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JA on F1 podcast 3: How to get the most out of a Formula 1 driver
Posted By: James Allen  |  30 Apr 2012   |  2:13 pm GMT  |  38 comments

The new JA on F1 podcast is out today. This month, with a lot of talk about whether the F1 drivers are able to push to the maximum with the current regulations, we take a look at the wider subject of how to get the most out of an F1 driver.

Very often you’ll hear that a driver “didn’t get the maximum” from a qualifying session or a race. So why does this happen? How do you avoid on-days and off-days, what are the secrets in terms of preparation, work with engineers and so on? Can a driver be allowed to have favourite tracks, where he always performs, and others where he struggles?

We speak to two F1 drivers, who have had varying experiences of this: Heikki Kovalainen got a dream drive with McLaren but found he couldn’t deliver, for a variety of reasons. Here he analyses that experience and how it helped him to deliver now for Caterham. Jaime Alguersuari was thrown into F1 aged 19, with no testing and had to learn the hard way what it takes to get the most from yourself as a driver.

Veteran engineer Frank Dernie was entrusted with teaching a 22 year Michael Schumacher how to be an F1 driver at Benetton in the 1990s, he gives us some fascinating insights into why drivers succeed and fail in F1.

Nick Harris has worked for Williams, Jaguar Racing and Red Bull and trained Mark Webber, David Coulthard, Eddie Irvine and Nico Hulkenberg as well as top tennis players and other elite athletes. He provides a unique insight into what it takes on the physical and mental side to iron out a driver’s weak spots so he delivers 100% every time.

And what about the accusations that the drivers can’t get the best from themselves at the moment on the tyres they’re being given? Pirelli boss Paul Hembery answers back to Michael Schumacher’s criticisms.

At the end of every month we produce a new podcast with input from names in the sport as well as from other figures you don’t get to hear so often. We aim to give F1 fans a rounded insight, bringing them closer to the sport. Thanks to our partners at UBS for making this possible.

You can listen to it here or download it. It is also available to download on ITunes by searching for James Allen on F1. If you like it please rate it or leave comments on ITunes. That will help a lot!

Please also leave us your comments below.

No player? Download the podcast directly.

May podcast

0.00 Introduction
1.52 Heikki Kovalainen
5.23 Frank Dernie
13.55 Jamie Alguersuari
18.51 Driver Trainer Nick Harris
27.35 Frank Dernie on driver preparation and motivation
28.55 Pirelli’s Paul Hembery

Total duration: 35.00

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

Took awhile for me to get around and listen to your podcast James, but I can assure you that in the future, I will rectify that mistake.

Great stuff!


HI James,

Love your work, cant wait for 4


Nice story – thank you

I think the mental preparation that athletes go through is one of the most fascinating areas of modern sport, and one that will continue to develop as we make further gains in the understanding of the brain

Through some brief observations, I get the feeling that Vettel is one of the best of the current young breed at this. As an example, he seems to spends a significant amount of time in the cockpit (eyes closed) visualizing what he is about to perform – and he follows this with taking an extra moment when on podiums (e.g. in Australia this year) to take in the moment and (I assume) to use this to motivate him as he trains through the year.

James, if you get the chance again over the year, I would love to hear some more details on driver mental preparation technique


Next up, how the finances in Formula 1 work, like ad revenues, what % the drivers are paid (of total revenues or costs)É


Thank you for putting together a wonderful show. As a fan in the United States its great to hear the stories behind the scenes. I would love to hear a show that is about the aspects of F1 returning to the United States> I would enjoy hearing from the new American Caterham test driver, Alexander Rossi and the group behind the Austin GP as well as the proposed NY GP.

Keep up the great work!


We plan to do that. Stay tuned!


Great podcast as always James.

Any chance of trying to persuade those buffoons at the Ten Network Australia to revert back to a live HD coverage of the races?

Regards from a wet old Melbourne.


