The high-level strategy for how to become a Formula 1 driver is actually fairly simple. But within that, there’s a LOT of work required.
This article will help you get a better understanding of what’s required if you want to become an F1 driver, and how to get started. After that, it’s up to your work ethic (and a little luck) in order to make your dream come true!
1. Make Sure You’re Committed
Becoming a Formula 1 driver is no walk in the park. It’s fiercely competitive and is one of the most difficult sports to join. For a vast majority of wannabe drivers, it will be nothing more than a pipe dream.
That sounds harsh, but when you look at how competitive the Formula 1 world is, it makes sense. Since its infancy, there have only been about 775 F1 racers in the history of the sport. As of 2019, there are only 20 racers on the grid!
That’s 20 drivers in the entire world who are lucky enough to call themselves F1 drivers!
Don’t let that figure discourage you. The most important thing to remember is that becoming an F1 driver requires a lot of commitment.
It takes years to hone your skills and train. If you’re serious about this sport, you will have to stay on the asphalt and get as much driving experience as possible. This means spending time away from family and potentially missing out on many things your peers get to enjoy.
Most don’t realize it, but drivers are constantly training for those 90 minutes on the track. When they’re not behind the wheel, they’re training their mind to stay focused or building up muscle to keep their bodies in peak physical condition.
On top of the time commitment, you also have to consider the costs of becoming an F1 racer. Getting real-world experience is not cheap. It can be a real financial burden to climb the ranks.
While F1 races have worldwide media coverage and tons of sponsorship opportunities, the same can’t be said about lower formula races. As a result, many drivers have to self-fund their way to the top. If you’re not committed to the sport, your endeavors could leave you with nothing but hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
2. Start Karting
Don’t expect to hop behind the wheel of a multi-million dollar F1 car right off the bat. You have to work your way up the ranks to earn that privilege.
So how are you supposed to train? If you want to be like many current F1 racers, you’ll start with karts!
Karting is a great way to learn the fundamentals before you move onto more powerful vehicles. F1 cars and karts share a lot of similarities. Obviously, they are nowhere near F1 cars when it comes to speed and capability.
But, karts are single-seaters just like F1 vehicles. Plus, races have many of the same challenges.
While slower than F1 cars (significantly), karting can be competitive and thrilling all the same. You must push the limits of the vehicle while using finely tuned techniques to make your way to the top of the line.
During your time as a kart racer, you can develop those all-important skills you need to become a successful driver.
Many current Formula 1 drivers got their start in the karting circuit. On average, drivers will spend anywhere between five and seven years dominating the karting world before moving onto lower formulas.
Even then, karting is not something they leave behind. Formula 1 legends like Aryton Senna and Michael Schumacher continued to return to karting for additional training (and a bit of fun). Many of the racers on the grid today do the same!
3. Develop Racing Fundamentals
You need a strong foundation of skills if you want to become a Formula 1 driver.
Karting will help you get there. But once you move up to lower formula races, you’ll have the opportunity to develop them even further.
Never rest on your laurels when it comes to the fundamentals. F1 racing is a dangerous sport. You have to stay focused and use every technique in your arsenal to stay safe.
One of the biggest pitfalls prospective racers make is failing to go back to the fundamentals. No matter how long you’ve been racing, it’s always good to brush up on your skills. They have to be instinctive and natural if you want to go far.
It’s a good idea to get help from a mentor or trainer. Coaches can guide you as you navigate the world of competitive racing. Not only that, but they will ensure that you’re following a training routine that builds upon the foundations you already know.
While getting behind the wheel is ideal, it’s not the only way you can hone your skills. There are a lot of great simulation tools out there that can keep your fundamental skills sharp.
4. Improve Your Skills & Work Your Way Up
Have you ever taken the time to look at how current Formula 1 drivers made their way to the top? No driver starts their career in F1 racing. In most cases, getting to Formula 1 requires years of climbing the racing ladder.
After conquering the karting circuit, you can graduate to more competitive formulas. You may start with an entry-level class of single-seater races. For example, you could establish your formula career in Formula Ford. Then, you could move up to Formula 3 (which was formerly GP3).
The amount of time you spend in lower tiers will depend entirely on your success. Some drivers climb the ranks faster than others while some don’t make it past a certain level. Your exact path will be unique to you.
Use your time in these races to push your skills even further. Lower levels of racing can be intense and competitive. But nothing trumps a real Formula 1 race. So, you have to be the very best in your class before climbing up the next rung on the racing ladder.
Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and compete in more competitive circuits. Many seasoned F1 drivers first started garnering attention in European circuits.
In a European circuit, you can be racing in grids of more than 60 drivers. It’s one of the best ways to test your skills and improve your chance of becoming a F1 racer.
5. Build Relationships With Teams & Sponsors
Building relationships is paramount if you want to climb up the ranks and become a true contender for Formula 1. Like any other career, it’s all about networking!
While you complete a race on your own, competitive racing is anything but solitary. There are many teams you can join. Teams are about more than just camaraderie. They’re about developing skills and learning.
In the single-seater arena, junior teams typically work with seasoned drivers with impressive track records. This will give you the chance to learn from the very best.
This mentor/trainee relationship is an important one. Working with seasoned team members gives you an upper hand. You can see how they work and learn a lot of important racing techniques to push your own skills even further.
Developing relationships with sponsors is important too. As we mentioned earlier, becoming an F1 driver is not cheap. Unless you have the cash to fund your journey, you’re going to need sponsors to help you make it to F1.
Typically, sponsorship opportunities will follow you the better you get at racing. Sponsors want to work with visible drivers who are constantly making waves in the racing world.
While F1 drivers usually get the most sponsorship offers, lower formula drivers get attention, too. This is especially true in the European circuit and markets where single-seat racing pulls in millions of viewers.
6. Train Your Body
Those who have never been behind the wheel of a single-seater often think that racing is a sport that’s relatively easy on the body. However, physical fitness has a bigger impact than most realize.
When you’re zipping around the course at speeds over 200 MPH, your body is experiencing tremendous force. In a typical race, drivers often experience five to six Gs of force when cornering or breaking. To put that into perspective, most people will pass out when exposed to five Gs of force.
Those additional forces put nearly 100 pounds of additional weight onto your body. Meanwhile, pushing the brake pedal often requires upwards of 300 pounds of force.
Needless to say, training your body is a must! Good all-around physical fitness is important. But, there are a few key areas you should focus on. These include overall endurance, physical strength, and neck strength.
Drivers must improve their endurance to withstand the stress that’s put on their bodies. You have to be able to endure those gravitational forces for 90 minutes or more while staying focused on the track ahead. Most drivers will use cardiovascular diseases to slowly build and maintain stamina.
Strength training helps to build muscle. Formula 1 racing is a bit different than other sports. You’re not using quick bursts of strength to achieve impressive feats. Instead, your strength is supporting your body and helping you control the car.
It’s good to work on building muscles throughout your entire body. You must strengthen the arms, build muscle in your legs, and focus on your core to stay stable in the car.
The neck needs special attention too. With the weight of your helmet and those additional G forces, you’re going to feel up to 55 pounds on your neck alone.
Range of motion exercises and targeted workouts will strengthen your neck and help you avoid potentially life-threatening injuries.
7. Train Your Brain
Many drivers and athletes focus on the physical side of things. However, your mental abilities play a huge role in your success behind the wheel.
When you’re driving at top speeds, you’re covering a lot of ground every second. All it takes is one moment of lost focus to miss an opportunity or lose control of the vehicle.
The thing that sets Formula 1 drivers apart from the rest is that they’re able to react quickly to the events unfolding on the track. They can spot potential openings to overtake other drivers in front of them while making quick maneuvers to navigate safely.
Mental training helps you improve reaction time. It establishes and enhances those synaptic responses between your brain and body. With continued training, you can quickly analyze the road ahead of you, make quick decisions on what to do, and tell your body to move.
It might not seem like mental training would do much. But you’d be surprised by how much improving your reaction time by only a fraction of a second can help.
There are several ways to train your brain. You can keep things simple and use bouncing balls to simulate the sporadic nature of racing. Or, you can go the high-tech route.
Mental training devices train your body and brain at the same time. They use visual stimulants and training programs to trigger a physical response (like Reflexion). Training equipment can also record your performance and help you spot areas that need improvement.
No matter how you choose to challenge your brain, mental training is not something you can ignore if you want to become an F1 driver.
If you want to become a Formula 1 driver you should prepare for a long journey of hard work and commitment. This dream is not unique to you, and there are thousands of other drivers who are pursuing it as well.
But with the right combination of talent, dedication, hard work, and luck, you might be able to make it happen!
If you want to gain an edge on the competition, contact us to learn how Reflexion can take your reflexes to the next level.