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Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Jul 2011   |  7:10 pm GMT  |  56 comments

This week I took part in an unusual event in association with McLaren and its partner Hilton, where we had to judge a chef competition.

It was a bit like Masterchef and I got chosen to judge because I’m very interested in cooking.

And it really got me thinking about what F1 drivers eat.

The competition was looking for the chef who would cook the drivers’ food at the Italian Grand Prix, bearing in mind the nutritional balance that drivers need. I was asked to be a judge alongside some food professionals including Lindy Redding, who runs Absolute Taste, the McLaren catering company. I’ve known Lindy since the early 1990s when she got her first job as a cook with the Leyton House team.

She’s now married to Dave Redding, one of the McLaren engineers and Absolute Taste has become a huge business in its own right, even doing the back end work for Gordon Ramsay’s catering contracts.

It was fascinating to listen to Lindy talking about what drivers should and should not eat. Actually it turns out that they don’t have to be as obsessive as cyclists or footballers, they eat more or less the same things anyone would eat, which is a good thing as they are often dependent on hotel and restaurant food. But of course they have to avoid the bad things and avoid overeating.

Fish and chicken are the standards; protein and vegetables being the target for any meal.

Stamina is very important for drivers as is weight management. Dairy is to be avoided as is too much sugar, although Lewis Hamilton has a sweet tooth – I once observed him putting sugar on a bowl of Sugar Puffs! Mind you he’s not alone in that. Michael Schumacher also has a sweet tooth. In the Ferrari days he had access to a Carpigiani ice cream machine in the motorhome – his guilty secret!

Pasta is good on the day of a race, but it’s not a good idea to have tomato sauce as the after-taste becomes metallic and very unpleasant when racing!

Japanese food, sushi in particular, is very popular with the drivers, especially Jenson Button.

JA and Lindy Redding (2nd from right) get stuck in to judging

The winner of the competition we judged was Franz Conde from the Hilton in Amsterdam. He did a kind of carpaccio of salmon trout followed by a short-braised fish dish.

If McLaren win in Monza, it’s sure to be down the grub!

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56 Comments
  1. D. says:

    James,

    how about how much and what type of fluids they drink shortly before and during the race ? Especially in hot races like Malaysia and Bahrein. Don’t they sometimes get uncomfortable in the car, w/out immediate access to a bathroom ??? Must be really tough occasionally !

    On a side note, do you expect Ferrari to be very strong in Germany as well ? Alonso won there last year. Even w/ off-throttle gas usage back on, would you not expect Ferrari to be in the running for victory in the Ring ?

    1. Ryan Gilmore says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised they don’t go to the loo in the car. It’s not uncommon in endurance racing

      1. unoc12 says:

        But in Endurance races they are sitting there for 3-4 hours per stint depending on time of race and number of drivers.

        In an F1 race they are there for 1.5 hours or so.

        I would imagine that they, after training the rest of their body, could manage to hold off for 1.5-2 hours without going.

      2. siecleod says:

        When exerting yourself for 1.5-2.0 hrs. there is rarely a need to relieve yourself. I do 2 2-hour workouts a week wherein I sweat profusely, often losing 4-5lbs (1.8-2.25kg.) of water weight. I am not an elite athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I never feel the need to relieve myself during the workout, even though I drink 1-2L of water and/or electrolyte drink through the course of the workout. I’m pretty sure that the drivers remember (or are reminded) to pee before they leave!

    2. KNF says:

      I think they drink electrolyte sport drink mix before and after the race, and just plain water from the in-car drinks bottle, reasoning being that sport drinks tend to leave a mess behind after it dries.

      I don’t think they actually drink Red Bull or Monster, the caffeine would make them jittery and probably result in loss of concentration after the “caffeine crash”!

    3. Jaco says:

      Actually Alonso won in Hockenheim last year. This year it’s Nurburgring.

      1. young slinger says:

        Errr, both still in Germany, aren’t they?

