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GP Week : Issue 172
Kate Walker assesses the psychological edge needed to be a Formula One top gun. F ormula One is often billed as the ultimate display of man and machine, trained athletes skilfully operating some of the most advanced technology you can find on four wheels. But while there is no doubt that F1 drivers are some of the most physically fit specimens you are ever likely to meet, little is ever made of that other vital component: the mental strength needed to operate in such a highly competitive environment, fighting fortnightly under the glare of the media spotlight as your body attempts to recover from a series of punishing trips across timezones. “The mind is everything,” Sir Jackie Stewart admitted in a 2004 inter view. “All the boys in Formula One today have gifts from God and there’s 20 of them. Then there’s the top six, then the extraordinary three. “But the genius is the one who takes it to another level. That is Michael Schumacher today, just as there once was Fangio, Clark, myself if you like, Lauda, Prost, Senna – the absolute multiple champions. And it’s always the head that took them there.” Given the role that a strong mental game can play in a successful season, it would not be illogical to presume that a sports psychologist could form an effective part of a driver’s competitive arsenal, alongside his trainer and his race engineer. But in the paddock, a reliance on psychology and psychotherapy still carry the same overtones of vulnerability that they do in much of the outside world. To many, admitting to using a sports psychologist to improve one’s game is tantamount to admitting a weakness. But one driver who has been open about the potential benefits of therapy is Brazilian racer Felipe Massa, who has recently returned to his stride after a two-season slump that saw him face regular criticism. Michael Schumacher Jackie Stewart 24 GPWEEK.com // 24 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> FEATURE