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Tennis players fitter than F1 drivers, says top driver trainer
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 Jul 2012   |  3:11 pm GMT  |  217 comments

Nick Harris, one of the leading driver fitness trainers in F1 and an old friend of, and contributor to, the JA on F1 site has been speaking about the age old question of how fit F1 drivers are relative to other sportsmen.

Harris also works with two of the leading tennis players currently competing at Wimbledon and, speaking at the launch on Monday of a new range of sports clothing based on the lessons he has learned from working with top athletes, he said that although F1 is uniquely brutal in its demands on the driver, tennis is a more physically demanding sport than F1 because the athletes have no idea how long they will be on court for and may rack up many hours with the next match coming soon after the last.

Who’s fitter the F1 driver or the tennis player?

“It is very specific. For sheer exertion over 90 minutes then Formula 1 is the most demanding. You are sat in a cockpit with 50 degree temperatures, race suit and helmet on. You are pulling over five times gravity, making decisions. It is an absolute oven and it puts the body under unique mental and physical stresses. No other sport can replicate.

“Tennis, especially the men’s game now, has to be one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. Look at Djovokic in the Australian Open. He took 5 hours to beat Murray in the semi-finals then beat Nadal in six hours in the final 48 hours later. That’s 11 hours of competition in two days and yet it’s explosive, stop start. To manage the energy is a huge challenge.

Because of that, I’d say tennis players are fitter.”

You’ve worked over the last 15 years with Mark Webber, Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard, Nico Hulkenberg and even briefly Jenson Button as well as some of the top tennis names. So what’s the sports clothing all about?
“I started producing items for my clients to train in and the feedback was fantastic. Whatever your fitness goal, when you push the body to the limit the clothing that you wear can have a big impact on your performance and recovery.

“Compression wear for example; when you are working aerobically the blood leaves the heart under pressure but returns under low pressure. So if we can increase the ability of the blood to return to the heart we can pick up more oxygen and it will go out as an energy source to regenerate muscle and reduce fatigue. Compression clothing is important to increase performance and recovery.”

HPE Clothing can be seen at Westfield, London and online at www.hpeclothing.com

We have one of Nick’s tops to give away as competition prizes. Simply predict what the gap will be in fractions of a second in qualifying between two of Nick’s former clients Jenson Button and Mark Webber in this weekend’s British Grand Prix and in whose favour. The closest to the exact result will win the prize.

Leave your answers in the comments section below.

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I don't think you can look past AFL footballers, especially the midfielders. Four quarters of up to 30 minutes each, often in torrential rain or baking temperatures, with flights of up to 5 or 6 hours to get to some venues ... and the same to go home again. And that's after having eighteen other guys trying to jump on your head for the whole game.

Englebert Humperdink

AFL? they run for 15 seconds then have a rest for 5 minutes. F1 drivers dont get a break for 1 second in 90 minutes (and at 5 times the g force and at 50 dgrees heat inside the suit). Oh and every sportperson flies for hours to get there.


It's been tested. Several years ago they did a fitness test between an afl player and an f1 driver in the lead up to the Melbourne gp. It was broadcast on tellie in Australia. Sadly my memory sucks and I can't recall who was involved, but I think it was Trulli. The f1 driver won hands down.


I think push bike riders in the Tour de France win the prize for being the fittest of any athlete in the world.

Justin Bieber

I would agree if it wasn't for all those doping scandal..





Yes, I would think so too. In terms of physical fittness the cyclists should be top. When looking at both physical and mental fittness things get a bit complicated.

I would say F1 drivers are the fittest. At the end of the day they dont just do a sport. They risk their lives on split second decisions at 200mph in 50C heat over 100mins. Beat that...


drivers fit.....lol.

go back a few years, in fairness f1 drivers are pretty low on the 'fitness' ladder.

Tennis players, footballers, boxers in fact f1 drivers probably come just above snooker players and darts.

unless they do other stuff like Jenson, Webber who i think cycles their fitness is questionable.


A pretty reasonable argument given that for the Yellow jersey contenders, it is totally about fitness. If you are not the fittest you are unlikely to win. To be a top F1 driver or tennis player, you also have to have so many other skills. In cycling there is fitness and tactics, and the latter has a lot of input from the team.


Modern AFL players are gladiators, but watching the top Tennis guys, their fitness is unbeliveable.


AFL players gladiators? I'm an Aussie but this comment is absurd. Almost as silly as the claim above that AFL players are fitter than tennis or F1 drivers because they fly 5 or 6 hours to a game.


