations and track/weather conditions. When looked at in this light, the drivers forming a close bond with their engineers is far more useful than having someone that doesnt understand the the car telling a driver that his entry lines are wrong (oversimplified, but you get the point).

    Having said that, a driver coach for someone starting out in karts and staying with them to, say, GP2 level would be far more useful in helping them develop much quicker. Look at Pastor Maldonardo, he’s dominating GP2 this year but its his 4th year in the formula, so he bloody well should be with that level of experience gained with top teams like ART and Trident, but you cant help but wonder whether a driver coach would have helped him eradicate the highly eratic performance level he has demonstrated in GP2 before he even got there.

  50. Ben Drake says:

    It seems to me that sports coaches normally provide 2 levels of support;physical and mental/emotional. Many of the physical elements are used by F1 drivers, eg fitness training and driving approach discussions with engineers. I believe that the mental emotional element is crucial yet is left to team managers and physios. I have 15years experience as a facilitator of mental and emotional change and remain surprised that even the basic techniques drawn from something like NLP that I learned at the start are still not used by drivers to gain an edge. Have a look at Andre Agassis comeback and the role of Anthony Robbins, it will give you some idea of what is available.

  51. Rohit says:

    As usual James, Fantastic article , gives all the readers a thought to ponder on. I’ve never realized that F1 drivers don’t have coaches until now !

    I do agree with you on the fact that one reason former F1 drivers dont make good coaches is probably because the cars and also the rules are constantly changing.

    For instance , giving a whole new aspect to the racing this season, is the ban on refueling. Obviously the cars will handle differently as the weight of the car changes , which does happen as the fuel gets consumed , and getting coached by say a former F1 driver turned coach ,in situations like these where its highly probable that the coach itself has never been through doesnt make sense.

  52. Peter West says:

    It seems to me that the lack of coaches in F1 might be down to the fact that F1 (and motorsports in general) is a very closed culture. From my experience in Karting I find that most people are reluctant to give advice. As if they want to protect their “secret”. I myself don’t have real problem with that since knowing which line to take and actually doing it are 2 different things.

    1. JohnBt says:

      “I myself don’t have real problem with that since knowing which line to take and actually doing it are 2 different things.”

      Agree with your comment.

      Theory and practical changes the whole scenario.
      An example I’d like to use are musicians. There millions of musicians who read music sheets very well, but only a handful can capture the soul of the music, it’s called feelings, you can’t teach that. It’s talent. Same for racing drivers.

      Look at what happened to Diego Maradona. Is he a good coach. NO.

      Coaches are talented people too.

  53. F1Maniac says:

    I think like some of the guys have mentioned above, the driver’s engineer is essentially his coach. Unlike other sports like tennis or football you can’t physically watch the driver work, only advise on his braking points and when he applies the throttle etc. which the engineer does with telemetry. Thing like lines through corners have variations between drivers and is often based on what the driver feels more comfortable with.

    I can see the advantage of a mental coach to get the driver’s focused and in the zone, but not a driving technique coach as such.

  54. Grabyrdy says:

    Interesting topic, which opens quite a lot of reflections.

    I guess you’ve all seen the programme on BBC4 with Richard Hammond comparing brain damage after a prang with Stirling Moss. Stirling says he didn’t come back after his because he felt he had to think what he had to do instead of being instinctive (although it’s arguable he tried too quickly). It came out that in a gun battle, the second guy to draw always draws quicker, because instinct takes over from thought.

    So it would seem that the role of a coach teaching technique is very limited. If you have to think about it, you’re automatically slower. On the other hand Massa clearly benefits from Rob Smedley’s input, as did DC, if I’m not mistaken, from someone (who ?) in his early days at Williams.

    So perhaps a good coach will simply help a driver get closer to his own talent every day, reducing the mistakes that slow up – sometimes even cut short – promising careers. With the absence of testing, it’s staggeringly hard for young F1 guys these days. Clarity of thought through various techniques must surely help.

