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GP Week : Issue 24
>>F1 INSIGHT Formula 1 drivers are the elite – the best of the best. But what singles them out for greatness? Dr Kerry Spackman has spent the last decade finding out. He discussed his findings withWILL BUXTON T’S a truly extraordinary performance. “What Formula 1 drivers do both in terms of perceiving what goes on in terms of sensation, computation of what goes on next and then the actuation of controlling the muscles … they are in a complete class of their own. They’re just very different, and I think the key thing is that much of what they do is hidden from the eye. Everyone can drive a car, but what an F1 driver is doing isn’t just navigating. They are balancing this thing on a delicate edge.” So speaks Dr Kerry All in the mind “I Spackman. One of the world’s leading neuroscientists, he has been a trusted advisor to a number of Formula 1’s elite over the past decade. In an era when Formula 1 teams have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to find even the smallest of advantages, Dr Spackman has been charged with the most vital part of any race winning machine … its driver, and, most importantly, his brain. “I guess it’s like any skill acquisition,”he relates, taking time out from the final editing process of his new book which, he promises, will be an absolute Bible on what it takes to become an elite sportsman. “What happens is that the driver builds up a pile of new electric circuits, which his brain is able to analyse in ever greater detail and allow him to control ever more quickly and more precisely what is going on in the universe, specifically for the tasks they’re trained on. “They don’t have quicker reflexes than a normal person. But when you give them some oversteer in a car, they will react massively faster than you or I, because they have circuits specifically designed and trained to understand what the car is doing, how much the car is sliding, and these dedicated circuits will automatically put in the correction without the conscious circuits being needed. “You or I need our conscious circuits to be involved because we haven’t had the training. But consciousness is incredibly slow, so what racing drivers do is build up the unconscious circuits that do it automatically for them, and then these circuits get better and better at detecting slides, motion and working out exactly what to do.” Spackman never gets carried away into blinding you with science. His reasoning is forthright and logical, which one would expect from a man with a background in applied mathematics, in which he originally trained in his native New Zealand. After winning the senior prize at the University of Auckland in applied maths, and doubling up his workload with additional studies in physics, Spackman worked closely with 23