I am no fan of AFL, I hate that it floods the papers in Aus, but I think you have never watched a good team play live, they are supremely fit, their GPS telemetry show that their energy levels are on par to many other track sports combined.


Webber by 1.001


I'll admit I'm more familiar with NFL than AFL but NFL games actually involve very little gameplay. For example: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704281204575002852055561406.html

WSJ NFL games have 11 minutes of action

I would argue for hockey being tougher by a long shot.

My guess is 0.134s

Justin Bieber

"I would argue for hockey being tougher by a long shot."

You must be joking right?? The average hockey players have about 20min on the ice. Also during the playoff this year, a player went out and got drunk the night before a game and still played a decent game.

Can you imagine Kimi getting drunk the night before a race? .. ok maybe that wasnt the best example, how about Vettle?

I know you can get a severe beating when you play in the NHL but it has nothing to do with fitness.


Obviously somebody named Bieber knows nothing about hockey. NHL players at the top level will see about 40-45 minutes of ice time per game on average, not including the possibility of multiple overtimes in playoffs, where the breaks between periods get even shorter so that the game can be finished quicker.


please give me a break


That just stupid AFL games are a walk in the park compared to driving a f1 car for 90 minutes . Just stupid


I'm going to go with 0.42s between them with Webber ahead of Jenson.

Krishna Srinivasan

Mark Webber would beat Jenson Button by 0.3 secs...


Mark Webber by .327

Yasser AlMansour

I'm predicting a 0.194 gap


0.431 seconds.


"No matter how much I train to get better at Tennis, I will never be as good as a wall. It's relentless!" Mitch Headberg, comedian.

I think we can all agree that Tenis is nice, but it's just not F1.


Also, may I just say, with Tour de France now on - maybe there is another sport that is just a bit more demanding on the competitors than Tenis. Especially when the riders hit those little "bumps" in the road tagged with every cyclist's two favorite letters: HC


And we sure know how cyclists cope with those 'demands'...


There is not a professional athlete on this planet who does not go for an advantage when possible. They are money making machines asked to do exceptional things every day. They can't do it on corn flakes and protein shakes.

It's naive to think that is what they do.

As for Olympics, forgive they simplification - but beside those who dope, the Olympics is mostly a genetics competition in my view. Many of the sports can be compared to my favorite sports, like who's tallest, who has the most disproportionate torso to lower body ratio, who had the largest feet, etc. Each of those give you an unfair advantage, like Phelps. And it's too bad it's not easy to get taller or grow bigger feet. But don't worry, they are working on it with stretching machines. 🙂

Tom in adelaide

Pretty tough to take cycling seriously though isn't it?


Don't fool yourself into thinking that F1 drivers never got a testosterone boost here or there, or some other fitness enhancing drug. They can afford it, and not like WADA is shadowing F1 drivers. They'd be better of shadowing the defusers and aero kits on the unevenly matched cars.

As for cyclist, let's assume they are all doped up - still, three weeks of suffering in the saddle is not a walk in the park.

tom in adelaide

Alan - hmmm drug cheats in plague proportions perhaps?


I'd be intrigued to hear how an Olympic sprinter compares to both of the above - any ideas?

Reckon Button will be around 0.700 ahead of Webber.


Fitness can be a very specific and quite strange thing, as different sports and activities can place unique demands on performers and then you have individual peculiarities of the performers stacked on top of that.

At the peak of my rugby career, my 100m time was usually in the high 11s but I was unable to jog for more than a couple of km without stopping. That's perhaps to be expected, but harder to explain is that at the same time I could swim or ride a road bike for as long as I wanted (I was horrible at long ascents, though). I also knew some high-level fencers who were phenomenally fit, but were competing with others who looked like they were going to a beer festival afterwards.

It's always a combination of what your sport requires of you and what you bring to the table. Some performers' natural fitness is already well in line with what's required of them, others have to put a lot more work in. I suspect that's why Sebastian Vettel copes so well with the rigours of F1 despite appearing to have the body of a 13 year-old boy. It would be very interesting to see fitness test data of all the drivers.


I am a sprinter. Fitness is exactly that - fitness to complete a discipline. A mountain climber is incredibly fit - to climb mountains. My body would not handle mountain climbing well as my bodyfat is too low and my muscle fibers are predominantly geared towards short explosive work, not endurance.

I think it's quite odd to even try and compare 'fitness' really. I'd easily floor any tennis player or F1 driver over 100m. I suspect over 90 minutes though I'd be embarrassed.