    1. Grabyrdy says:

      No, sorry. I don’t mean clarity of thought, do I ? Perish the, um, thought. What I mean is direct input into your own instincts, I guess.

    2. James Allen says:

      Do you think Federer has much time to think as the ball flies over the net at him? He’s the best there has ever been, yet he still has a coach.

      1. Alan Dove says:

        James you’re not quite right there, Federer is well known to not have a major coach dependence. I think it’s a recent phenomena that’s he’s employing more coaching staff. He one several Wimbledon titles, and took tennis to a whole new level pretty much of his own back.

        Check this article on him – http://sports.espn.go.com/sports/tennis/wimbledon08/columns/story?columnist=harwitt_sandra&id=3473761

      2. James Allen says:

        Well he’s just taken on Henman’s old coach, so he must feel he still needs one!

      3. BMG says:

        Actually James, Federer has had long periods in his career with out a coach. However he would hire someone to help him at different events for different conditions.

        In a why mechanics are the drivers coaches, they know the car and how hard you can push it.

      4. Grabyrdy says:

        For Fed, perhaps it’s like opera singers. Most have a guru who they go to occasionally. Their function seems to be to just listen to what they’re doing to check against small bad habits or sloppy technique which will find them out one day if they continue. It’s very hard to hear yourself as others hear you. So by the end of the session you correlate the feel of what you’re doing against the ear of your teacher.

        So Fed had a coach who looks closely at his swing, and then he remembers what it feels like to do what the guru likes.

        Can’t quite see how this translates into F1 …

  55. gus says:

    Well, coaching in reality is about listening and letting the coachee figure out the “issues” by themselves. A good coach would listen, ask questions and challenge at times when the coachee’s ideas or thoughts don’t seem to address the “issues”. Is more a psychological/emotional process than a technical one, which in this case is already being taking care of by race engineers and the technical debrifs. At the end of the day, effective coaching only works when people who are being coached know “their staff”. No amount of coaching would ever help someone who’s absolutely clueless about his/her job.

    Thinking about Sebastian Vettel, for example, it seems to me that he really does need a good coach at the moment. He doesn’t seem to need any more technical analysis and feedback, but rather to get to a state of mind that allows him to fully exploit his abilities and the advantage the RBR package is providing him at the moment, especially under high-pressure moments.

    From corporate experience, I know a good coaching program does really work, but unfortunately truly good coaches are scarce.

    Also, like in the corporate world, not everybody needs coaching and those who may need it, do not need it permanently either. If they did, then they basically would be uncapable of doing their jobs.

    1. Kevin says:

      Yes, exactly.

  56. Mosq says:

    I’d say that at the level where F1 drivers compete techniques come after mental stability and that’s where coach helps greatly. It’s not a secret that drivers do try to destabilize the rival off-track when they cannot do anything with it on track and the coach’s mission is to care of mental stability of his guy.

  57. Brandon says:

    I would have thought Lewis would have had a lot of/some coaching prior to and/or in the early stages of his F1 carreer primarily because of the way he came up so fast. Then again it may have just been him but I think it’s mainly just newer drivers that benefit heavily from coaching or when a pro driver is switching from open-wheelers to NASCAR or such

  58. Kedar says:

    James,
    what about all those Dad’s in the Garages. Some of these drivers started off in their teens so I am sure their Dad’s were some sort of coaches. Hamilton, Vettel, Massa, Webber and all these dads are familiar faces now.
    I guess this would be there will all the sons and Daughters (Susie Stoddart) of famous F1 names too are involved in Racing of some sorts.
    May be it is time to have professional coaches in F1 as well, This may shuffle things up a bit where in the guys who are mature enough to listen and learn eventually do better than the guys who start off their careers with a Bang

    1. James Allen says:

      Dads….as coaches….!!!!

  59. JohnBt says:

    F1 is a totally different ballgame.

