The Malaysian Grand Prix is synonymous with heat and above all with humidity. There is no other race on the current Formula 1 calendar at which these factors weigh so heavily both on the cars and drivers and also on the team personnel.
The cars sprout thousands of apertures on the bodywork to allow the engine and control units to breathe, but that’s just not possible for the drivers as the suits they wear inside the cockpit are governed by technical regulations which cannot be modified in any way. Therefore the only line of defense comes from being as well prepared as possible physically. We asked Edoardo Bendinelli, who along with Fabrizio Borra has been responsible for several years now for this vital aspect of Fernando Alonso’s preparation, to explain how the Ferrari driver will tackle this event:
“There is no magic formula which would allow one to arrive in Sepang and not suffer from the heat,” explains Edoardo. “The real preparation must start at least one month in advance, trying to do aerobic exercise in climatic conditions as similar as possible to those found in Malaysia and at the same time of day that the race takes place, to adapt the body to this type of effort. We are already in Kuala Lumpur to adapt quickly to the much higher temperatures than in Melbourne, but above all, to a humidity level which is usually twice that found in Australia. In the days leading up to the start of the event, we do activities such as running, golf and other sports that maintain a high cardiovascular level, always compatible with the conditions. Basically, we are always trying to maintain a good training level, increasing specific activities going into the event. Then, over the weekend itself, we also do some short sessions of recovery activity in the gym or the swimming pool to try and drain the driver’s body as much as possible.”
Another aspect specifically linked to this Grand Prix is hydration. There is no other race in which a driver loses so much liquid as he does in Sepang. “It is very important to drink a lot before going out on track, alternating plain water with a rehydrating drink, without going too far with the latter. Then, once in the car you need to adapt: the amount of liquid available is always the same and after just a few laps it reaches a very high temperature and the race suit does not allow for the right level of heat dissipation to the outside. I remember that, a few years ago, Fernando lost around three and a half kilos of liquid during the race: that gives you an idea of how extreme are the conditions all the drivers face in Malaysia. To try and alleviate the discomfort one tries to keep certain key parts of the body as cool as possible right until the very last moment, using for example, soaking wet towels around the neck before getting in the cockpit on the grid and putting the feet in water and ice bath before putting the shoes on.”
Two other key areas are nutrition and rest: “In a Grand Prix like this, the driver must eat very lightly, taking on mainly vegetables and fruit, as well as trying to get as much rest as possible,” concludes Edoardo. “Fernando is a champion in this area too and at night, he always manages to sleep deeply and without interruption.”