Usain Bolt has struggled to run 5 miles in the past and needs constant massage attention to avoid injury. To use a car analogy 100m sprinters are drag racers, endurance athletes are more like rally cars.

tom in adelaide

Very well put.

christos pallis

Gap 0.221 seconds Webber ahead of Button

Brandon Merrell

Webber quicker than button by .768


Mark Webber faster by 0.760 seconds.

Andrew Burley

Webber fastest by 0.27 seconds


0.127 sec


Webber faster by 0.305s for me.


I see Webber beating Button in qualifying by 0.247 seconds.

(I'm a huge JB fan but those Red Bulls have alarming pace as of late.)


Hmm... I think Nick Harris could have tripped over his own words.

First he notes that over 90 minutes, there isn't a sport as demanding as F1 then at the end of it all says tennis players are fitter ---> This can't be right.

If he deprives this conclusion because of the amount of time tennis players spend on court (in between numerous breaks) then I can confidently say he's totally off the mark.

First off, if tennis players were really fitter then we would have lots of femmes slagging it out with the fellas, or at least he would have a women's only F1 championship, yes or no?

Secondly due to F1's demanding nature to the body & mainly the mind, you have a scenario were it has the cut of time of 90 minutes whereas tennis, they can play till the cows get home and then continue the following day.

Thirdly, if tennis players were fitter, they wouldn't always be suffering from cramps and the like, I for one, am yet to see an F1 driver pull over on the side of the track due issues with his muscles.

In my book, F1 drivers are more fitter than tennis players and the only athletes I consider fitter than F1 drivers include;

1) Middle and heavy weight boxers

2) Weight lifters

3) Marathon/Triathlon athletes

4) Professional cyclists

5) Footballers

Because in the above, if you aren't physically fit, you will most certainly fail whereas with tennis, you can certainly cope with talent alone.


you're way off the mark really.

you don't see f1 drivers pulling over with cramp....because its not as physically demanding.

the act of running alone, and running about constantly, is more demanding than sitting.

yes they are rotating a steering wheel, but it has power steering.

the most physically demanding aspect in f1 would be having to stamp on that brake pedal continously.

ultimately though, they are still in a sat position, and they have periods of time where they are resting, on a lap, on straights.

tennis is stop/start with short stop intervals and you're literally working every part of your body.

its very easy to see why you'd have to be fitter to be a pro tennis player than an f1 driver, frankly.

especially nowadays, where the drivers aren't having to push, like in the refuelling days, and not doing qualifying sprints for an entire race anymore.


I think you seriously underestimate the effect of G forces on the body. It takes a lot of strength and endurance to cope with those Gs over a 90 minute race.

Ever gone karting? If not, then give it a try and then tell me the body doesn't get a workout from racing.


But they're not actually 'sat' are they?

I've tried sitting the way modern F1 drivers sit, with feet almost at at head height, and it's not comfortable, especially in the posterior! (no padding in a racing seat).


I think you're right on the mark. Though the combination of mental concentration, accuracy and fitness is probably highest in an F1 driver, in terms of pure fitness I can't argue with your list above.

I'd add the various special forces regiments from the UK, US etc. Their physical fitness requirements are utterly abnormal, to the point of nearly fatal in some cases.


Footballers fitter than F1 drivers. Haha. I'm going to go for cross-country skiers and triatheletes. Safe bet 😉


Top level motocross riders...?


'More fitter' is enough to make me disregard this comment. I suspect this guy knows a bit more about the issues than yourself. I'll take his word for it.


My 3 year old says: I amn't. Which seems perfectly logical after a pint or two.


Webber by 0.222

Red Bull looked very quick Valencia and Silverstone is a good Webber track.


Webber faster by .467


Webber by 0.205 s


Webber by 0.352


Webber by 0.897 over Jenson.


Webber faster by 0.450 seconds.


webber by 0.400 seconds


Webber ahead of Button by 0.836s.


Webber faster by 0.291 sec


Button by .220


Webber over JB by 0.249s



Webber by 0.516


Im a huge JB fan but what happens if JB goes out in Q2 and MW goes on to the top 10 shootout?

Assuming they both make top 10 (and there is a definite 'if' with JB's current form) then Webber will be ahead by 0.987

It pains me to say it and I hope I am wrong and Jenson can rediscover his form from the first few races.



webber faster by 1.000


Webber faster by 0.650


I would like to try this piece of gear.

Webber ahead of Button by 0.666 s


Mark Webber by 0.119s


Button by 0.150


Tennis players fitter than F1 drivers?

In other news: Pope admits Catholicism, and bear seen carrying Andrex into the woods.

Stephen green

Button by 0.101 sec


I recon Webber ahead by 0.810.