    F1 technology changes so very often, with varied circuits and complicated set ups I don’t see how a coach fits in.
    It’s too complicated. A £150,000 wing that didn’t work well, create frustrations even for the best drivers.

    A mentor would be more appropriate, guiding drivers for the big picture during the season and his career. To be calm at that speed is something else. It’s like Zen.

    Racers are a breed of grounded dog fighters.

    SPA!

  60. DJW says:

    Q. Why don’t F1 drivers have coaches?

    A. Because they can afford fast cars and helicopters!!

    1. James Allen says:

      Badoom! Always work with a drummer…

      1. Werewolf says:

        Even if it’s Eddie Jordan? Only kidding.

  61. Richard says:

    Very interesting, James. I agree that it would make it more interesting for us: the fewer mistakes, the truer the racing; the nearer the drivers get to their potential, the better.

    It would be great for the younger drivers, but also for the champions. Clearly Michael Schumacher would benefit from good coaching from someone personal to him. I think he still has that masseur who fulfils part of that role. But if he had someone who was a former racing driver, that would be even better. You say, “but who could coach a seven times world champion?” Well, Martina Navratilova, Carl Lewis, they had coaches. Angelo Dundee was very important to Muhammad Ali. Federer is very much an exception in tennis. I’m certain Rafa Nadal could absolutely trounce his coach in a match, but he still employs him.

  62. Langue D'Oc says:

    Interesting article, thanks.

    As I started reading it I thought of the engineers and the physios. Certainly the parallels are there with other sports as far as engineers are concerned – when you change teams you change engineer… or take him with you!

    I also thought of the drivers’ managers, who will also have some input.

  63. moschum says:

    you cannot compare F1, or motorracing as a whole, to any other sport, period.
    why? because the drivers are never on a level playing field, ever.
    in every other sport, its very simple. both teams have a totally equal chance of winning, apart from maybe football where its now almost as money dependent as F1, where these rich oligarchs and tycoons who own the clubs now buy the best players.even so, its still the players that make the difference. not their shorts. Not their football boots.

    can a coach add car performance? can he make an engine more reliable? can he add resources? no, he can’t do any of these things. With an f1 driver only able to make maybe 10% of the difference on a race weekend in terms of speed (And probably less), what use would a coach be? there are maybe a handful of races each season where you can catergorically say ‘yes, that was the driver doing something special there, not the team or the car’.

    they don’t use coaches….because they aren’t needed.

    1. James Allen says:

      I completely disagree. Yes it’s a team game, but many sports aren’t a level playing field. The top teams are the top teams in every game. Has the premiership, Serie A, La Liga, the rugby world cup, been won by a wider number of teams in recent years than F1?

      1. Werewolf says:

        No top line professional sport is a level playing field because resources and management are always a factor. That kind of thing stops at school sports days, I’m afraid, and only applies then if everybody has to compete rather than houses selecting participants!

        Motor racing – and F1 in particular – is different from other sports, though, because of the unique relationship with the kit (car) and the dichotomy between individual and team achievement.

        We kid ourselves year in and year out that the drivers’ championship is the most important because, to select otherwise random examples, most people will remember Hawthorn, Stewart and Hunt were champions in ’58 and ’73 and ’76 but not that Vanwall, Lotus and Ferrari beat respectively Ferrari, Tyrrell and McLaren to the constructors’ titles, yet it is the constructors’ positions that determine all-important and massive prize money differences and competitive pitlane positions for the teams.

        Would McLaren really have allowed Hamilton to compete with Alonso and risk being beaten by Raikkonen if the drivers’ title was all that mattered? No, so long as one of them was ahead of Ferrari, that was sufficient (prior to disqualification).

        I’m not complaining. The option is for the sport to become as entirely team focussed as football and for the driver of the year to be selected by an official committee or some magazine or other!

        This has to nothing to do with coaching but F1 is unique – and let’s celebrate that.

      2. Harvey Yates says:

        Excellent point, if I can say that without seeming to patronise.

        The top F1 teams are at the top because of their infrastructure, budgets, sophistication and sponsors. And that goes for the top teams in football and rugby. It was every thus.

        I view F1 as a team sport. Drivers are transient but Ferrari, Williams and McLaren have been around almost forever. For many years the WCC was shared between these teams and it took Then there was Brabham and Lotus before them and so on. From 1974 to 2004 drivers had to be in one of three teams to win the championship, with the one exception of Benetton in 94 and 95 and what launched them into the top slot has been argued about ever since. Some say it was the much shorter pit stops that, for some reason, they were able to perfect whilst other teams could not.

        But those teams attracted the best drivers so it was success breeding success. There are drivers who, I feel, could have won more WDCs with a bit of coaching, not necessarily on driving technique, but certainly in other ways.

        Would Gerrard have scored so many goals if his suppliers were second-raters? And Schumacher would not have scored as many victories had it not been for the support he got from Ferrari. There is no doubt in my mind that the Brawn years there provided us with the best team I’ve seen since the 3-litre formula.

        Whatever you feel about Schumacher there seems little doubt that he was coached in all aspects of his craft. His TV presence was the best in the pitlane and you don’t get that from nature. After his Adelaide crash with Hill the difference between the way the two put their cases to the media was remarkable. Whilst it might seem of little consequence it was all part of his strength.

        That said, he appears to have lost it with his come-back. His response to the Rubens incident was poor. In his days with number 1 on his car he would have trounced Rubens yet the reverse happened. My unevidenced feeling is that he’s not bothered with PR coaching this time around.

        Technique is only one small part of what coaches can give.

        I disagree with your suggestion that the lack of coaches has something to do with the macho culture of F1. Hookers (in rugby before you get too excited) have coaches and if an F1 driver and a premiership hooker were placed in the same room to battle it out, the driver would come in third for damage, after the room. There’s nothing girly about taking advice.

      3. moschum says:

        i think my point has been misunderstood really.

        in all other major team sports i can think of, lets take football for instance…its a team of 11 individuals on the day who have to perform. in terms of resources the 11 individuals require their bodies, and ability to communicate, and their own skill – nothing more.

        so you can see where a coach would be useful.
        in F1, the driver is a tiny cog, and, on the day, driver performance simply doesnt dictate where they finish, generally, as the driver has to rely on so many resources. a coach wouldn’t have any impact on any of these resources, therefore a coach is pointless.

        what can a driver do if the car is not capable of winning. how can a coach have any use or impact on this problem? he can’t, obviously. its down to the engineers at the factory to solve it.

        in most other sports in the world an individual doesnt need a complex piece of equipment to compete. It’s normally a football, or a racquet, or some form of hand held device which is fairly standardized. therefore the performance comes purely 100% from the individual.

        this is Never the case in F1, period. and as stated, only on a handful of occasions can you say ‘yes, that was the driver doing something special, individually, which had nothing to do with the team or his equipment’

        the top teams are the top teams in most sports, sure – but why’s that? because they have the best players. Key word there, players. Not the best equipment.

      4. Grabyrdy says:

        Hmmm. But a good driver can drive around technical problems to some extent – think Fangio, Alonso, often Hamilton. That’s where the 3/10ths they get paid for comes in. Otherwise they’d all be capable of being champions, which they’re not.

      5. moschum says:

        was lewis winning races in the 1st half of 2009? was he able to drive round the cars incompetencies then? no. no amount of coaching would have helped.

  64. Dom says:

    I thought a fair few F1 drivers got coaching but it isn’t something they like to admit to!

    I heard a rumour that Raikkonen spend a lot of time at Bruntingthorpe with Rob Wilson during the off-season before he joined Ferrari.

    As has been mentioned, DC got some coaching for his one lap pace.

  65. James H. says:

    I seem to remember A. Senna essentially coaching Michael Andretti. I don’t recall which circuits, but Michael would follow Senna in practice with the idea of learning the fastest way to get around an unfamiliar layout. Hard to imagine any pilots today that would be as generous. Great site James.

    1. Grabyrdy says:

      That can only mean that Senna didn’t think Andretti was a serious threat. Mika says in his interview in MS this month that Senna was giving nothing away !

      1. James H. says:

        Well, Mika was obviously more of a threat than Michael Andretti. (Didn’t he out qualify Senna as a novice teammate in Japan? Even Prost only managed that a couple of times.) Still, it would have been nice to have Senna on your side rather than attempting to disembowel your spirit every second of the day.

  66. Tim B says:

    Very interesting topic.

    I think James has hit on a good point – it’s hard to see how drivers, particularly younger drivers and those in mid field cars, wouldn’t benefit from coaching.

    While most drivers have probably got their technique down by the time they get to F1, and can hone their driving based on the technical feedback the engineers give them, I think a coach could help speed up the learning process for new drivers, and perhaps more importantly limit the psychological damage when things are going wrong.

    There are plenty of talented young drivers who don’t succeed in F1, and in some cases I think it’s because early failures destroyed their confidence. A good coach could really help there. It’s even possible that a coach could help diagnose fundamental issues where the driver can’t get the car to work the way they want. A good coach might be able to suggest different ways of driving the car that the driver and engineers wouldn’t immediately think of.

    Again, a coach could help young drivers learn to improve their feedback to engineers and optimise their test and practice sessions.

    Drivers these days have to be good at a huge number of things to be successful, and it takes time for even the best to learn everything they need to know. It seems logical that having someone dedicated to teaching them and supporting them would help.

    Having said all that, I think there clearly is quite a bit of coaching in F1. Quite a few posts mention Rob Smedley, and I think quite a few engineers coach their drivers from time to time, even if it’s only by telling them to calm down!

    I’m surprised that noone’s mentioned Helmut Marko. He’s often described as a mentor to the Red Bull young drivers, and particularly to Vettel. To me a mentor is a kind of coach, and you would expect them to provide coaching on the mental part of the game in particular. Which makes it interesting that Vettel’s mental approach is where he receives the most criticism.

    1. Grabyrdy says:

      Well spotted Tim !

  67. Rod says:

    I’ve always thought that at this level, the main difference between each of the drivers is confidence in their ability and mind management. This is where coaching could play a larger role IMO.

    If a drivers technique was wrong or costing him time, the engineers would be onto it immediately. For example Massa in Australia, where Smedley got on the radio and told him he was going too hard into the second last corner and it was compromising his line and exit speed onto the s/f straight. This left Brundle (and probably most viewers!) astonished that he would be need to be told this.

    Drivers at this level KNOW how to drive fast. Most of them also have the ABILITY to drive fast, and have demonstrated this in junior formula. IMO the main difference that makes up those last few tenths is confidence and mind management. Putting a driver into a ‘comfort zone’ where they know they are quicker than their team-mate, or confident with the setup, or with the team around them, can make all the difference. This explains why drivers excel with some teams, and in some circumstances, and others don’t. Examples?

    HH Frenzten arrived at Williams in ’97 with big expectation (and a lot of talent) but was demolished by Villeneuve and looked second rate. He then moved to Jordan in ’99 and was a star, fighting for the championship until the second last race. In a JORDAN..!

    Fisichella is another good example, who has driven the wheels off a bunch of mediocre cars, including the Force India, but when the pressure was on could not perform in a Renault or Ferrari.

    There are countless other examples. The very, very best drivers, however, are the ones who shine no matter what the circumstance. They have the most confidence and self-belief and don’t need a ‘comfort zone’ to perform to their max.

    All the others? Yes I think they all COULD use a coach.

    - RJP

  68. AJ Senior says:

    I think there would certainly be a place for sports psychologists as well. These are widely used at the elite level both in team and individual sports.

    A large part of being a good driver is the ability to react to changes in the enviornment be they weather changes, new or degrading tyres, slower cars in front or faster cars behind, accidents and safety cars. No two races are identical and rarely if ever can a driver just coast through a race.

    It is often said when a driver has dominated on Saturday that “it’s their race to lose”. Surely here mental toughness would be essential with the pressure that comes from being on pole or being in a faster car.

    Just look at Sebastien Vettel, a young driver with clear talent but even he admitted to being asleep at the wheel behind the safety car which arguably lost him the race.

    Sports psychologists could also help the team engineers and mechanics, particularly at pit stops which is about as high pressure as you can get. One tiny slip and it could be game over with your drivers rear tyre coming off and trying to race the car out of pit lane…

    The whole team must be on their A game for the whole race.

  69. Rich says:

    I seem to remember an article years ago with Jackie Stewart taking Stewart GP drivers round a track in this Ford buggy contraption ‘coaching’ the drivers. I suspect he instilled it on the drivers, rather than them request it maybe.

  70. guy says:

    The issue of driver coaching goes hand in hand with testing.

    Gary Player famously said the more he practised the luckier he got.

    MSC was at the height of his powers when he could practice. Would he have won as many titles without relentless lapping?

    Would the current crop of ‘suprise’ performers – button, webber, rosberg – be as successful, comparative to their teamates, if full testing were allowed?

    It could be argued the current skill in F1 is who can perform without any training.

    Is this right for a sport? Does it truly separate the best from the rest?

  71. Mike Cooper says:

    I’ve always thought that sport at the very highest level exposes what goes on in the head.

    The technical side is easily measured and analysed, and assuming a cars performance envelope is clearly defined, drivers at this level will mostly drive to that limit. It’s the mental approach and application that makes the difference. Look at our footballers for an obvious example. They can all play at the required level but when the pressure is on, just dont.

    Drivers at this level dont need technical coaches, they need to get their heads working the right way, that’s probably the only area worth considering. Call it ‘form’ or ‘being in the grove’ , what affects these is not how good they are at moving their hands and feet, it’s how the grey stuff operates.

    This is the likeliest explaination of differing levels of performance.

    So if Schumacher did bring something the the Massa party, I’m pretty certain it wasn’t, ‘turn the wheel here . .’

  72. Just says:

    Hi James, love your website. I seem to remember Nico Rosberg saying a while ago – at a guess, a year or two ago – that he would benefit from a coach, and that it was a bit strange that coaches aren’t more common in F1. I’ve just tried to find a story covering his comments and couldn’t find anything, though, so perhaps my memory is a bit hazy.

    Meanwhile, I’d like to offer a suggestion for an article on your website. How about a story covering the number of fresh engines available to each driver for the remainder of the season, and what effect this is likely to have on the championship? Apparently Alonso and Vettel both only have two fresh engines remaining. It would seem this could have some bearing on the outcome of this season.

  73. John Snow says:

    I disagree slightly here James, I’d say their phyiso, engineers, even the designers to some extent are ‘coaching’ the drivers. Most 400 ish people of the team are there to make the driver and car go faster and perform better. I think that in the case of motor sport, the car and driver are so intertwined that a traditional coach from other sports doesn’t apply so well here.

  74. Oliver Knight says:

    Hi james, another great article, one of the things i love most about F1 is the detail and the attention to it, especially with the engineering side of the sport. However, like you i have believed that the drivers can do more to improve thier performance if only they could put their egos to one side for a bit, i’ve recently read a book by Clyde Brolin titled, Over drive-Formula one in the zone, I found it a fantastic read and it really showed that the difference between the good drivers and the great ones was all in the mind and the way they deal with situations, if you haven’t already read this book i suggest you pick it up some time, keep up the good work james.

