The addition of the Vietnam Grand Prix to the 2020 F1 calendar means drivers will have to cope with even more changes of time zone next year.

Daniel Hayes got in touch to ask what affect F1’s increasingly global schedule has on them, and how thy avoid jet lag.

I live in the UK but I’m currently in Thailand on holiday, still suffering from jet lag. All I have to do is swim and relax, not prepare or drive an F1 car!

How do the various teams, drivers, mechanics and support crew travel to the flyaway races and how do they deal with jet lag? It can’t be private jets for the whole grid…
Daniel Hayes

A topical question, Daniel, particularly as we have just completed the opening set of fly-away races that unusually featured no back-to-backs. Thus many of us – by which I mean Formula 1 personnel of all walks and job descriptions – shuttled between Europe and foreign destinations more than had generally been the case by this point of the season.

We all have our own ways of handling jet lag, or, more formally, the physiological condition that occurs due to changes to the human body’s circadian rhythms. Some folk sleep as much as possible in the aircraft, others stay awake as long as possible in order to ensure slumber at the other end.

As readers of my Paddock Diary know, I try to stick to home time as closely as possible, even when it entails going to bed at 2am (or even later) and waking up at 10am (ditto). This all depends, of course, on grand prix weekend schedules and logistics – Singapore makes it easy to stick to European time, whereas Japan’s programme makes it rather challenging.

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However, these are all personal preferences and hardly scientific, so I put your question to Dr Luke Bennett, the CEO of Hintsa Performance’s Motorsport Division, who oversees the welfare of the majority of F1 drivers.

Given that we are talking F1, a scientific approach could be expected to this thorny issue, but what really surprised me was the degree to which science is applied. Luke, an Australian and a regular face in the paddock, works closely with Dr Steven Lockley, a Harvard professor and leading neuroscientist who consults to NASA astronauts on circadian manipulation.

Basically a team will submit a driver’s full itinerary to Lockley in the build-up to an away period, and receive a tailored sleep plan in return. The level of detail is staggering: A sample plan I saw covered the period covering the Chinese and Bahrain Grands Prix a few years back and included PR activities in between races, with the journey starting and ending in London.

Drivers need to be fresh at both ends of any journey, as they may need to undertake simulation work immediately upon return to base, or provide detailed debriefs. Thus it’s important that any sleep-wake plan covers the full build-up and wind-down periods. Bear in mind also that the body naturally processes time changes at the rate of a day per time-zone hour.

The plan covers when drivers should nap or sleep, when to stay awake, when and for how long they should (and not) wear sunglasses to let in/block out sunlight. It even details when doses of (synthetic) melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles, should be taken.

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Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, Bahrain International Circuit, 2019
Raikkonen takes no risks with his sleep management…

The lengths to which drivers go to ensure they obtain the maximum benefit of Lockley’s expertise extends to reserving window seats on the applicable side of the aircraft – particularly where ‘longitudinal’ flights are concerned – to enable them to regulate sunlight and darkness. So, next time you’re flying first class and a pesky F1 driver insists on keeping his blinds up or down when you’re hard up for sleep, you know why…

All this is, of course, in addition, to the usual physical fitness and nutritional regimes that drivers submit to ensure peak physical performance, and so much the easier where a driver has access to flying ‘private’.

I did wonder whether Lockley prescribes that Kimi Raikkonen wears shades day and night, but resisted the temptation to put that particular question to Luke…

I hope you recovered well after your holiday in Thailand.

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