Webber faster then Jenson by 1.285 sec


Webber faster by 0.530


Comparing F1 drivers with tennis players are like comparing apples and oranges.

Webber faster by 705 seconds.


Well, what about boxers? It's like you run a marathon and get punch in the face every meter.

If you look at what boxers do in training, it does look more impressive for untrained eyes.


I could not help thinking during the Queen's Jubilee flotilla thingy that some of the boat had been rowed from 6 in the morning to mid afternoon almost no stop in fact I think some were rowing for 11 hour in all. Of course this is put in the shade by mad people rowing across oceans.

There must be a formula somewhere. Involving time, work, g-force and temperature.

Then look at polar explorers who loose half their body weight pulling sledges for weeks at a time.

All in all a very difficult comparison.


Webber by 0.611s

Ollie Holland

Webber by 0.486.


Webber by 1.29s

'...I’d say tennis players are fitter...'

Maybe an expert's opinion but it would have more credence if couched in scientific, objective terms and backed up with hard data.


0.155 seconds. With JB in front!!!

Vikram Muthyam

Mark Webber by 0.424s


Webber by 0.238


I am completely 100% sure Webber will be exactly 0.159s faster (±1s in the dry or ±4s if it is wet)


I reckon Mark might put it on pole. 0.763s the gap.


Button quicker than Webber by 0.150


Webber ahead by 0.453 - if they both make it to Q3


Webber quicker by 0.313s.


Webber by 0.644


I'd go with Mark being .550 seconds ahead of Jenson.


button 0.231


Well this is all very subjective as there's no one metric for fitness. When I was at school I think there were 4 or 5 components but I read that scientists now consider there to be nine! That's confused further still if you when you throw in mental aspect of driving at 200mph and try and compare that with mental aspect of, say, avoiding being battered in a boxing ring.

Fortunately this "argument" created one of the greatest sports, triathlon and more so iron-man, as key protagonists discussed who was fitter, runners, cyclists or swimmers. Not sure we got an answer then!

so, one has to say this is a rather thinly veiled excuse to get some coverage and advertise the new clothing line than a serious story.

nice looking threads btw


for the comp, Webber to make Q3, Button to hit the lofty heights of 12th and miss out.


wonder how you are going to work this out James. Button 18th and out in Q1!!!!


Webber .757 ahead of Button

Jonathan De Andrade

Webber quicker by 0.326

Christian Horner

Webber by 0.302

Ashish Sharma

Button will not make it to Q3. In q2 Webber will be 0.8 seconds faster


Webber ahead by 0.138 sec


Webber by 0.801


Webber by 0.876


Webber > Button by 0.235 seconds


Webber by 0.497


Webber quicker by .0466 seconds. Jenson just not in the groove at the moment


I think it will be .360 sec.


In favor of Mark Webber.

Marcus Lindblom

Button up on Webber with .163 sec.

Paul du Maître

Vote of confidence for Button: 0.15 secs ahead of Webber


webber by .316


Webber 1.327 ahead. In Q2. Sorry Button. Hope I'm wrong.


Webber by 0.18 seconds


0.127 in Mark's favor

Christopher Conover

Button over Webber by .082 It is Button's home race after all.


Webber ahead of Button by .420


For the comp - a nice big fat half a second (0.5 sec).


webber by 0.506


Webbo over JB by 0.221s


Mark Webber to beat JB by 0.413 seconds.


Button ahead of Webber by 0.14

Edouard Valentino

Webber faster than Button by .164s


Webber by 0.484 seconds


Gap will be 0.412 sec (webber on top) for a Q3 comparison


Webber by 0.19


I'm going for Button by .127


Webber faster than Button by 0.319 secs


I guess will be .360 sec.


Let's go crazy...Webber by 1.194 sec


Cummon Webber, by 0.197 seconds


Webber by 0.248


With the whole fitness thing, I don't think you can compare unless you put all athletes against each other in a similar event. There was such an event in Australia, they did the "Australia's fittest athlete" challenge on tv. There were v8 racing drivers going against soccer (football), rugby league, AFL, athletics. I was impressed to see the V8 racers such as Craig Lowndes perform extremely well, winning in some of the disciplines proving that racing drivers are indeed fit compared to their disciplines. Athletes train specifically for what their discipline needs, be that explosive movement (sprinters, tennis), strength and stamina ( rugby and afl), hand eye coordination (ok pretty much everything except maybe triathlon). The racing drivers were consistently well positioned in the different challenges, I don't think they took it out overall, but we're ranked very high in the end.


Rugby League has taken it the last couple of years. Billy Slater. I'd pitch him against any F1 or Tennis Player in this type competition.

