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How the F1 drivers cope with the heat in Malaysian GP
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Posted By: James Allen  |  25 Mar 2012   |  2:06 am GMT  |  58 comments

The physical challenge of driving in the Malaysian Grand Prix is often overlooked, because it’s not obvious to the spectator watching on TV.

Now in its 14th year on the F1 calendar, Sepang has always been one of the toughest races of the season on drivers. With ambient temperatures of 32 degrees and 70% humidity, the drivers lose around 3 litres of body fluid in sweat.

Since Singapore joined the calendar in 2008 that has established itself as the hardest and bumped Malaysia down to number two. I’ve heard drivers say that they are almost crying with pain in the cockpit in the closing stages of the Singapore, so hot and stuffy is it in the cockpit with no respite for almost two hours. Any ventilaton they manage to get is always just more warm air so it has no cooling effect at all.

Sepang at least has the two 850 metre straights for the drivers to rest and for some air to blow in. Drivers have various tricks they use to get some cooling. One told me that he lifts one hand off the wheel on the back straight and the other on the pit straight, turning his palm and back of the hand to face the airflow, which sends jets of cool air down his sleeves and makes a significant difference.

Some drivers, like Alonso, leave their visors slightly open at the bottom. Mika Hakkinen used to open his visor as he came into the pits to get a blast of air on the face. But this is a dangerous thing to do as there are small particles of dust and metal and even carbon in the air and it’s very easy to get one in the eye.

To avoid visors misting up, these days drivers have an electrical element in the visor for wet or humid conditions, which is connected to the car, so when the visor begins to steam up, he pushes a button on the steering wheel and it demists the visor.

Of course the main preoccupation is hydration. Drivers are losing three kilos of body fluid lost during the 90 minute race, which is roughly 5% of their body weight in most cases. They have a drinks bottle in the car, but it contains only a litre of fluid and in any case the drink gets so hot after a few laps its not drinkable. The risk is that they get fatigued in the closing stages, lose focus

So drivers have to drink fluid constantly during the weekend and especially on race day. So what do they drink?

Some light was shed on this this weekend when McLaren’s new partner Lucozade revealed a new drink specifically for F1 drivers to drink during races. It focuses on carbohydrates, sodium which replaces salts lost through sweat and interestingly it also contains caffeine to help with focus and concentration.

I was slightly surprised that drivers would want to drink caffeine when the job of driving the car on the limit is stressful enough, but it seems a bit of caffeine is a good thing. Shortly before qualifying I was chatting with Jenson Button in the McLaren hospitality area and he was sipping at an after lunch espresso as we talked.

Lucozade has also made a formulation for the mechanics to drink at any time with hydration salts, carbohydrates and proteins to keep the energy levels up during the long working days in the intense heat. This is likely to be in demand in the paddock from photographers, especially and journalists as well as anyone else who struggles in the intense heat and humidity of Sepang and Singapore.

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58 Comments
  1. Paul says:

    Do they freeze drinks before the race? If not; why?

    1. fabzx says:

      seems like a good idea to me

  2. Steve Zodiac says:

    Recently saw a documentary on the BBC about food and nutrition etc. and it turns out that milk is far better than all these fancy drinks.

    1. andrew says:

      Actually, chocolate milk is the most hydrative drink known to nutrition science. If Locozade has indeed eclipsed this mark they would have published a scientific paper in “Nature” or some other noted journal. [mod]

    2. iceman says:

      Apparently fresh coconut water is really good too. According to Bear Grylls it can even be administered intravenously!

  3. JackFlash (Aust) says:

    LoL…. And McLaren and Ferrari poke fun a RedBull for being no more than a “fizzy drinks company”. Seems Lucozade is specifically formulating an F1 pilot drink for McLaren, that by all appearances of ingredients looks a lot like a RedBull!! Lots of carbs, energy, salts and caffeine. Anyone else see the irony here? JF

    1. Pranav says:

      No. Because Lucozade isn’t a team on the grid, just one of the sponsors.

      1. Stephen Kellett says:

        Its also nonsense. Caffiene is a diuretic – the last thing you want to take if you suffer hydration problems.

      2. tylerzaath says:

        good point Stephen but given the amount of sweat they are losing, it would be very unlikely they would need to urinate

  4. irawan says:

    They should do another tropic race…. Bali maybe

  5. Graeme Smith says:

    Caffeine used to be on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances. They removed it from the list in 2004. It’s interesting that caffeine is still allowed given that a number of studies have shown it to be a performance enhancing stimulant:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2008-08-02/athletes-caffeine-use-reignites-scientific-debate/462428
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100629193123.htm

    I suppose it’s just too impractical to ban it. Small differences matter in top level sport and it’s probably the case that all drivers take caffeine before qualifying and the race.

    1. Luke Clements says:

      I always have an espresso before playing squash & always notice the difference if I miss it. I am sluggish, lose sharpness. Here in Australia, caffeine is responsible for saving more lives on the road than its given creit for. Over such huge driving distances, it keeps people awake and therefore alive. Its a good drug when used properly.

  6. Andrew Kirk says:

    Great article James as it focuses on one of the interesting parts about Formula 1. I imagine that it is a relief for drivers if it is a wet race in Malaysia.

    1. James H says:

      Only problem is in the tropics is that even when it’s raining, the temperatures are still the same – just the humidity has gone up a tad.

      1. Ohm says:

        I’ll have to disagree with that, I live in BKK and it’s always cooler when it rains, you get more shade and cooler air.

  7. Gabriel says:

    Interesting insight James.

    The caffeine thing surprises me as it is a very well known diuretic. In the context of the fluid losses due to the heat that you describe, I’m surprised the drivers would want to drink it.

    1. Mr Ed says:

      The diurectic thing is a myth, in the amounts being discussed here it’s not different to drinking water

      1. Gabriel says:

        Caffeine is defintely a diuretic, but I agree with you that the effect is clearly dose dependent. This special fluid may have a very low amount.

        There is though no caffeine in drinking water.

      2. Phil says:

        Plus with all the fluid being lost by perspiring you won’t be excreting fluid in other ways.

      3. kbdavies says:

        Caffeine is indeed a diuretic, and a well known stimulant. Yes, the amounts do make a difference, but it has no hydrating properties whatsoever.

        The best hydrating solution is mixture of simple water, sugar and a combination of Sodium/Pottasium (readily available as Low-Salt). Sometimes specific amounts Sodium Bicabornate can be added if the exercise is going to be for s hort period – however, this particular mixture needs to be ingested in a very specific, over a very specific amount of time as it can cause quite significant gastro-intestinal irritation.

        To say Chocolate Milk is more hydrating than a simple ORT mixture is disingenious.

  8. Jeff in Ohio says:

    Have F1 teams ever used “cool suits” to keep drivers more comfortable in hot conditions? Obviously, extra weight is undesireable, even if it results only in reducing ballast. However, at some point might there be a positive trade-off between driver performance versus the weight of a cooling system?

    Jeff

    1. HFEVO2 says:

      I recall at least McLaren having cooling underwear a few years ago which kept the drivers cool on the grid before the race but presumably not during it.

      Given all the other high tech components to F1 (DRS, KERS etc ) it would be very easy to come up with a system in the car to keep the driver cool. They could at least start with an electrically cooled drinks bottle !

      I would have thought a cool, comfortable driver would be a little faster than a one tired and exhausted through excessive heat.
      Probably a bigger gain than an extra $m of aero research in the wind tunnel.

      PS who makes the heated visor ? I want one to use on my Bike !

    2. franed says:

      Yes, notably the McLaren drivers were wearing then last year, so what happened to them this year?

    3. Sebastian says:

      Button wears one when he is out of his car.

    4. Leukocyte says:

      there would be significant issues manufacturing these to FIA standards for fireproof textiles

      1. Jeff in Ohio says:

        I seriously doubt there would be any difficulty meeting FIA safety requirements.

        “Cool suit” technology is at least 50 years old. Astronauts used it in the 1960′s in a pure oxygen environment, where fireproofing is absolutely essential.

        If it’s not used in F1, there must be a competitive reason not to use it. Perhaps there is simply no evidence that a more comfortable driver is a faster drive.

        Jeff in Ohio

      2. David Young says:

        I believe ‘cool suits’ might be used in NASCAR. You also see drivers there with hoses running into their helmets.

      3. Jeff in Ohio says:

        Most cool suits uses a lightweight vest incorporating flexible tubing through which cooled water circulates. Systems weigh about 10 pounds (~6 kg) and cost less than $1,000. They will keep the driver cool for up to 6 hours. These are already used by a variety of racing teams. There are also cooling systems for pit crews.

        I’m sure F1 teams could find a way to make these much more expensive!

        – Jeff

    5. I recall that in the 1984 US South Grand Prix in Dallas, which was run in Summer temperatures (I live in Dallas, and in the Summer it gets to well over 100 degrees ambient, never mind road surface temperatures), Keke Rosberg used a cooling system in his helmet during the race. It might have made a difference – he won, while a number of faster rivals crashed.

  9. SP says:

    Button would’ve been happy with some heat in those fronts today ;) Mr. Changeable Conditions Man was nowhere today.

  10. Robert Lujan says:

    Awesome!! Sergio Perez was my “Driver of the Race” in Australia and he will be again this vote in Malaysia!! I hope he gets a shot at Massa’s seat at Ferrari. Maybe not this year as the Sauber is better, but next year would be great to see him one! Go Sergio! Viva la Mexico!!

  11. Sebastian says:

    Caffeine after eating improves energy uptake and also helps prevent muscle fatigue, I would guess this is as important as the increase in mental focus.

  12. franed says:

    Brilliant commentary James, I almost didn’t miss the picture. Pls tell Jaime not to mumble, he is difficult enough to understand anyway, let alone when he has a blanket over his head.
    You can still get live timing to go with the R5Live commentary http://www.formula1.com/live_timing/live_timing_popup.html, it makes all the difference.
    Today the web audio stream was half a second ahead of the digi radio.

  13. Robert Gunning says:

    Don’t know whether this sounds a bit stupid, but if it gets hot why not have tea or coffee put in the drinks bottle in these races; then it won’t be a problem.

  14. Kevin says:

    I cant see why all cars cant have sophisticated driver cooling systems. KERS can regenerate more energy then they are allowed to use through the electric motor (I assume). Therefore couldn’t surplus energy be used to cool the drivers. Given that all cars carry ballast anyway, the only downside would be a slight shift upwards in weight distribution (the lower the centre of gravity the better). Surely such a system would have performance merits if the drivers are ‘crying with pain in the cockpit’.

    1. Sebastian says:

      You’ll probably find it was a figure of speech… :)

      1. Kevin says:

        JA would never stoop to using a ‘figure of speech’ to fill his hungry beast of a blog. Hyperbole Is tool of the tabloid and beneath proper journalistice integrity. Before I forget I believe the entire quote was “I’ve heard drivers say that they are almost crying with pain in the cockpit in the closing stages of the Singapore….”, so I think you will find it wasn’t a figure of speech. ;p

    2. Alex W says:

      good idea using excess kers….

    3. conor says:

      That’s a pretty good idea, I take it there’s some sort of regulation limiting KERS to engine related stuff?

      1. Gallagher says:

        I guess there is no problem about seweing energy if the energy transferred to the wheels doesnt exceed what the reglament states.

        The real problem is that a cooling device for cooling air would be increased weight.
        If you think on having a fan, for cooling purposes, you will have all the other teams screaming “moveable devide” in less than a tenth of a second…

        For me the best solution is a cooling vest like this one:
        http://www.coolvest.com/RPCM_Cooling_Vest/RPCM_Concealable_Cool_Vest.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
        “. They maintain a cool, constant 59°F temperature for up to 2 1/2 hours, weigh less than 5 lbs., and recharge in minutes.”

  15. clairvoyant says:

    hello everyone,does anybody know where i can find
    a bottle like the one that Button is holding ,with this elastic straw that is fitted on ?

  16. Mike84 says:

    Why are they allowed to take any substance that affects their peformance — i.e. caffeine ? Just too hard to police it, since there’s some caffeine in normal foods? Sugary food or drink can also make a diff, but what if they started munching on coca leaves in the garage pre-race?

    Are F1 drivers blood-tested after each race like other sportsmen? Then they could check for abnormal levels of caffeine, or even sugar.

    1. James 2.0 says:

      Abnormal levels of sugar? Are you serious?

  17. Mike84 says:

    Do Red Bull drivers drink that during the race? if not… maybe they should market their real energy drink.

  18. I run a soft drinks supplier and our customer is Absolute Taste catering, owned by McLaren. We sell them water to be sent to F1 races (within shipping distance) and all of these points are brilliant reading. Sounds like coconut water would be great for these guys too as it is really high in potassium.

    Perhaps we should set up an F1 hydration forum for the knowledgeable fans!

  19. Jeff in Ohio says:

    Even NASCAR uses cool suits to keep drivers comfortable.

    Jeff in Ohio

  20. chris green says:

    hi james

    just wondering – is caffeine legal?

  21. Harv says:

    I know might be a late question, but James, when the drivers are weighed after the race, is there a range of weight they are allowed to be? I guess their weight and the car needs to be a minimum weight, but how strict is that regulation? Do they need to be a minimum weight to the e.g. 0.1kg, or do they have a couple of kilo leeway, since it’s hard to be exactly sure how much weight they will lose during the race (though obviously most of the sweat will be absorbed by their race gear, and not lost weight)?

    1. James Allen says:

      No. Their weight is what it is and added to the weight of the car needs to be above the minimum weight limit

      1. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

        James – is there any chance you could do some profiling of the drivers weights/sizes? Everyone knows there are different sizes affecting car designs, but it is hard to guage on TV if your favourite driver is a midget or a normal human size.

      2. Sonnie says:

        Is this why they drive on the dirty side before parking in Parc Ferme at the end of the race: to increase the weight of the cars by the additional ‘tread’ on the tyres?

      3. Oh! Such cynicism from one of tender years…

  22. Sonnie says:

    I’m going to assume that you are referring to the ‘tender years’ of my knowledge of F1 given that I heard about the ‘driving on the dirty side’ technique when Button was driving around picking up ‘weight’ during his 2009 championship season and have only discovered James’s site relatively recently.

    P.S. JA – thanks for including my photos on your Caterham Flickr page – I seem to be monopolising it.

    1. James Allen says:

      We love your photos – keep ‘em coming!

  23. Ron Grable says:

    Are the engineers so concerned with weight, that drivers can’t wear a cool suit? Keeping the driver more comfortable would seem worth the weight penalty, especially late in the race.

  24. Richard says:

    What if it goes wrong?

  25. Willie-B says:

    After reading about the level of pain the drivers experience, I am wondering if they are using the “Earthing Mats” and related technology, like the American Tour de France team has been doing in several recent years?

    It could really relieve the pain and potentially help many other things as well.

  26. mike says:

    The drivers will wear an ice vest, cooling vest before the race to try to pre-cool and lower their skin and core temps a little, this will help them to sweat less during the course of the race and stay as hydrated as possible.

    http://www.icevests.com.au/ice-vests-blue-c-14.html?
    Jensen Button often wears one.

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