The winter in Formula 1 isn’t just about preparing a new grand prix car, the drivers need a comprehensive tune-up ahead of the new season, too.
Ahead of his second season in Formula 1, Stoffel Vandoorne needed to physically and mentally ready himself for the long year ahead – and that meant undertaking an in-depth training programme devised for him by his trainer Eliot Challifour.
Eliot, Human Performance Coach at McLaren Applied Technologies, explains the process of refining a world-class sportsman ahead of a year of competition:
"You always start out building an exercise programme by taking into account the goals and physical requirements that are needed for the individual and their sport. You then map that out against the time-frame you need, or have available, and build a plan that works accordingly."
December: wind-down quickly, wind-up slowly
"The first month after the last race of the season is really about decent down-time. The season is long and draining, and the mind and body needs time to unwind and process the season’s events before ramping up for the year ahead. During that time, I’ll provide Stoffel with a plan that focuses on simple maintenance; nothing too strenuous, but enough to keep Stoffel ticking over physically ahead of the more intense new-year programme.
Stoffel trains with Technogym equipment
"I can follow that programme from home, monitoring his data remotely and keeping in touch to stay on top of progress. During this period, Stoffel’s training will focus on some moderate endurance-based cardiovascular training, with strength training emphasis on single-limb endurance and stability."
January: first training camp
"January is when things really start to kick off. The first two months of the year are our main training months – they’re really the only time of year when we can effectively manage the training workload without any significant media or sponsor commitments. These are the months when we build in decent, consistent, high-volume training stints.
"Because of the intensity of the season, and the frequency of the races, this is the core training block that Stoffel will effectively ‘live off’ for the remainder of the year. Of course, we’ll fit in smaller blocks of training during the year, but this is the main bulk of the building work that needs to be done for the year ahead.
Riding through the Spanish terrain
"During January, we undertook a one-week training camp in Marbella. Training during this period is high-volume, predominantly moderate-intensity with some high-intensity sessions. We also did some neck-strengthening work as well as continuing to build core strength.
"On the Marbella camp, we cycled 340km with over 5000m of elevation gain. We also did some running, played some tennis and did either weight lifting or corrective exercise sessions daily in the gym. It was a great way to kick start the year’s training in a warm climate."
February: annual fitness assessment
"Stoffel’s annual fitness assessment gives us all the base numbers for the year ahead, and really helps to define the goal, the scale, and the ambition for the remainder of the year.
Strength training with Technogym
"We know that Stoffel needs to be at about 10-12 per cent body fat – any lower than 10 per cent and there is an increased risk of illness, especially with all the travelling – so we’ll look at a cardiovascular and strength programme that complements that. We’ll also devise an independent neck-strength plan: Stoffel needs to be strong enough to support around five times the weight of his own head and helmet weight, which means effectively managing a 25kg loading through his neck."
February: gearing up for the tests and the first race
"The winter training programme ramps up progressively - there’s no point destroying Stoffel on the first day of the first training camp! We actually want it so that he’s at the most intense point of the plan at the very conclusion of the programme, so he’s absolutely race-ready ahead of the tests and the first race.
"The February programme is primarily broken down into strength, conditioning and aerobic training – running and cycling. We’ll sometimes add in some cross-training or rowing to spice it up a bit.
"Then we’re looking at daily mobility and flexibility, and also developing a nutrition programme that looks to help weight management whilst also providing the nutrients required to perform. The team requested an additional 1.5-2kg weight loss over the winter, which we had to factor into the programme.
"For this critical time of the year, I’ll plot strength sessions, core endurance sessions and corrective postural and movement sessions – these are broken down into manageable sessions, which are further broken down into daily routines.
Team runs in Marbella
“I’ll create a macro yearly Excel spreadsheet, and then I’ll dive into the detail to plot weekly and daily exercise routines. So, Stoffel will know that he’s got a 90km ride scheduled for a Thursday in February, for example.
"Also during February, we performed a second training camp in Monaco, this time for nine days. Training during this period involved a mixture of high-volume, moderate-intensity days and low-volume, high-intensity days.
"The volume training was performed cycling in the mountains around Monaco and Nice, with each ride typically lasting for 100-120km in duration with 2000m elevation gain. The high-intensity sessions were performed in an altitude chamber via indoor cycling, or else we ran outdoors.
“During strength and conditioning sessions, we focused less on weight lifting to avoid any additional muscle mass being gained and instead focused more on Stoffel’s shoulder, thoracic spine and hip-corrective work, torso and neck strengthening.”
Building flex into the programme
“We build the programme around Stoffel’s preferences, which tend to be location-based. If he’s at home in Monte-Carlo, he’d prefer a short run, a decent bike ride and some gym work; if he’s on the road, then he’d rather not get on the bike, and we’ll focus on running, a little cross-trainer work and the gym.
“The training plan allows for some natural flexibility because Stoffel’s diary is changing on a week-by-week, day-by-day basis. We need to be able to course-correct if his diary requires it.
“Also, he’s a responsible adult: he’s been on a training plan for several years now so he knows how to handle things. That means he has free rein to adjust the plan as he sees fit – that usually means that, if he has a big bike ride scheduled for Thursday, but the group ride with all his friends is heading out on Sunday, he can switch those days around to make them best fit for him.
“Also, I can log in to his Garmin and Polar files, so I can see what he’s been doing and notice any discrepancies.”
Nutrition: eating for performance and weight loss
“On the training camp, we’ve been very strict about eating a healthy, balanced diet and increasing or decreasing carbohydrate intake based on the amount of cardiovascular training we’re performing each day.
Maintaining a healthy diet
“The diet tends to get stricter when we’re looking at bringing Stoffel’s weight down; that’s when things get more ambitious. But it’s still a fairly generalised plan focusing on maintaining healthy eating habits that are sustainable for a nine-month race season.”