You could be the greatest race car driver in the world, but you will never make it in Formula One if you aren't the right size and weight. Too tall or too big, and you simply won't fit in the undersized cockpits. Too heavy, and you slow the car down.
Too light, and the team has to add weight to the cockpit to make the minimum, and you might not be strong enough to endure the grueling nature of 90 minutes in an overheated car while experiencing extreme G-forces. Insider spoke with Williams F1 driver Alex Albon and his trainer about the challenges drivers face to keep their weight at the optimum level for going fast, especially for taller drivers. Now, to be clear: When talking about "taller" in F1, we don't mean the 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-8 athletes you'll find in other sports.
Albon stands 6-foot-2 and is considered taller than ideal. "In our sport, being taller only hinders you," Albon told Insider. "These cars are built to be as compact as possible.
The cars are designed not for 6-foot-2 athletes. They're designed for 5-foot-7, 5-foot-8 preferably. [Those drivers] fit much better in the car right now.
[Taller drivers are] kind of arched over. Your knees are touching the top of the car. Your hands are in the way of your feet.
"So, it's all tricky. You get put in a position that's, to be honest, very uncomfortable. " According to Albon, he's used to shoving his long frame into the tiny cockpit; it's something he has done since he was 16, when he started his open-wheel racing career in Formula 4 in 2012.
However, the more formidable challenge is the managing the weight that comes with being taller. F1 recently changed the minimum weight for drivers to 80 kg (176 pounds), including what they wear. The gear and equipment on the driver during a race weigh approximately seven kilos (15 pounds).
That means the drivers' actual minimum weight is 73 kilos (161 pounds). Carrying extra weight, of course, slows the car down, so teams want their drivers as light as possible. That means the drivers are pushed to land at or below the 161-pound minimum (if they go under, ballasts are added to the cockpit to reach the minimum).
The challenge for taller drivers to land exactly at 73 kilos comes in two phases. According to McLaren Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo, there is constant training in the off-season when most fans might think the drivers are vacationing. "In the preseason, where you are really trying to build yourself up, we'll train, I guess, six days a week," Ricciardo told Insider.
"It's kind of a session in the morning, session in the evening, and that'll be a mixture of cardio training, strength training. I would say we need good all-round fitness. Like, that's the best way to kind of sum it up for an F1 driver.
You don't need to be a triathlete or a bodybuilder, but you need just good all-round strength and conditioning. " However, muscle adds weight, so leading into the season, the demand is to keep the weight down to 73 kilos. Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton says he must adjust his body to be lean instead of bulky, and the weights he does are designed to keep the center of his mass as low as possible.
"You have to have really good core stability," Hamilton told Graham Norton in 2019 . "You can't be big and bulky. If I was super-muscly [in my shoulders], my weight would be too high [vertically].
So, I do lots of squats for my butt. " After a race, Ricciardo will rest and recover on Mondays, maybe do some light cycling on Tuesday, a little bit of core and neck strength on Wednesday, and then Thursday, it is back to the track. During races, drivers can burn as many as 1,000 calories per hour .
According to Albon's trainer, Patrick Harding, the focus shifts from losing weight to keeping the weight on, even for a taller driver like Albon. "Our biggest issue [during the season], believe it or not, is keeping weight on Alex," Harding told Insider. "We'll aim to put two or three kilos, at least, of muscle mass on Alex before this season.
By race one, he'll probably be the heaviest he will be all year. That weight slowly dissipates across race weekends purely because of the physiological and physical load of being in the car. " Drivers lose a lot of weight over the course of a race week.
According to Hamilton, he can lose six or seven pounds (3 kg) during practice and qualifying and up to 10 pounds (4. 5 kg) in a race . Harding explained that Albon's in-season weight consistently hovers between 72.
5 and 73. 5 kilos (160-162 pounds), depending primarily on his hydration level. "Most of my concerns are when his weight drops below that 72.
5 because then I know we're losing muscle mass," Harding said. "He's losing muscle glycogen. He's probably not fueled enough, and he's maybe not hydrated enough.
" Former F1 and current IndyCar driver Romain Grosjean, who is just 5-foot-11, faced similar struggles to Albon. According to Grosjean, he learned to love cooking to make his strict weight-loss diet more palatable. "Ever since I had become a high-level sports professional, I had learnt to savour my meals differently because I conscientiously followed the advice of a nutritionist," Grosjean wrote in his autobiography "Facing Death.
" "I had to counter-balance my height by being as light as possible. " A single kilogram can mean a huge difference in races where teams constantly look to shave tenths-of-a-second off times. "Ten kilos of fuel in the car costs three-tenths of a second every circuit, per lap," Hamilton told Norton .
"So if I'm one kilo overweight, I can lose up to two seconds in the race distance. So my weight is very important. " Being taller or heavier is not as big a detriment as it used to be.
Before 2019, F1 had a minimum weight that included the car and the driver combined. Teams with cars under the minimum — more manageable with a smaller driver — added ballasts to the car and could add them in a better location for the car's performance. For the 2014 season, the weight of the cars increased more than the minimum driver weight, forcing heavier drivers to lose even more weight to make up for the difference.
That year, Red Bull forced Ricciardo to drop his racing weight by two kilos (4. 5 pounds). At the time, Ricciardo was 5-foot-10 and weighed 143 pounds (65 kilos).
That same year, the 6-foot-tall Niko Hulkenberg, who weighed 165 pounds (75 kg), was reportedly not considered for the open seat at McLaren because of his size. "Heavier drivers will be less attractive," then-McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh told Sky Sports in 2013 . "It has happened by accident.
We have raised the minimum weight, but the new powertrains are heavier than people expected and now have a situation where heavier drivers could be a disadvantage. " Former McLaren and Red Bull racer David Coulthard explained in his 2007 autobiography what he put himself through as a teenager trying to reach F1, including what sounded like bulimia. "It was an essential part of being an oversized teenager in karting making weight," Coulthard wrote .
"I would have my dinner, weigh myself and if I was too heavy, I'd go swimming and exercise and try and control my weight by being sick. " Now, outside of a taller driver needing to be concerned about their strength and energy levels, the advantage gap has narrowed. Beginning in 2019, if a driver is under the minimum now, teams must add the ballasts to the same spot inside the cockpit, taking away the advantage of being able to move the ballasts to optimize the car.
Valtteri Bottas, who is not a skyscraper at 5-foot-8, noted that the changes improved his immune system because he was not cutting as much weight. "I think the regulation is good, especially for the taller drivers," Bottas said . "It makes life a bit easier.
Many drivers had to be below our natural weight, and it is very easy to get ill or sick. This is the first winter for many years that I didn't get any flu or any sickness. ".