Just wish he didn't play so well for QLD.


Webber faster by 0.702 seconds


Webbo by .812 seconds


I say Webber over Button by 0.874


How did guys like James Hunt and Keke Rosberg used to win world championships whilst they smoked cigys all day and partied all night? I guess things must have changed a bit. Did proffessional tennis players used to behave that way in the 70's and 80's?

Jamie Cottage



Webber by 0.4s


Great competition! I'm going to guess Button is 0.353 quicker than Webber.


Webber ahead of Button by 0.474 sec

Paul Solomons

Rafael Nadal stops playing when it rains.

Michael Schumacher starts playing when it rains.

Webber by 0.087


Webber by .436


Button faster by .345


Hi James.

0.123 with Jenson faster.



I'm gonna go for Jenson by 0.129 secs 🙂


Webber by .232


jenson by .222 over weber


Webber ahead of Jenson by 0.380


Mark by 0.638


webber ahead by 0.466


Webber by .243 seconds


Webber by 0.674


Button beating webber by .314s


Webber ahead by 0.385


Webber by .176

RDS Motorsport

Webber ahead by 0.032


Webber by 0.648


Not sure how fit are F1 drivers, but if you check Alonsos twitter everyday, he does a huge amount of training.


Tennis is great and all but let me ask you one question. Can tennis rev to 18000 RPM? I rest my case

Lachlan Mackinnon

Webber ahead by 0.672s

Vaughan Morris

Webber by 0.267 🙂


MW on top,

0.150secs faster than JB


Webber ahead by 0.234


Button 0.234 ahead of Webber


Button by a tenth of a sec.


Although the tennis matches can last 5-6 hours, and yes I do remember Isner vs Mahut, they are not active for all of that time. There are breaks between every point, every failed serve, it all adds up.

Anyway, Webber to beat Jenson by 0.543 seconds


Webber by 0.250 seconds.


Webber beats Button by 0.375s


Button by 0.194


JB ahead by 0.165


Webber ahead of button by 0.57secs


Button by 0.079


Webber by 0.432


Button faster 0.255


I think 0.271


Webber by 0.241


Webber ahead of button by 0.341seconds


Ha, you are all wrong...

John Cena is the fittest of them all...

In one year, 290 days working, on tour... wrestling and fighting.... Unexplainable rules...:-)


Webber over Button by 1.03secs - possibly due to McLaren gaff pit stop not letting Jens put a final time in 🙂


Webber by 0.009

someone had to squeeze it up a bit.


Webber by 0.132

Adrian Setterfield

Webber ahead by .505 seconds


Button by 0.311 seconds.



Webber, by 0.748s


webber beats JB by 0.332


Webber > Button by 0.562


is this only in Q3? as i predict they won't both get through...!!

however, in the highest session that they both enter, webber ahead by 0.331s


I'm a Red Bull fan, but since it will be raining I have to go that Button is .456 faster than webber in Q2, Webber wont make it to Q3


Webber over Button by 0.493


Webber by 0.909


Webber by 0.666 sec.


Button by 0.165s


equal times


I'll go .582 In Webbers favour


Mark will be faster than Jenson. 0.824


Webber by 0.256


webber by 0.511s


webber by 0,472


Webber ahead by 0.365 sec.


Button by 0.324


Webber by 0.465


webber by 0.92 seconds


Button is .007


Webber by 0.370

Slaven Niksic

webber ahead of button by 0.565


I reckon there will be a 0.323 second gap 🙂


Webber ahead of Button by 0.384


Webber by 0.387


Webber by .837


Great thread. As a former competitive cyclist, I want to respond to the "doping" comments above. Cyclists "dope" not to stop the pain, but to put their bodies into performance levels that are impossible to achieve naturally. Genetically you just can't HAVE that many red blood cells in your body, because it causes strokes and heart attacks - so lower levels have become "safer" by natural selection. But for cyclists (some of whom do die from the above) it is worth it to win, or so they think - never done it myself as I was an amateur. But cyclist literally have been known to ride until they die of cardiac arrest in competition, which as far as I know no AFLer, fencer, or tennis player has done. My money is on the cyclists, followed closely by cross-country skiers (who cross-train as cyclists often).

Button over Webber, by 0.08. Only because Webber will have KERS or other issues on at least part of the lap...


Button by 0.080 seconds


Its like you read my thoughts! You appear to grasp a lot about this, such as you wrote the ebook in it or something. I think that you could do with a few p.c. to drive the message house a bit, however other than that, this is fantastic blog. An excellent read. I will definitely be back.

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