Yes, that was very strange. Why did they move it off their One HD channel?


Bahrain 15 overtaking maneouveres previously, 76 this year and that is great? So we get excited over overtaking due to virtually everything other than driver skill. I guess its great when your favourite driver overtakes regardless of how he manages it.


James , Your top drawer website and podcast are essentials for a genuine F1 fan , Thank you

for this podcast ; Keep them coming Please

Adrian Newey Jnr


Keep up the great podcasts. Who needs the official broadcasters when you have podcasts to keep you informed!

Jamie continues to impress with his insight.

Nic Maennling

How to get the most out of an F1 driver ? Programme his brain to be like that of Gilles Villeneuve.


That will be brilliant for the viewers, but then you need to triple the pit stop crew, because every third – fourth round they will need to replace tyres. I am a bit young for Gilles, but as far as I remember, he was one of the drivers that squeezed every ounce of performance from the cars that he have driven.


Understandably Paul Hembery is very protective of Pirelli and their products which he is paid to be as part of his duties for that company. The argument really is not with Pirelli, although they are likely to get the flack for it, but with the owners of F1 who chase television ratings, and we are reliably imformed so that they can show growth in their stock. Naturally any one that is remotely connected with broadcasting has to follow suit in a positive way to ensure their positions. Oh dear what about the sport!? Whatever happened to REAL racing on PROPER tyres fit for F1. To return to Paul Hembury he has misunderstood or sidestepped what Michael Schumacher had to say, and quite clearly in a few instances was quite misleading. I don’t think Schumachers comments were necessarily about his current form, but more a general observation of the role the current tyres play in the spost and one I whole heartedly agree with. I and many others it seems want to see proper hard racing with genuine overtakes where drivers can push their cars to limit not of the tyres, but of themselves and the car. The podcast was of the usual high standard we expect from James Allen which both enlightened, and comfirmed many of my own thoughts.


Hi Richard,

I feel the first problem is there is no agreement with what “REAL” racing is. There was a general dislike of fuel strategy racing, as overtaking was scheduled for the pitstops. If we go to 2010, without refuelling, once the F-duct effect was removed mid-season, the races had little overtaking in them. Qualifying and the start essentially determined the outcome.

If you want F1 cars to be fast (with the best drivers), they are going to need aerodynamics, otherwise we will be watching V8 supercars. A greater proportion from ground effects would probably help a little with the following problem. Using suction fans would be more effective. Qualifying puts the fastest cars at the front. If the tyres are really good, that is guaranteed. The race starts and the fastest cars, pull away.

The engines are basically the same relative performance in the race and qualifying so there is no differentiator there. Reliability is much greater than it used to be. Average driving skill has increased I believe.

Where is this racing that you talk about going to come from if the tyres aren’t a performance discriminator? Basically a driver in one of the best cars making a recovery from a poor start. If the tyres can handle flat out driving all the way then all the drivers will drive flat out the whole time. They train for this, so the mistake rate isn’t going to change, and things like Webber’s near take off in China probably wouldn’t happen. The drivers are are currently still trying to optimise every corner now, it is just that the optimisation includes wear. It means the driver has to think more.

If you look at MotoGP these last few years, the racing has been pretty poor. The fastest riders get to the front with a few laps and then lap faster than those behind. If one overcooks the tyres slightly, they might get passed again, but holding them off is rarely possible. In F1 the situation without KERS and DRS would often be one of being stuck behind the other driver unable to pass as the performance differential isn’t great enough.

If you look at the race times, F1 is closer then it has ever been. The “golden years” of the 60s and 70s, 80s were largely drivers performing at a lower level than what we have now as the cars wouldn’t last. Winning margins of more than 30s were really common. I bet Bernie is dreaming of that.




Well no doubt there are differing opinions as to what racing is, but I know this is not it. I think one has to go back to the basic instinct that most drivers will have of racing to the limit of the car and their inherent talent. Personally I would go back to re-fuelling and fairly durable tyres; just make the refuelling a bit safer. Teams have always used pit stops as a means for overtaking and still do. Those that have the slickest pit crews, baring technical issues, usually win out. Aerodynamics I think it is a question of degree, and rather than make the tyres degrade quickly aero needs to be restricted as it is getting increasingly difficult to produce a winning car because of this complexity. Qualifying is an essential element to a race weekend otherwise race starts would be extremely chaotic. Engines while broadly similar do have varying power outputs with the Mercedes being slightly higher than say Renault however there have been other aspects that nullify the advantage like less drag, etc. Better racing would ensue from fairly durable tyres, and restricted aero putting more emphasis on mechanical grip and driver skill. Currently the driving smoother and more slowly with no high energy inputs conserves the tyres. – Unsatisfying to watch and to participate in. I have no real problem with DRS or KERS as they are performance enhancers, but high deg tyres just ruin proper racing.


I have no problem with the cars transmission particularly, but I fear manual gearboxes and clutches might be a step too far which would reduce performance. I’m not particularly against driver aids as long as they have a positive effect on performance. F1 is at the forefront of technology which I welcome, but not when it is used to reduce performance as in high deg. tyres, it’s using technology as an unfair and unsatisfying discriminator.


100% agree with you, but maybe should also consider reverting back to manual gearboxes and clutches, remove all driver assistance technology etc. This will definitely separate the drivers who can from the rest.


Hi James,

Mate, absolutely cracking podcast!!

Any chance that we might get more than one a month from time to time?????

Would be great to get one with all the latest info after the next round of testing!

Thanks again mate!




Hi James,

Any indication when this will be uploaded onto i-tunes?

Doesn’t seem to be there yet.


Should be there..


It’s still not on iTunes as yet James?

Listened to it here on the website instead 🙂


Yes, it’s there. We had a problem overnight but it’s sorted now. Thanks


Thanks James- another great piece of work; real insight in to the world of F1. I like the idea that one of the main things a new driver has to do is ‘learn to lose’. Also intriguing that MS started with no interest in testing but ended up being famous for ensuring that the car (and tyres) were designed to his needs.


Sports figures; always somehow capable of exceeding the 100% maximum level when referencing an amount of contribution.


The respondents missed the point. This comment was merely pointing out how sports figures love to pick arbitrary and absurd numbers above 100 when suggesting the amount of contribution given in their performances, failing to recognize that one only has 100% to give, out of a 100% maximum. You can’t give beyond everything. Yet sports figures are always giving “110%”and “120%.” it’s comically rampant in sports interviews and heard on two occasions here.


Drivers can push to the maximum, but sadly that maximum is mandated by the artifically fragile tyres and not their ability or that of the wider car.


Some people will just jump on a bandwagon.

It’s exactly the driver’s and car’s ability that determine how much they can push on this tyres, rather then having tyres than any chump can floor to the max and drive around for 70 laps, regardless of his skill and car’s performance and setup.

I think this tyres have actually given us one more channel for bringing back the driver into equation, rather than just a car.

Car will always matter, but with this Pirelli tyres, drivers can make a difference too.


Not so the performance is truncated by high deg. tyres because they degrade at high temperatures induced by high energy levels, therefore the driver and the car must conserve the tyre to avoid pitting too early. The better the car balance the less it impacts on the tyres, but they will not withstand sustained high energy driving necessary to play catch up in any determined way as it is only degradation in the tyres of others that allow it.


Great podcast as always, James! Keep it up!


By the way Mr Allen thats a very good shot of Heikki total concentration love it.



Here’s a link to your podcast on iTunes:





Cant see it in the RSS feed yet.

Stanislav Dinev

Great podcast James. Love this site … keep them coming 🙂


Heikki is a great driver.


Quality production.

Do you think there is anything to these Webber and Ferrari rumours?


Great podcast, cheers James.


Heikki looks very Sontaran in the picture.

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