x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pole Position: The brain must be in gear to race

One second of inattention could cost a driver the whole race, so it's important to block out all negative, destructive and unnecessary thoughts.

There's much talk about "sports psychology" as a vital ingredient in the motor-racing mix. Of course, success depends on many factors. For the driver, typical concerns may be about the engine and having the correct set-up for the track and conditions. It's true to say that racing is all about on-the-day set-up, especially in kart racing. But the major factor that is very much forgotten, however, is the driver's state of mind.

To give 100 per cent in a race, a driver simply cannot be thinking about things that have been going on in the day. As we know, one second of inattention could cost him the whole race, so it's important to block out all negative, destructive and unnecessary thoughts.

A good analogy is probably the engine in our car. If we need maximum power from the engine, we don't want it driving the a/c, fan, lights and stereo: we want all the energy to power the wheels.

It's much the same with the brain. We don't want lots of unnecessary thoughts that might stop our thinking positively about what we will be doing.

Which approach, immediately before a race, would you think is going to produce a better result? Finding time to focus on the race ahead, thinking about the track, tactics and how to win, or remaining preoccupied with the kart or car preparation, tyre pressures and generally worrying about whether it was all screwed back together properly after changing the gearbox? Clearly, it's very important for the driver's mind to be focused on what is coming.

Stress is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it is utilised in a positive way to motivate the driver. Stress can have a positive or negative influence on performance.

Negative stress is characterised by anxiety that causes sweating and a raised heart rate. Positive stress can help motivate and to deliver a stronger performance.

Two of the world's greatest racers, on four wheels and two, have written about the performance of psychology in their race preparation.

The late Ayrton Senna believed that psychological training could become as important as physical training for top F1 drivers. His approach was based on the belief that victory was just a consequence of mental preparation - and, by the way, he was also fanatical about the correct use of breathing being the key to success in racing. He would even spend the week before a big race getting up at the same time and eating the same food to eliminate any distractions.

The three-time world 500cc motorcycle champion Kenny Roberts is also one of the all-time great thinking racers. He is renowned for his ability to use mental preparation to a far greater extent than was believed possible. Kenny would go through gearing, carburetion and suspension set-ups in his mind before getting to a particular track. He believed that because there was so little time on the track, it was foolish not to take advantage of the power of the mind to attempt to iron out problems so that the mind was clear for the race.

Indeed, he would get his brain programmed like a computer, so that when he walked out to the circuit to race, he was on a sort of automatic pilot, ready to do battle.

Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing. Pole Position appears every week in Motoring.