Formula One is by no means and easy sports, and no sports for that matter is. But the amount of money, technicality, equipments and infrastructure one needs in Formula One is like none other. And so every detail and infact every nanosecond counts in this high adrenaline sport. And so do matters is the safety which is of utmost concern to the authorities.
But ask a layman and he will say that driver is never at the receiving end. What they are doing is just driving the car and its all about the cars. Well, we beg to differ from these sorts of opinions and we know how difficult is for the F1 drivers to race at speeds in excess of 300kmph and maintain their lines to gain that nanosecond to come first in the race.
But we tend to neglect what goes down at the molecular level with the driver, that is at the physical level. Remember any race where the drivers weigh themselves after the race finish? The intensity of the game and the G-forces (gravitational forces one suffers going against the gravity) literally reduce 3-4 kgs from a driver at the end of the race in form of dehydration.
A typical Formula One season holds 20 races a year, all of them equally gruelling and equally tough. But some locations are so intense, especially from the weather perspective that both man and the machine are tested to the extreme. Point in case the recently concluded Malaysian GP at the Sepang Circuit, which was won by team Ferrari and was driven by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The temperatures at the Sepang Circuit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia go as high as 35 degrees with humidity touching 80 percent. And then add the tropical rainstorms that can show up anytime. While the rains don't affect the driver as such, it surely alters the track as it washes away the rubber that is spread on the track resulting in track evolution.
The changes in track lead to change in racing line and optimal grip and is hard to predict as the race progresses. The asphalt becomes rough leaving high strain on tyres and bumpy rides. While the neighbor Singapore hosts the race at night, Malaysia has to undergo high temperatures and toughest race for both the tyres and drivers.
Well, as tough as it is for the tyres, it is definitely rough for the drivers too. The heat and humidity from outside the atmosphere added with the cockpit temperatures and the Nomex suit aren't exactly suitable if one wants to keep it cool. And how much toll on the body does it takes? During the 300 km race, a driver loses as much as 1,500 calories and three litres of body fluid.
As the race day nears, the drivers drink as much fluid as they can to keep them hydrated and cool. During the race itself, the heart beats at a speed double that of a normal human heart beats, reaching 170 beats per minute. Nico Rosberg once confessed that he uses ladies sanitary napkin on his forehead to keep sweat out of the eyes during a race.
While all these issues are obviously effecting a driver's overall performance, it is the safety that concerns most. Safety of drivers is of utmost importance to Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and Formula One authorities and that's why they have laid strict guidelines for it. The guidelines are so strict that 20 years down the line after Ayrton Senna died in a crash, none of the fatal crash has taken place in F1.
One of these tests is called the "extraction test". The Nomex suits designed for the drivers are good enough to hold the fire from burning the drivers for 10 seconds and hence it's necessary for them to leave the car within the stipulated time. At the test, a driver must unbelt himself, get out of the car, reinstall the steering all within 10 seconds, failing which he is not allowed to race.
And why putting the steering back? So that marshals can steer away the car to make way for others cars. Valtteri Bottas of Williams' was forbidden to race at the season opener in Australia. A 28 page guideline is laid down to make the cars as safe as possible. And this is just the tip of the safety guidelines that an F1 driver follows.
While it ay sound too dramatic to many, there is a reason all these dramatics are applied - and that is for the safety. Just as the mechanics ensure that the F1 cars reaches the finish line, so does the governing body ensures drivers are safe. Malaysia is tough, but our drivers are tougher. And we hope that in coming seasons, safety reaches top notch.