Any form of racing necessitates being fit, with great reaction times and enough muscle mass to handle the regular and sustained punishment that comes from throwing yourself around a race track. But when you're a Formula 1 driver, pushing a 450kW-plus, sub-750kg purpose-built cornering machine around a track at speeds topping 300km/h, you have to be the best. And the way you get there is with a lot of hard work.
Many Formula One drivers get their starts when they're young racing karts and open-wheelers — that was the proving ground for current Mercedes front-runners Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg — or come up through the ranks of the World Endurance Championship. That breeding ground naturally brings the best to the top, and a fitness regime goes hand in hand with that.
But once they're in the sport, they have to maintain both their fitness and their cognition. For McLaren Honda, the way that comes about is through a partnership with the GSK Human Performance Lab. GSK's HPL is already working with the McLaren team, testing and training both drivers and mechanics to help them perform as optimally as possible.
The kind of data that is captured is extensive; everything from reaction times to body fluid loss during exercise is monitored, and an ongoing program has been developed that'll run the length of the 2015 F1 season. Already in the first race of the season, down in Melbourne over the weekend, both McLaren Honda drivers had a personalised electrolyte drink tailored to perfectly replenish the loss of those vital minerals through sweat. (Of course, Kevin Magnussen wasn't able to race on Sunday due to a blown engine, but Button was drinking the GSK HPL Kool-Aid.)
The program started in February of this year and will see the drivers and the entire team undergo continual assessments at different Grands Prix throughout the racing season. Whether it makes a huge difference remains to be seen, but F1 is a sport of milliseconds and this kind of thing might just be the difference between championship success and failure.
Here's another fun fact — Jenson Button's average reaction time is 613 milliseconds according to the GSK HPL tests, about 0.6 of a second. Wikipedia tells us that the average human reaction time is between 0.2 and 0.25 seconds, so either Jenson is uncharacteristically slow — it certainly doesn't seem likely — or people on the internet are wrong. [GSK HPL]