x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Formula One is a different kind of physical challenge

The F1 grid are happy with their own fitness levels and precautions despite footballer Fabrice Muamba's recent health scare.

Jenson Button believes that F1 is a test of endurance on the body and is different to the demands made on footballers.
Jenson Button believes that F1 is a test of endurance on the body and is different to the demands made on footballers.

If any positives can be extracted from a human being's suffering it is that the incident tends to raise public awareness.

When Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest midway through his side's FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur last week, it highlighted that professional sportsmen are not immune to potential medical problems.

The day after Muamba's collapse, it was reported that many of the Tottenham squad demanded heart scans, while Mark Webber, the Formula One driver with Red Bull Racing, called it "an absolute wake-up call" and "a reminder of how sensitive human beings can be".

Like most professional sportsmen, F1 pilots are incredibly fit - Jenson Button, who won the season-opening race in Australia last week, competes in Ironman contests in his spare time - but there is arguably no sport that involves higher stakes.

Drivers take their very lives in their hands every time they get behind the wheel.

Pressure is synonymous with motorsport, yet drivers are only obligated to undertake one medical test each year.

The examination, taken at the start of the season, involves a blood test, an electrocardiography test and an eye test among other things and must be passed in order for a driver to receive his racing licence.

Dr Mohammad Razin, the deputy chief medical officer at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, where the F1 season reconvenes this weekend, said the health of drivers is regulated by Formula One and once the racing licence is attained, drivers will only be checked at the circuit if they feel ill.

"From my experience, drivers are very professional and they know what is at stake," Razin said. "Physical fitness is required, but it is not like other sports - drivers normally have their own personal fitness team."

Button yesterday told The National the annual examination is the only medical check-up he undergoes, but said he feels health issues with footballers are more foreseeable because of the manner in which the sport is played.

"Most of us do a lot of fitness, we keep ourselves in pretty good shape as it is quite a physical sport," the 32 year old said.

"It's pretty scary to see and it's happened quite a few times with footballers.

"I don't know what the reason for it is, but it's obviously a very physical sport and they're pushing themselves to the limit."

A grand prix tends to last anywhere between 90 minutes to two hours, which is the maximum that a grand prix can last, and sees drivers race at their absolute physical capacity for the duration, but Button counters the intensity is different.

"It's very different for a footballer. For us, we're obviously racing for quite a long period of time, and it's more endurance. For them, there's a lot of sprinting involved, it's very peaky in terms of heart rate and what have you. It's very different to what we do," he said.

Vitaly Petrov, the Russian driver with Caterham, echoed Button's sentiments, but revealed he chooses to have a full medical check-up midway through the season to ensure everything is as it should be.

"Football players are different because they see the ball and they need to run at their maximum to get the ball; we on the other hand remain at the same level for longer periods," he said.

"But I am of the belief it is better to always have a check-up, so I have a medical programme during the year.

"I have a check-up in Germany and am well analysed. My doctors know my health levels and keep me right."

Webber, writing in his column for the BBC, said the Muamba incident was grounding and should be used as motivation for a more cautious approach in terms of personal health, but he added it should not be over-analysed.

"You just never know what's around the corner and it's amazing how vulnerable we can be sometimes," Webber said. "It's a reminder for all of us to take good care of ourselves and perhaps to be a little more vigilant about certain things that come up from time to time. But you can't get too cranked up about it."

Daniel Ricciardo, his Australian compatriot, agreed. "We have drug tests two or three times a year," said the Toro Rosso driver.

"It doesn't hurt to have more medicals - maybe two a year instead of one - but also it is not very common for a 23 year old to suffer something like what [Muamba] did."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae