Today has been an astonishing day for me, for Neil Donnell our Fan Ambassador competition winner and the other attendees of the driving event at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
The two day event is all about giving the media and some fans like Neil a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a Grand Prix driver, ahead of the second Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.
There are four driving disciplines, karts, Aston Martin GTs, Super sport two seaters and F3000 cars. In addition there are two off track elements which are a phyiscal and mental tests to give us an idea of how the drivers are assessed and trained.
Here to help us understand better and to mentor us are current F1 driver Bruno Senna, ex drivers Johnny Herbert and Jean Alesi as well as up and coming star Jules Bianchi among others.
We were split into four groups this morning and Neil and I are in a group with the BBC’s Jake Humprey, a very cool US Top Fuel drag racer called Rod Fuller and two presenters from German TV network RTL.
What I had not realised before is that when a driver hits the brakes for a really big stop, like the end of a straight into a hairpin, his heart arrests to 50bpm and then shoots back up to 180bpm. I found that rather alarming.
I managed to get up to second place but then had a great battle with Jake to the flag. He beat me by a couple of kart lengths. Drag racer Rod Fuller won the race easily.
We then moved on to Aston Martin GTs where I had Jean Alesi mentoring.
But by this stage we were all physically exhausted after a hard day in the heat. Also this is where you really feel the G forces on the neck and head. After two laps I could feel my neck giving up because of the effort we had put in earlier in the day. When Johnny hit the brakes at the end of the long straight it was around 3-4g deceleration. I wasn’t aware of my heart rate plummeting to 50, but I did wonder..
Again I keep going back to Singapore GP on Sunday, two hours on the limit in 30 degree heat and 75% humidity on a track with hardly any rest and Alonso and Vettel among others didn’t make a single mistake. It will be taxing here for the drivers in November two. There is at least the long straight to rest on.
After the insight I’ve had today, I can tell you that that driving is a much harder physical and mental task than you can possibly imagine. I have always had immense respect for all 24 drivers in the field, but even more so after today. They are supermen, who operate in an extreme and brutal environment.
Tomorrow we do psychological tests, alertness, reaction times and much more as well as driving the F3000 cars, the closest we will come to the real thing.