Coping with the heat in Malaysia

Keeping the head (and brain) cool is the priority

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By Franck Drui

29 March 2010 - 15:15
Coping with the heat in Malaysia

Malaysia is a tough place to go racing. It’s hot, humid and there’s always the risk of a late afternoon thunderstorm to spice things up. The extreme climate has led the Malaysian Grand Prix to be dubbed the ‘toughest race of the year’ for the drivers who will endure cockpit temperatures above 40°C and lose around three kilos in weight. And it’s just as tough for the pit crew in their fireproof suits, boots and helmets.

“The biggest problem we have to worry about in Malaysia is overheating” says Riccardo Ceccarelli, the team’s doctor. “We’re not so worried about dehydration because when you sweat in such humid conditions, the sweat does not evaporate and it stays on your skin – which is why we always feel so damp and sweaty. However, because the sweat doesn’t evaporate, it causes the body temperature to rise, leading to overheating, which then causes a big drop in concentration levels.”

To avoid overheating and loss of performance, most F1 teams have experimented with various solutions for keeping their drivers cool. Dry ice is an old favourite and will be stuffed in the drivers’ helmets, shoes, gloves – basically anywhere they will feel a benefit. It may be a short-term fix, but every degree of cooling counts. Good ventilation of the helmet is also important because keeping the head (and brain) cool is the priority. If there’s time, Riccardo even recommends a cold shower just before the off once the car is on the grid.

The drivers should also follow doctor’s orders on their arrival in Malaysia to acclimatise to the local conditions. “It’s important to do some exercise as soon as they arrive while adjusting to the new environment,” explains Riccardo. “They also need to change their diet and eat light meals like fruits and vegetables because a heavy meal will require more digestion, which increases body temperature.”

As well as watching what they eat, the drivers will need to drink plenty of fluid over the weekend. Robert’s usual concoction includes special mineral salts, potassium, magnesium, and carbohydrate. Likewise, the cockpit drinks bottle plays an important role in keeping the driver hydrated during the race. Vitaly’s drink of choice is a sugary mix flavoured like a lemon tea – something that will taste okay no matter how hot it gets in the cockpit of the R30.

It’s thirsty work for the team, too, who must take similar precautions to ensure they can take the heat. In fact, 4000 bottles of water will be drunk over the four days in Malaysia – that’s almost double the usual amount. On top of that the team will also get through 1000 energy drinks and 1000 cans of soft drinks.

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