A Week in the Life of a Formula One Driver
We all like to think that driving a racing car flat-out would be easy, but it isn’t, even if you have heaps of talent. A modern-day Formula One driver has to work very hard if he’s going to win a race. Sometimes drivers work 15 hours a day at the racetrack and then spend their nights thinking about how to do it even better. Formula One racing isn’t a job for clock-watchers.
Here is an example of how the week of a Grand Prix may pan out for a driver:
Thursday: The Formula One driver flies into the racetrack and spends some time with the team, checking that his car is OK and working out strategy for the weekend. He usually attends at least one press conference, and signs autographs for the many autograph hunters chasing him around. In the evening, the driver usually takes part in a sponsor function or press dinner, before escaping at about 10 p.m. to go to bed.
Friday: Practice starts very early on Friday morning, especially if the driver’s team has signed up for the extra two-hour test session. The driver usually gets to the track at about 8 a.m. (after having already spent maybe an hour in the hotel gym) and runs through the day’s program with the team. The driver spends most of the rest of the day in practice and technical debriefs, when the team evaluates the set-up of the car and its performance. Afterward, he attends even more press conferences. Amid all these other responsibilities, the driver completes the first qualifying round, which decides the running order for Saturday’s main qualifying session. In the evening, he usually attends another sponsor function, which can run on quite late.
Saturday: Saturday is a very important day, because what happens today decides the grid for Sunday’s race. The driver attends two practice sessions in the morning and then a warm-up before he actually qualifies his car. He has to make sure that everything is absolutely perfect with his car because he has only one lap to get his time in — if he makes a mistake and spins off the track or suffers a mechanical problem he could find himself starting right at the back of the grid. If qualifying goes well and the driver’s time puts him in one of the top three positions, he attends a special press conference, broadcast all around the world. After this press conference he must attend more debriefs with the team and then even more press conferences. If an evening function has been planned for Saturday night, he must attend that, as well, although these don’t run too late because the driver must get a good night’s sleep before race day.
Sunday: Race day is by far the most important, and busiest, day of the week. While in the past, drivers could just turn up a few minutes before the race started, jump in their cars, and then head off home as soon as the chequered flag came out, that’s no longer the case. The day often involves everything from warming up and meeting sponsors to race day parades and post-race functions. And if the driver can’t get a helicopter into the circuit he could find himself having to get up even earlier to beat the traffic jams caused by the fans.
Monday: If a driver is lucky he’ll wake up in his own bed on Monday morning — but it’s back to work straight away. Even though he’ll be tired and maybe a bit sore from the race, he has to go to the gym for a few hours to make sure he stays in shape. Monday afternoon, if he hasn’t been called up for a sponsor function, he’ll fly out to one of the European tracks to get ready for that week’s testing schedule.
Tuesday: Less than 48 hours after the Grand Prix, the Formula One driver is back in the cockpit, working hard on developments and improvements for the next race. The teams will be experimenting with new parts or different set-ups to try to make the car even quicker. Testing a Formula One car is a relentless job, and the track usually stays open from 9 a.m. until darkness. After that, the driver usually spends a few hours with the team, working through a technical debrief of the test, before dinner and then maybe an interview with journalists. (Many drivers prefer to do major interviews at tests because there’s a lot less pressure on their time; the only time anyone gets to speak exclusively to Michael Schumacher is at a test.)
Wednesday: Another day of testing, although a driver may be able to fly home this evening to get ready for the following week’s Grand Prix. Big teams usually have one or two test drivers who help ease the workload on their regular drivers, because there’s no point getting their stars completely shattered before the next race.
Despite everything else he has to do in his life, being fast in a racing car and working with his team is still the most important part of a Formula One driver’s job. At the end of the day, a Formula One driver is the single person who determines whether the team wins or loses. He is the one risking his life out on the track, he is the one who decides how the car should be set-up, and he is the one who gets the credit — or the blame — for how things go on Sunday afternoons.