      2. Jaco says:

        Well yeah… Valencia & Barcelona are both in Spain…

  2. rvd says:

    Interesting article – I feel like my status as an amateur racer has moved up a notch as I’m also a fan of ice cream.

    1. KNF says:

      I’m sure Kimi Raikkonen would approve of ice cream… ;)

      1. Aaron (ChimpSafari) says:

        Haha! Of all the things I remember about F1 I don’t know why I remember Kimi eating an ice cream as if his mother gave it to him to stop him moaning.

  3. Ol'Peculier says:

    I remember Lindys father once telling us about the cans of beans that are transported everywhere ine world as part of the catering supplies, so if anybody asked, they could have beans.

    Of course nobody did.

    Really wound up the logistics manager, apparently!

    1. wolf says:

      Haha the ‘emergency’ beans situation reminds me of Australian cricketer Shane Warne.
      http://www.indianexpress.com/res/web/pIe/ie/daily/19980306/06550494.html
      Now there’s an ‘athlete’ who didn’t worry too much about his diet…

  4. J Albran says:

    As my old Italian teacher Mr Alfonsina used to say
    di avere la torta è innanzitutto necessario mangiare

  5. fullblownseducer says:

    ‘and I got chosen to judge because I’m very interested in cooking.’

    C’mon, you know we need (OK, want) more info than just that. What’s your signature dish, James?

    1. My girlfriend also wonder if you write a food blog too. Do you? =)

      1. James Allen says:

        No time! I’d love to at some point in the future

  6. Charlie says:

    Interesting to know that drivers don’t have to watch their diets that closely.

    I’d like to know is there some kind of time limit when drivers are not allowed to eat before they get into a car? Would it be just unpleasant to drive with a full stomach at 300 km/h with 4.5 G’s pulling you? What about if a driver has to go into a surgery after a bad accident?

    1. GP says:

      I guess you haven’t seen a photo of Jacky Ickx pulling his balaclava down to take one last sip of red wine before the start…

      1. Werewolf says:

        That’s my man!

  7. monktonnik says:

    Really interesting piece.

    Do the drivers have to avoid all fats? Can they have olive oil for example?

    James, I really like this kind of insight. I remember reading a piece about a lunch with Max Moseley and your description of the food was as intriguing as the conversation at the table.

    Any chance of a bit more of this? I would be interested in hearing about the food at Montana Restaurant, for example.

    1. Michael says:

      If anything, people eat too little fat. Put black-and-white, one does not become fat from eating fat, one becomes fat from eating carbohydrates (pasta, potatoes). Unused carbohydrates are stored as bodyfat. Most unused fats just pass through the body without being stored. In general, even world clas athletes have remarkably regular diets. It’s just that most non-athletes nowadays don’t have a normal diet.

      1. Martin says:

        No quite my understanding, although I’m an engineer not a nutrionist or a medico. There is the basic energy in to energy out mix that drives the direction of a persons mass. There is evidence for isulin for carbohydrate consumption leading to fat storage, but the body will also store fat directly.

        The body likes fat as it is a dense energy store, which is useful in times of famine. If you eat enough fat consistently, your body doesn’t need to store it. I understand that complex carbohydrates are useful for much more than just energy supply. Cutting carbs out can create problems like decreased brain function and bad breath. You can lose weight from it, but the things that obesity causes can also be caused by a low-carb diet.

    2. Theo Valich says:

      Well, the interesting bit about the Montana restaurant in all of my visits there was the absence of any menu. All food is fresh, daily – they had the best pasta I ever had, and the steak was perfect as well.

      What I liked about Montana in my dozen or so visits was the fact that antipasti wasn’t consisted solely out of bread and olive oil. Liked the home made Mozzarela as well… overall, it’s Italian cuisine at its best, and even after a five course menu, I didn’t feel stuffed. It was just perfect. And unlike overpriced restaurants in near-by Modena, it had a good value for money.

      P.S. Besides Montana, there is a restaurant at the former estate of Mr. Luciano Pavarotti, some 20min of drive from Maranello. That restaurant was also just brilliant. I’ll try to find the name, forgot about it (was there in 2006).

  8. andrew says:

    I remember watching a video that followed Mansell around the Ferrari factory for the 1990 season, and at Monaco they discussed what he ate. He would eat shaved carrot cause its good for the eyes, shaved parmesan cheese and crusty bread because it is filling.
    How times have changed. I reckon I would want to keep it simple too, not one to go in for “fancy” food, just a decent salad would suffice.

  9. James W says:

    How many of the drivers actually drink energy drinks before they race? We see many Red Bull, Monster and whichever drink Team Lotus have in drivers hands before the start of the race.

    Is it just a bit more sponsering, or is their actually Monster going into the mouths of the Mercedes drivers?

    Before any karting, I always find a can of Monster helps me to focus (sugar and caffine make me more alert), but at the same time I kinda feel thats just a gimmick.

    1. Simon Haynes says:

      Never mind what the label on the bottle says – I’m guessing they’re drinking plain old water, or maybe a mild electrolyte drink of some kind.

    2. Sean says:

      I think you will find that those are simply branded drink bottles containing other liquids (blends of electrolytes, sugar, other essentials) prepared for them by their trainers.

    3. Dan says:

      Energy drinks are disastrously unhealthy, I doubt any of the drivers actually drink their energy drinks they’re sponsored by. The last thing they need when speeding about at 200mph is an artificially raised heart rate.

      1. Steve_P83 says:

        I agree with other posters who have stated the drink bottles probably contain normal water. Felipe Massa has a drink bottled painted as can of Guaraná Antartica soda. I seriously doubt he is drinking soda right before the race starts.

    4. JAG says:

      Massa’s bottle is a kind of Brazilian soda called Guarana. So i really doubt he’s actually drinking that anytime he’s driving.

      1. Randy Torres says:

        Especially if it contains guarana!

      2. JAG says:

        My girlfriend is Brazilian and we have a case of it in our fridge. It has a pretty interesting and difficult to describe taste; it’s fruity, really sweet, and kind of appleish at first and then berry tasting afterwards. I find it a bit odd.

      3. Randy Torres says:

        Guarana is a plant native to the Amazon basin and its fruit contains approx. 2x the amount of caffeine that coffee does. Consuming it at the same rate of coffee will give you serious heart acceleration. Probably not a good idea to consume it before a F1 race, or ever in my estimation.

  10. MikeW says:

    I recall that one of last year’s Masterchef-Professionals finalists was from Woking. I’m pretty sure he worked for (or at least was involved with) McLaren

  11. unoc12 says:

    Here’s an intersting question.

    Could an modern day (2011) F1 driver live like James Hunt? or wouldn’t it be physically/practically possibly given the current fitness requirements

    1. James W says:

      Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button (pre-Brawn GP) could live it up, so it’s probably possible.

  12. KK says:

    This is awesome James! You are the encyclopedia of F1 and it’s a privilege to follow you in the pinnacle of motorsports.

  13. richy says:

    “It was a bit like Masterchef and I got chosen to judge because I’m very interested in eating.”

    ^ fixed that for you..

    i reckon i’d cope pretty well with an F1 drivers diet.
    i eat pasta like 3 meals a day, i don’t really like sweet things, and i’m lactose intolerant < so the no dairy thing is taken care of by default.
    not that into raw fish though, i gotta confess..

  14. Michael says:

    Actually eating (too much) sugar makes you drowsy after the brief initial energy spike.

  15. Alan Dove says:

    I thought F1 drivers were among the fittest athletes on the planet. Now I hear they are tucking into Sugar Puffs and Ice Cream? lol

    I’m pretty obsessive with my racing diet and I’ve cut out all junk food. I have gone Vegan in recent months and that’s helped massively.

    Very interesting stuff James!

    1. Randy Torres says:

      @Alan Dove I’m essentially a Yoga guy and I have a very healthy diet, that includes some meat and dairy. I would like to get into racing and I’m seriously considering a vegan diet so keep us posted on your progress.

      1. Alan Dove says:

        Hi Randy. You can keep up to date on my progress on my site Karting1.co.uk :)

        I had my first proper test for the British Championship last Friday. What I will say is mentally I’ve never been so good. My mind is a ton clearer than it used to be. Physically I did OK but you simply can’t train for the stresses a kart puts you through. But if when my body fatigued my mind didnt.

        I have a long way to go to get on the pace however, so I am under no illusion that being a vegan is a magic bullet but it’s certainly helped.

        Essentially my diet consists of a nuts, beans, oats, seeds, veg and fruit. I also use Spirulina which is extremely nutritious.

        It’s amazing how many racers you see tucking into a rank bacon sandwhich (and that’s not just coming frmo a veggie… if when i ate meat they were still rankl) on a Sunday morning before a race.

  16. Grayzee (Australia) says:

    Yeah, I too would like to what is actually in those bottles they suck on before and after the race. I know they have to hydrate and rehydrate themselves, but what with?
    Is it really the sponsors product(I would doubt it)or maybe just plain old water…….

  17. Pete says:

    Tomato sauce gives a metallic after taste when racing??? now that is interesting! who what where why?

    1. Trent says:

      My thought (well, guess) is it might be related to the interaction of exhaust and other fumes that the driver is breathing.

    2. pr0phet says:

      This is because of the iron in tomatoes I believe. Either that or some unfortunate F1 driver swallowed a spoon :-)

  18. Pete says:

    Just to say as i see alot of people here asking about the drivers drinks. I remember hearing (as adrian sutil is sponsord by capri sun) that they made a special flavour for him because he didn’t like the others. Now technicaly that means what ever’s in his bottle is capri sun because it’s made by them. but whether it is actually the same as the shop bought drink who knows. It’s not an energy drink at least so it could be.

  19. JohnBt says:

    …tomato sauce as the after-taste becomes metallic and very unpleasant when racing!

    As is it always taste metallic but I’m sure it’s worse with the heat under the helmet. Could that make them more thirsty too.

  20. Trent says:

    What a shame that the drivers visit such exotic places, with such diverse cuisine, and they are stuck on chicken and vegetables!

    I wonder if there are any drivers who have an interest in the local cuisine, or will tackle a street-side samosa in Delhi this year? Somehow, I doubt it. They are missing out!

  21. cool_ani says:

    James,
    previous issue of the toyota magazine ran a similar article..Well can u provide a bit more insight on what they eat during a race weekend and fluids they consume..

    The actual food etc.Also many drivers sleep before the race…How does it all affect their metabolism…any more articles?

  22. Nilesh says:

    A couple of questions for you James:

    - The drivers have a drinks tube going into their balaclava. If it was placed directly into the mouth, it would be an obstruction while talking on the radio. How is it positioned such that it doesn’t get in the way of drivers from communicating on the team radios?

    - When it rains, doesn’t the cockpit fill up? Is there a way to drain this water? I’m sure that would be a problem in races like Canada this year and Korea last year.

    1. Trent says:

      As the car is shaped to guide air over the drivers helmet (hence the small ‘windscreen’), it very effectively keeps rain out of the cockpit (as long as the car is moving, of course).

      I remember Jackie Stewart doing a piece on this years ago, and said that you basically remain pretty dry.

  23. Marc says:

    It’s a good thing I did not become a serious sport practitioner. I enjoy food very much. I enjoy turning ingredients into dishes as much as I take pleasure in eating. Most of all I like the diversity of tastes and aromas. Lots of professions require that you stay fit, if you want to be performent. Mine too ultimately, but less so. To be fit enough to drive an f1, does require some commitment. The right food intake being a relatively small part of that commitment. Marc

  24. Mike says:

    We have a bet going in the office.

    One side says that drinking a Redbull or alike before a race would improve a drivers awareness driving etc.

    The other side says that drinking a Redbull or alike would hinder their driving performance.

    Is there anyone out there with an F1 connection that could shed some light on our office problem?

  25. When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked the
    -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time
    a comment is added I receive four emails with the same comment.
    Perhaps there is a means you are able to remove me from that
    service? Kudos!

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