Beating the heat in Malaysia
Even on a cool day, a Formula 1 car is among the most hostile man-made environments the human body can occupy. Besides the extreme noise and vibration, the body takes a constant battering from the forces of acceleration, deceleration and cornering: in a typical 4G corner a human head, enclosed in a helmet, can weigh the equivalent of 24kg. To fight those forces and thrive in a two-hour race is a supreme athletic achievement.
In the heat and humidity of Malaysia, where the cockpit temperature can reach 50C over the course of 310 hard-fought kilometres on race day, the drivers are genuinely exploring the limits of human performance. Even the typical late afternoon downpours bring little respite.
In the years since the Malaysian Grand Prix joined the F1 calendar in 1999, the thermal parameters of the mechanical elements of the car – engine, gearbox, hydraulics, and so on – have become well enough understood for retirements through overheating to be relatively rare. The engine, by its very nature, has a high operating temperature that can be managed without too much effect on the car’s aerodynamic performance.
In contrast, when the human body goes above its normal temperature range in an F1 cockpit, its natural coping mechanisms are rapidly overwhelmed. As it tries to cool itself down it loses fluid and minerals – during the Malaysian Grand Prix a driver can lose up to 4kg in fluid, which is around five per cent of their total body weight. With their heart rate still at 80 per cent of its maximum, the driver loses energy and concentration. By the time they realise this is happening, it’s too late.
This weekend, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes will use two new Lucozade formulations developed specifically by GlaxoSmithKline’s scientists. Lucozade Hydration Formulation contains a precise and scientifically determined mix of essential hydration salts, carbohydrates and proteins to support the optimal performance of the whole team. Lucozade Race Formulation aids performance in high temperatures and extreme G-forces, while also addressing the specific needs of speedy absorption, weight management and driver alertness.
“Hydration in the cockpit is extremely important,” says Jenson Button, “and I know that only too well from a past experience during the Malaysian Grand Prix when my fluid bottle broke. That meant I couldn’t take on any liquids during one of the hottest and most physically difficult race on the calendar. By the end of the race, I was in pretty bad shape – which just goes to show that, without proper hydration, your performance and your abilities behind the wheel are severely compromised.
“I’m really pleased that the team has worked closely with Lucozade’s scientists, and it’s great that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has its own unique formulations – both in and out of the cockpit. I think our race formulation will be a really important asset: not only will it keep us refreshed and hydrated during races, but it should also improve our concentration and decision-making abilities in the cockpit.”
A body weight loss of just two per cent will have a detrimental effect on performance. So, since the capacity of the in-car drinks bottle is limited to one litre, every drop has to count. The new Lucozade formulations have carefully balanced levels of sodium and carbohydrate, enabling them to be rapidly absorbed across the gut wall. With the driver strapped in tightly, it’s essential for the drink to do its work quickly. “The speeds and the harness can make having any fluid in your stomach really uncomfortable,” says Jenson.
Sodium also helps to replace lost salts while the carbohydrates are rapidly assimilated to provide energy. The Lucozade Race Formulation, which the drivers prefer in blackcurrant flavour (it’s also available in cherry - the drivers’ choice for Hydration Formulation – tropical and orange), also contains caffeine to aid concentration.
The collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline is ongoing, and feedback from the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes trackside team will help to further optimise the new Lucozade formulations as the season progresses. In a sport where attention traditionally focuses on technical performance, this is an exciting new development in the similarly essential field of human high performance.
“It’s important to remember that, during a grand prix, the whole team acts as one,” says Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh. “And this will be a significant benefit to the hydration, fitness and focus of the engineers and mechanics who are all under considerable physical and mental pressure during the race. At a race like the Malaysian Grand Prix, that will be crucial – it’s one of the toughest events on the calendar, and a race where good hydration, coupled with driver fitness, can have a significant impact on the result. I’m extremely pleased at the first results of this collaboration, and I’m excited by the potential that lies ahead as we continue to develop the formulations.”