x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Force India's right feed for speed

Almost every mouthful of food Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil will eat this weekend has already been mapped out.

Pasta is a common meal for Force India driver Paul  di Resta.
Pasta is a common meal for Force India driver Paul di Resta.

Well-planned, nutritious meals keep Formula One drivers fit – and light. Matt Majendie reports

Almost every mouthful of food Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil will eat this weekend has already been mapped out.

A look through the menus that await the Force India drivers hardly befits the glamorous and often gluttonous world of Formula One. While their diets are not quite a frugal existence, they are hardly mouth-watering fare either.

But as two of the tallest drivers on the grid - both measure in at just over six foot - watching their diet is all the more vital in a sport in which teams are desperately battling to make their cars - and as a result their drivers - as light as possible.

"I really have to watch my diet particularly as I happen to be one of the largest drivers in Formula One," Sutil said. "Since every extra ounce limits our options in terms of weight transfer within the car, I have to stick rigidly to a diet."

The man responsible for dictating every morsel that Sutil eats on race weekends is fellow German Alex Leibinger. A qualified physiotherapist and osteopath with his own practice in Munich, he also acts both as Sutil's physical trainer and nutritionist. Sebastian Mordillo does the same role for Di Resta.

Leibinger has already decided that this morning, Sutil will enjoy a combination of vegetables and wholemeal bread with a small serving of jam for breakfast. An apple or banana will follow midmorning before a lunch of rice, with some meat and vegetables, and a dinner of noodles, again with some meat and vegetables. All the portions are small and everything is steamed with no salt added to the diet.

The one change comes tomorrow, which is Sutil's busiest day with two practice sessions and media interviews, during which he is given a power bar and/or a banana by his nutritionist.

"OK, the food's not great on taste but it's only for during the race weekend and it's important," said Leibinger, who is so strict about the diet that he weighs Sutil every time before he gets in the car.

"The key things are to avoid sugar, anything fried, to keep it low fat and also avoid salt," he said. "With salt in your body you can lose about three or four kilos in fluid in your body just because of the salt.

"Another key is to eat the things that the body is used to, so the diet is actually very similar every day so that the body can break down everything without a problem."

All of Sutil's meals will be taken in the team's hospitality area whether breakfast, lunch or dinner and the precautions are such that fish, which he normally enjoys, is considered off limits.

"Fish is OK until a few days before a race but any closer to a race than that and it's 'no' because of the possible risk of food poisoning," Leibinger said.

Away from the race weekends, Sutil is not exactly allowed freedom over what he eats. In fact, that will not come until after the final race in Brazil. "Out of season, I can occasionally treat myself to things that aren't normally allowed under my diet regime," the driver said.

When not racing, his favourite food is Asian cuisine, a throwback to having spent a year living in Japan competing in Formula Nippon.

Between the Japanese and Korean grands prix, he travelled to Tokyo with Leibinger in tow and, because of the low fat nature of the Japanese diet, was at his lightest weight in 2011 ahead of a race weekend when he arrived in South Korea.

"He was light when we got to Korea but that's not normally the case for the long-haul races," Leibinger said. "He's normally two or three kilos more than his racing weight because of airplane food or eating at the airports or whatever, it makes quite a difference."

Sutil could be forgiven for casting an envious glance up the grid at some of his more diminutive peers. For example, Lewis Hamilton, his best friend in F1, is five inches smaller and, as a result, does not have to be so wary of his weight and will be regularly spotted eating sweets at a race weekend.

"The taller drivers go hungry, that's the truth," Leibinger said. "Lewis with his race kit on is about 74kgs while Adrian is 80kgs and that's a difference so we have to be really careful with everything Adrian eats."

Action to keep the weight down is not quite as dramatic as jockeys or boxers, who will sweat it out in a sauna to get to their required weight, but Leibinger recalls a time a few seasons ago when drivers were getting dangerously thin.

"I remember that Robert Kubica, who is about the same height as Adrian, was down to 69kgs at BMW," he said. "That was a bit crazy but thankfully that's changed with the longer cars and everyone's now slightly more back to normal."

To Leibinger's credit as a form of camaraderie, he follows exactly the same diet as Sutil throughout a race weekend.

The one difference between the pair is in terms of fluids, which are even more vital than what Sutil eats. During a race, all that he takes on board is water, nothing else and water tends to be the drink of choice for much of the weekend.

But Leibinger, who has been on Force India's books for six seasons, also makes up a concoction rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium for his charge, in particular to avoid cramping during the course of a race.

"The hotter races is where that's an issue and none is hotter than Singapore," he said. "There's a danger of cramping, which you don't want to be doing in a Formula One car."

Sutil lost something in the region of 4kgs during the race in Singapore which sounds massive until Leibinger points out "that's about the same as someone on a 21km run" but then again, how many of us do runs of that distance?

As well as Sutil, Leibinger also works with up-and-coming drivers through his practice in Munich and tries to set them on a similar dietary path to that of an F1 driver.

"It's hard as they are so young and, while they understand the theory, they find it difficult not to have a chocolate bar or sweets here and there," he said. "But the diet is so important, it can make such a big difference to a driver's performance at crucial moments in a race."

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