6 Race Prep Tips Triathletes Can Learn From Formula 1

These tried and true Formula 1 Driver techniques crossover to triathlon and may push you to PR in your next race.

These tried and true Formula 1 Driver techniques crossover to triathlon and may push you to PR in your next race.

Formula 1 (F1) is considered the pinnacle of racing by most. With its incredible speeds, lightning quick reaction times and split second decision-making, this beloved sport reminds us that every millisecond on the course counts.

As F1 drivers prepare for their big events, they hone in on the details. Not too dissimilar to a triathlete preparing for a race. So when we took a closer look at the sports and compared the two, what we found was surprising. There are quite a few crossovers—who would have thought Formula 1 racers and triathletes had so much in common? 

We pulled the top F1 race prep takeaways and distilled it down so that it can be applied to your next triathlon. It might just give you the extra speed you need to PR your next race. 

1. Dial in your ride

F1 teams spend a great deal of time getting their cars dialed in. Unlike triathletes, F1 drivers are extremely limited when it comes to driving their race day cars on the race course. So, drivers and engineers squeeze every ounce of performance from both the car and the driver into the time allowed on the course in the days/hours leading up to the race. This includes the driver’s movements and comfort in the car. 

Spend time dialing in all elements of your race, from wearable gear to use-able equipment. This includes:  

  • Test your wetsuit and goggles in open water, in various conditions. Ensure a proper wetsuit fit and mitigate rubbing of suit and kit underneath. Goggles should fit properly and should not leak or fog. 
  • Your bike should fit correctly and feel comfortable over longer distances at harder efforts. The nutrition and hydration set up should work for you and must be easy to access/use while moving. