I am often asked: “What do racing drivers do during the off-season to make sure they’re ready for action come the spring?”
The three key area are diet, exercise and “seat time”. Every minute behind the wheel counts, whether it is on a simulator, a track day, test day in a race car or a technique-focused training day with a man who tutors a large proportion of the current F1 drivers, and has done for many years.
His name is Rob Wilson and I was fortunate enough to receive his advice, in the company of up-and-coming driver Callum Ilott. This young Formula One hopeful has a plethora of victories already, winning karting championships and being mentored by the massive Red Bull driver development programme. He is one of the favourites to win the FIA F3 Championship this year, which should propel him to the highest level of single-seater racing, F1.
Wilson effectively strips your driving back to basics, in a Vauxhall Astra SRi. That’s right, F1 stars fly into the UK to practice vital intricacies that make tenths of seconds at the highest level of motorsport and end up doing so in an everyday hot hatchback.
Ilott and I learned braking techniques and steering inputs that Wilson backs up with science. And they work. Of course, like any racing driver we all battled for times and I was thrilled to be within 1.2 seconds of some current F1 stars, as well as Ilott and Wilson himself.
Our tutor raced internationally, including at Le Mans, with much success for 40 years and even turns down race drives because he finds developing young talent far more rewarding - a truly admirable stance.
I quizzed Ilott on how he prepares physically for his racing. Despite our different disciplines (sports car racing and single-seaters), athleticism improves stamina, heat resilience and maintenance of an unnatural body position for prolonged periods. This in turn makes the racing easier.
As is the case with the 2017 F1 cars, Ilott says that the latest cars are more demanding to drive than even last season’s. To prepare for this, he is having an elaborate climbing frame built in his garden so he will be able to exercise his entire body while having fun.
He complements this with a tailored programme with his motorsport trainer to ensure parts of the body are worked in the correct way. I employ a similar training regime that incorporates cardio fitness and strength - especially in the arms and shoulders - and I also attend weekly hot yoga sessions to benefit the mind and body.
However, Ilott has to exercise his neck more due to the greater G-forces experienced in single-seaters.
In contrast, the ideal diet is fairly simple. It consists of a high protein intake, eight portions of fruit and vegetables per day and a focus more on whole-grain carbohydrates such as brown rice and pasta (rather than the white variety) - and not eating late in the evening.
Oily fish features once a week because it is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, good for overall health, while lean proteins help rebuild muscle tissue.
Refined (processed) foods are strictly off-limits - sugar is sugar - although nuts and fruit bars are permissable as occasional snacks.
After a couple of hours under the watchful eye of Rob Wilson, Ilott and I can’t wait to get in our race cars and compete in our respective championships.
My dream was to race at Le Mans, which I did last year. Having seen him work, I’m certain Ilott is more than capable of realising his dream to drive in F1.