McLaren Applied Technologies

HOW TO TURN A GRAND PRIX DRIVER INTO A HERO

Can human performance keep up with grand prix cars of the future?

HOW TO TURN A GRAND PRIX DRIVER INTO A HERO

Can human performance keep up with grand prix cars of the future?

Lactic acid is spreading like wildfire through your muscle tissue. Your heart rate hasn’t come close to dropping below 85% of its maximum for near enough two hours. Adrenaline has been coursing through your veins for so long that your blood pressure is escalating to frightening heights and is playing havoc with your vision.

Every cell in your body is screaming “no more”, begging you to…

Stop.

You’re battling with the demons that occupy the darkest corners of your mind. The ones that tell you you’re not going to make it, you’re not good enough. You’re on the verge of breaking point, running on instinct alone, and just one lap away from winning the 2050 Singapore Grand Prix.

Since the first grand prix 100 years prior to this race, the cars have constantly evolved to become – as Daft Punk would put it – ‘harder, better, stronger, faster’. And so have the drivers.

The mesmerising technological advancement of the racing machines at the pinnacle of motorsport will never relent, but how can human performance keep up? While the possibilities may well be endless for grand prix cars. For drivers, it’s a different story. The natural physiology of the human body means there is a limit to what we homosapiens are physically capable of.

All is not lost however. Technology holds the key to giving drivers the tools they need to rise to one of the toughest sporting challenges, and crucially, enhance the spectacle of one of the greatest shows on earth.

Maximum G

The Future Grand Prix concept from McLaren Applied Technologies posits that drivers are going to face speeds of 500 km/h in 2050. And when you start talking about that kind of speed, it means they will have to withstand considerably more than the maximum g-force they experience now – which is in the region of 5 g. It would put them in the same bracket as fighter pilots who contend with up to 9 g. How very Top Gun.

To combat this, the race suit of 2050 will adopt similar technology to that found in the g-suits worn by the likes of Maverick and Goose. It would inflate and compress a driver’s lower limbs to prevent blood from pooling in their feet and legs, ensuring the heart still has enough of the red stuff to pump around the body – especially to the brain to maintain consciousness.

It’s a knockout

Just as the physical demands will ramp up massively, so will the training. And it’s not as if drivers’ training programmes are a walk in the park right now!

They would need to be trained differently. Currently there is a lot of focus on speed, agility, and endurance, but not on out-and-out strength. In 2050, a driver’s training programme would be flipped on its head so that they end up getting to know the bench press and dumbbells even better.  

We would see a new breed of racing driver physique. At the moment, drivers are very lean and fairly petite due to a constant effort to minimise weight in the car. Some wouldn’t look out of place riding a horse along with Frankie Dettori on Ladies Day at Royal Ascot. But this will go out the window to an extent if they are having to withstand the speeds we’re envisaging.

You’re going to end up seeing drivers with the same build as boxers. But before we unceremoniously try to squeeze every inch of Floyd Mayweather’s muscular frame into the car, like that jumper you ram into your suitcase just in case it gets cold in the evenings on holiday, we might need to make the cockpit a little bigger.

Connected gyms

Part of a driver’s training includes plenty of time in incredibly life-like simulators. However, the next step will not only be to simulate the feel of racing car, but also the physical demands of driving it.

The gym of the future will also head in a similar direction. It will be far better at replicating real-world physical demands and will enable optimal rehabilitation and recovery. It will move from being rather one-dimensional to dynamic and adaptive.

But just how exactly will a gym in the year 2050 do this?

Through analysis of biometric data collected via wearable sensor technology, the first step will be to quantify the stress that the body has been placed under. The range of data recorded will include – but not be limited to – heart rate, oxygen saturation, temperature, sweat rate, concentration, stress, and arousal.

In this respect the training becomes very personalised. It’s an evolution of the training experience offered by Technogym’s Mywellness which connects to fitness equipment, apps and wearable devices, to help users access their personal data, training programmes, and wellness information from all Technogym equipment or smartphones anywhere, anytime.

For example, a driver would walk into the gym after a grand prix weekend and it will understand: what their day has been like, what happened to them in the race, how demanding it was, the extent of their muscle fatigue, how much rehabilitation time is required, and what the driver needs to do to recover as quickly and as best as possible. It would then point them towards all the relevant pieces of equipment they should use to achieve this.

Time to get emotional

The benefit of having all this biometric information won’t just be apparent in the gym, it will be reported back to fans to give them a more vivid picture of the stresses and strains on drivers. One of the key aspects of this is showcasing driver emotion behind the wheel. It is the biggest variable that affects driver performance.

In the grand scheme of things, if a driver doesn’t do any training for a week it’s not going to impact their health and fitness significantly. But from one day to the next, their emotions can change markedly and that can have a massive influence on their performance.

Aside from the occasional hand gesture, during a grand prix there is no visual indication of the emotions a driver feels because they are cocooned in a carbon fibre tub – underneath a helmet and a fireproof layer of Nomex. We do get audio when they communicate via radio to their team, but beyond that we’re in the dark.

We therefore need cameras inside helmets and facial recognition software to tell whether a driver is gurning because they’ve been overtaken by their team-mate, or because the water in their drinks bottle isn’t far from boiling point. We need to analyse a driver’s voice to see if it registers any markers for stress or a particular emotion.

There are already tools out there which attempt to define and quantify emotion, but they are still in their relative infancy. In 2050 however, it could be a very different story.

Once we are armed with this wealth of information, it can feed into sentiment projection which allows the car to display a driver’s feelings to the fans, as well as their rivals on track.

Don’t have a positive outlook on the remainder of the race? Things will turn more grey than the asphalt being raced on.

Gone all mysterious and have begun to plot a cunning strategy while tucked up underneath the rear wing of the car in front? Suddenly it will be possible to go “purple in sector one”, for a reason other than setting the fastest time of the race so far.

Or perhaps you feel aggrieved about a forceful overtake and the red mist has descended? Well you don’t need me tell you what colour that would result in.

Hearts and minds

Ultimately, this is all about improving fan engagement in grand prix racing and this will only be achieved by telling the story better. There is no silver bullet. No single biometric measure that will forever quench fans’ thirst for more.

The answer lies in using the wealth of data gained through sensor technology being relayed to the public in a readily accessible format. It will ensure fans finally understand just what grand prix drivers are up against, and see the appreciation of what these incredible athletes are capable of, reaching a whole new level.

Perhaps only then will future grand prix drivers capture our hearts and minds like the legends of yesteryear who pushed the boundaries of what was possible on track, and like those who sometimes pushed too far and paid the ultimate price.

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