Alice Liveing is a 26 year old personal trainer, blogger and best selling author, with a passion for educating the masses on all things health and fitness.
I am slightly ashamed to admit that not long before heading to my first W Series race, I hadn’t heard much about the ground-breaking racing series for women that launched in October 2018. I had been a motorsport fan for a few years and had a keen interest in the skill and determination required to become a professional racing driver, but was unaware that to this day, very few women broken through to the highest levels of motorsport. Nor did I realise the astounding amount of money needed to propel drivers’ careers and keep them competing. This, on top of the fact that Formula 1 is sadly still a man’s world and in the 70 years that the World Championship has existed, only two women have started an F1 race explains why the opportunity for a woman to compete has been a tricky path to navigate.
The interesting fact is that physically and psychologically, there are no obvious obstacles as to why women can’t compete on a level playing field with men in motorsport. No one will deny that it is a physically demanding sport and physical strength is of course a key factor in creating a successful racing driver, but there is no reason why women can’t develop the neck and upper body strength, physical endurance and cognitive function required to withstand the demands of the sport.
For many, it’s difficult to see racing drivers as athletes. It is quite easy to assume that they simply sit in the car and drive. But, this couldn’t be further from the truth. During a race, drivers can experience lateral G-forces which can cause them to feel as though there is an extra 25kg of weight on their neck. In addition, the helmet adds roughly another 7kg, not to mention the heart rate of a driver over a race which can be between 170-190bpm sometimes peaking at over 200bpm which is extremely taxing and requires an excellent level of endurance. Having to cope with all of this, alongside the heat of sitting in a racing car, which can cause drivers to sweat out up to 3kg of their body weight, shows that serious training is required to make sure all drivers are able to physically withstand the pressure.
Last season, I had the opportunity to attend a W Series race and meet with some of the team who oversee all the on and off track training, nutrition and recovery for the drivers. As a coach who specialises in strength and conditioning myself, I had a vague idea about some of the strength work required for the sport, such as targeted core and upper body work, but they gave me an exciting insight into the more advanced strategies they employ to get the drivers race fit.
I was shown typical sessions for the drivers which included lunges, deadlifts and watt bike conditioning, and was told that every competitor had a unique programme depending on what they personally needed to improve. I was also shown how they log and monitor their recovery and overall wellbeing through an app on their phone which tracks how they sleep, their mood, the quality of their training and how each race went. With all this data, and a greater awareness of the importance of training and recovery, I am in no doubt that W Series will help them to improve both as drivers and as individual athletes.
I took part in a typical warm up to get a sense of how the drivers prepare before a race. This included simultaneously throwing and catching two small tennis balls, with the aim of improving my reaction speeds. Unfortunately, if I had any hope of being a racing driver beforehand, this proved I should probably stick to my day job, as even this simple drill was alarmingly difficult. They also showed me some of the resistance band work they do with the drivers, as well as targeted neck strengthening work and some of the recovery methods used after the races. What became really clear to me was how fortunate the W Series drivers are to have this level of support. Any athlete can attest to how important all the work outside of their races or competitions is in helping them to improve overall and W Series has really prioritised this for the women competing.
Overall, I am excited to see this women’s series go from strength-to-strength, and to see current and future women forge their careers in motorsport. It is fair to say that there are still many challenges for these women to overcome to ultimately get to Formula 1, but with each positive step that W Series takes, you can see that goal becoming ever more achievable.