  75. Waqas says:

    not that i ‘ve anything to argue with your analysis.. but to me coach is someone who looks at your performance in the sport and analyzes your mistakes or weak point and give u tips to rectify those mistakes…

    here in F1, for this critical analysis, a whole team of engineers is present to look into your performance.. so my point is that ‘the role of the coach is already being played in F1 but not by a single man but by a lot of people’… and an additional person labeled as a ‘coach’ is really unnecessary…

  76. nash says:

    I think that F1 drivers have an entire (coaching) team at their disposal… although not labeled as “coach”:

    - team manager (like Whitmarsh, SD, Ron Dennis etc) I see them having a coaching role… telling drivers when they are underperforming

    - race engineers provide the drivers with all possible technical data and input on how to optimize braking points, apex entry, lines, when to accelerate etc (e.g Rob Smedley)

    - physio / personal manager… is the trusted companion to clear the drivers head, get them focused on performing within the track-windows..

    So I think there is already an enormous coaching going on (without being labeled as “coaching”)

  77. drums says:

    May be I am shooting from the hip because I have not done a real survey, but I do feel no adult man/woman consistently putting life at risk because of his/her professional activity has a coach except in rare exceptions. No doubt they have technical teams supporting them in every needed sense, and indeed they have friends, relatives, couples, etc. But personal coachs like in other individual sports… I hardly remember of any. There is no couching even in the extreme mountaining or bullfighting, to quote a couple of other higly dangerous activities.

    1. Jamie says:

      Interesting point.

  78. Ron says:

    Coaches are useful for weak driver, who do not have an ability to analyse and improve themselves.

    In general, I’m pretty sure the teams would not miss this trick, if they felt it really made a difference… they must have tried, and deemed it a negative on the whole.

    Nothing to do with being macho… just a system that doesn’t bring results.

  79. James, I think that coaches could help although it’s not like tennis, where the coach is involved heavily on the technical side.

    F1 drivers don’t need much technical coaching, unless something changes and they need to adapt and they are struggling to.

    More important is the mental side. After all, every driver who makes it to F1 is quite close to a couple of tenths ability-wise, if you ignore the outliers.

    So the mental aspect is more important. Consistency and operating on the limit without losing your emotions.

    In this respect, a mental coach is a good idea. As someone stated earlier, Joe Ramirez was one.

    And remember Balbir Singh, the dark-skinned individual that always stood out in the Ferrari team pictures when Schumacher was obliterating the field?

    I think that Smedley is the closest thing to a coach that we have seen in recent times.

  80. Andy C says:

    I think some of the talented youngsters could and should seek out some advice.

    They are afforded less time to make the cut than for a ling time.

    James,

    I was Reading an article on steffan bellof today. Any chance of doing a series of articles on precocious talents lost before they reached their full potential?

    There are so many examples I can think of.

  81. Victor says:

    A very good question, James.
    I remember Massa saying that Schumi’s coaching wasn’t about how to take a corner, but more about other things. He was pretty coy on this, but he did mention something about knowing when you have to go fast. Albeit a bit reluctant in that interview at acknowledging that he was being coached, Massa did improve a lot at the time.

  82. shortsighted says:

    First of all we have to know what do we look for from a coach in F1.

    If it is speed around the track, then it has to be a driver who is better and who has just driven the same car on the same track. Otherwise how can the coach know what limit the car can do on the track and where the driver did wrong by following him around the track? The next best alternative is the driver’s engineer who has the telemetry to look at if he can compare that with those from other drivers preferably from a faster one. Without knowing what the diver did on every part of the track, it is not easy to offer any really useful advice.

    If it is mental, then possibly a different person. If it is physical, then a trainer, etc.

  83. John Player says:

    A coach? Some guy with a stopwatch and whistle comes to my mind, forcing a book entitled “Try Hard” into his students hands and starts talking his head off:
    “Let me tell you, young man… In my days sex was safe…/with your mind power and determination…/try to set your limits even further. Im telling you, something hapens…” or “Listen to your mind, not your heart…”
    I think if a driver can skip coaching, he can perhaps spend more time with his girlfriend or kids, sleep longer etc and still be perfectly fit.
    Isnt working with race engineers something like coaching anyway? Data logging and stuff should highlight drivers weaknesses very well. So this coaching thing can be more like a mental preparation. Some drivers seem to need more babysitting than the others. But is it knitting, cycling or chatting with John Stevens that makes a racing driver balanced and prepared must be very individual.

    A coach can make someone like Captain Slow shave of seconds of their laptimes, no doubt. But to train top level racing driver(with their considerable experience, already shaped beliefs)may not give that effect anymore.

  84. Tony G says:

    James I thought I read somewhere that Webber spent some time with a driver coach while he was recovering from his broken leg last year. If that is true then it was certainly worth it. He is certainly driving better than he has in the past mostly keeping out of silly incidents although Melbourne and Valencia were exceptions this year

  85. Jamie says:

    Maybe it’s for the best. The more errors, the more excitement. If they were all perfect, or closer to perfection, there would be less passing/errors, and races would be more processional.
    Maybe F1 got lucky with this illogical behaviour and attitude to coaches.

  86. Santiago says:

    Congratulations for another really interesting article James,

    I’m afraid you are right in pointing the anomaly in F1 for being one of the only left hight level sports without coaching. I also agree with some other people here that don’t think coaching would be better for the show. It would surely rise the level of the drivers but would also tend to make them all more similar. It is like all other aspects of the sport where technical development eases the pilot’s tasks, it is every time more difficult to tell a really good driver from another not so good with good car or a good team, for instance. And it is my opinion that the article is very relevant as this will change in near future, we are seeing new drivers coming from pilot programs like McLaren’s (Hamilton and now de Vries), Red Bull and now also Ferrari. I’m afraid this would lead us to a situation where a team will select and train their pilots from very young ages and will “use” them in F1, all of them perfectly trained and coached in every aspect of the sport and everything around it like press relationships and so on while the true gems of the sport may be left unattended if they don’t have the luck or the money to be recognised on time or if they want to keep their personality (race drivers tend to have really strong personalities I think). It is a thing that happens today in music (Britain’s got talent and all the alikes) and I find it unfair and scary, we all like pilots, not marionettes. This situation would be very difficult to avoid being F1 a team-oriented competition, the amount of money needed to teach a driver is huge and pilots elected by teams would have a much easier path in front of them than the others. Besides,the necessity of making profit of the investment could tend to build a even more controlled, less interesting sport.

    For the ones using the tennis example, Federer keeps constantly making strategic errors during his matches that only a massive amount of talent can balance. With such a good strategic coaching like Nadal or Murray have, he would keep Nr.1. So, the extraordinary tennis player is defeated by another great player with the help of a team of consultants. Fans like me don’t like this, but it is the way modern, professional sports are evolving. Less individual, more corporative structure

    We will see if things evolve in this way or not, I’m afraid they will

  87. My Tuppence... says:

    Motor racing is a complex sport. There are so many variables like telemetry, driving styles, set up, as well as general track observations ie. from the spectators POV.

    As such things like driving style will cancel things out eg. Button is hardly going to maximum attack in quali; and F1 drivers can be so stubbornly competitive that they’d hardly be pleased with themselves telling a team mate how they took a corner quicker!

  88. Paul says:

    As a professional coach I agree with you observations. A coach can help a driver of any level, at the very least, by being a trusted sounding board for the driver in situation where they are too worried about how it would be perceived in the competitive team environment. I have don this constantly and it work very efficiently. Add in the spotting for the driver and another set of ‘driver’ eyes on the data and I all adds up to a marked advantage *as long as the coach can honestly operate at that level*

    One last add for the coach is translator in many cases. Drivers and engineers speak different languages, one is subjective (driver) and one objective (engineers). Very few driver engineers pairings are truely functional due to this disconnect. A good coach can be invaluable on this point alone if they can improve communication.

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