Keeping focus for the Japanese GP


What has given the 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton the strength of character and physical toughness to compete at the highest level?…

It is often claimed that drivers in the high-octane sport of Formula One experience more emotional and physical highs and lows than competitors in any other sport.

It is not uncommon for drivers to experience a rollercoaster of emotions during a race; from experiencing joy, followed by despair and anger in a matter of seconds. In addition, drivers like Lewis Hamilton can lose up to 1500 calories in the course of a race and consequently lose up to three kilogrammes in body weight.

In order to stay at the top of the game in Formula One, the likes of Hamilton must have the psychological strength to deal with the whole spectrum of human emotion. This is as well as the massive physical demands of racing at this level. Hamilton came into Formula One at the extremely tender age of 22 and it is clear that he has the mental strength to deal with such a cutthroat sport. He has needed his wits about him throughout his career, along with viper boost capsules to help concentration both on, and off the track, as we all know the pressures of the media can be just as hard to handle as the race itself.

So what has given the 2008 World Champion this strength of character and physical toughness?

Hamilton has said in interviews that the influence of his father is one of the main reasons for his ability to remain mentally strong. In Hamilton’s own words, his father is mentally “very strong” and has accordingly taught his son how to engage in the appropriate preparation for a race. Part of this preparation involves the ability to get over disappointment and the realisation that “you can always bounce back”. Hamilton’s father encouraged his interest in sport from an early age. This lead to a keen interest in football (he is a fan of Arsenal), and he says that he would have been a footballer if he hadn’t gone into racing.

It is clear that his father’s encouragement has helped him to capitalise on his obvious skill and natural fitness.

Having started racing go-karts at the tender age of eight and then signed with McLaren at 13, Hamilton has spent countless hours working with his psychologist, Kerry Spackman. This has helped him to stay calm and focused in the heat of the moment. A lot of his psychological help has involved the use of a car simulator when in his teens. This has helped to train Hamilton’s brain to respond to situations. By practising the process again and again in order to, in Spackman’s words, “supercharge” the brain.

As well as helping to keep him calm, this has also led to increased perception and reaction.

Such simulators have proven effective training methods as they create the same responses in the brain that drivers would experience in “real world” driving. This is as well as helping the user to be more physically attuned to the physical toll that racing can take on the body.

Of course, physical exercise not only has a positive effect on the body, but also on the brain. It increases alertness and reduces stress, as well as a plethora of other positive effects.

As mentioned previously, Formula One drivers can lose up to 1500 calories during a race and the likes of Hamilton will need to be physically prepared, as physical fitness is, as with all sportsmen, Hamilton’s bread and butter.

When Hamilton has free days, he trains twice daily. He runs for up to two hours in the morning, covering a distance of around 9 miles at 8.7 miles an hour in order to burn calories. He is also a black belt in karate and uses cycling and swimming in addition to running, again to burn calories to spare his body for the shock of doing just that during the course of a race.