• Formula Money

Barrichello's busman's holiday

Christian Sylt and Caroline Reid
August 16, 2011
Rubens Barrichello combines his training with family holidays © Rubens Barrichello
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Many F1 drivers have well-known training regimes. Jenson Button famously frequently takes part in triathlons which involve 1.9km swim followed by a 90km cycle ride. Mark Webber is renowned for being a cycling fanatic who broke his leg in 2008 during a mountain bike competition in Australia. Having raced in more Grands Prix than any other driver it's no surprise that Rubens Barrichello's training schedule is a little different to that of his colleagues. He can be found in Florida's theme parks preparing for racing but the exercise is far from Mickey Mouse.

Barrichello is a theme park fanatic and has been a regular visitor to the Disney World complex in Orlando for over 25 years. He has already been there several times this year and flew from Orlando to last month's British Grand Prix.

From his Twitter page Barrichello has linked to photos of him and his family standing in front of the world-famous Cinderella castle and there's good reason that he enjoys it. Despite the castle sitting inside the Magic Kingdom, the world's busiest theme park with an estimated 17m visitors last year, Barrichello doesn't get mobbed by fans there due to F1's low profile in the United States. "It's very peaceful and my kids enjoy it so much," he says.

Sport is never far from Barrichello's mind, even when he is on holiday, but in January last year he began to mix business with pleasure when he ran a half marathon from Epcot, Disney's science-themed park, to the Magic Kingdom. "I did it for pleasure and fitness," says Barrichello adding "it was my first one." Despite this, he still finished in 1,671st place out of 17,143 runners but was pipped to the post by another famous face from F1.

Former Jaguar driver Luciano Burti ran with Barrichello but was ranked 1,383rd. They had an unexpected factor hampering progress as the weather in Orlando was far from what would usually be expected of the 'sunshine state.' Instead, temperatures hovered around zero during the race as the runners were pelted with snow and rain. It didn't put Barrichello off and he ran again this year finishing in an improved 1,208th place.

Jenson Button uses triathlons to maintain fitness © Getty Images

It might seem a long way away from the corners of Spa or Silverstone, but there is more overlap than is immediately apparent. One of the best ways for a driver to prepare for the demands of a Grand Prix is through intensive cardio-vascular training such as distance running and swimming and a marathon runner and F1 driver require many of the same skills.

Forces generated by cornering in an F1 car regularly reach 4G - four times the force of gravity - with some of the most extreme corners reaching 5.5G. In an accident the forces can be many times higher: Robert Kubica faced peak forces of 75G during his crash at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix. This is one of the main reasons that drivers need to be supremely fit and strong.

While a normal person has a resting heart rate of around 60 beats per minute, rising to around 150 during a run on the treadmill, top racing drivers typically have a resting rate of 40 beats per minute, rising to more than 200 during a Grand Prix. This is approximately the same rate experienced by a marathon runner crossing the finish line. In addition to this, through their strict training regimes drivers end up with a similar physique to long distance runners and both sets of athletes maintain a body fat ratio of around just 7%, compared to about 21% for the average man.

Then there's also the heat to consider. At the hottest races, such as Malaysia, temperatures in the cockpit can reach almost 60 degrees Celsius with humidity of as much as 80%. This puts a vast strain on the drivers and they can sweat off as much as 3.5kg of their body weight during a race. It's for this reason that drivers also drink large amounts of liquid on the grid, even if they don't feel thirsty. Even a slight loss of body fluid can cause lapses in concentration, which are potentially fatal at 200mph, so it's vital that drivers get used to these extreme conditions during training. The level of endurance needed to complete a Grand Prix has been compared to that required to run a marathon, so it's no surprise that drivers such as Barrichello turn to running for practice.

Fitness is therefore vital for mental as well as physical reasons. According to Nick Harris, who worked with Barrichello at the Stewart team and now runs Human Performance Engineering which is a partner of Team Lotus, "the more conditioned a driver is, the longer he can maintain his ability. They're amazingly gifted, but there is more to it. You can be the best footballer in the world, but if you aren't fit enough, in the last 20 minutes of the match you will start to make lots of mistakes. You can be an amazing driver, but over 60 laps if you can't maintain that ability you won't do yourself or the team justice. When a driver is conditioned he can maintain his ability for longer. If a driver feels tired in the car he will begin to think of negative things and a lapse of concentration can occur."

Running marathons will aid Rubens Barrichello's fitness and concentration during grands prix © Sutton Images

The marathon complemented Barrichello's usual training regimen and the driver explains that "because of F1 I have to be well prepared but I had never run such a long distance. I had to alter my training a little but at the end it was good fun and it was good for me."

That wasn't the only thing that Barrichello enjoyed while he was in Orlando. Being in the vacation capital of the world meant that there were endless opportunities to recuperate and Barrichello's favourite Disney attraction, Soarin', is as peaceful as they come. The ride is a simulated hang glider ride over some of America's most well-known landscapes and landmarks with a sweeping orchestral score and smells of pine and orange piped in as the glider swoops over forests and groves.

Disney has been pioneering attractions in Orlando since the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971 at a ceremony attended by celebrities including Bob Hope, Julie Andrews and coincidentally Barrichello's former team boss Sir Jackie Stewart. However it can be just as much of a fantasyland for adults as it is for children.

"The golf is also great," says Barrichello and testimony to this, a round of the PGA Tour has been held on one of Disney's five courses in each of the past 40 years. There's also a motor racing connection. Tourists who want to get a taste of what it is like to do Barrichello's job head to the Richard Petty driving experience. It takes place on a the same one mile tri-oval Speedway which held the first race of F1's American rival IndyCar in 1996 and it was also home to one of US driver Danica Patrick's first Nascar stock car tests.

There are no illusions here and the only reminder that it is in Disney World are the spires of Cinderella's castle which rise in the distance. But for Barrichello there is a serious side to everything. Drivers need to keep training even when away so that they don't lose their competitive edge. A busy schedule makes this all the trickier and according to Nick Harris, drivers "run the risk of having not enough time for a full session, and if you train too hard you will be too sore and tired when you get to the track. So if you can somehow achieve the maximum goals in the shortest timeframe, that is the best situation for the driver. So using a scientific framework, we make sure we don't leave that to chance. We need to maximise a driver's time."

So although it's not quite all work and no play, an F1 driver's life away from the track is certainly not just one big holiday.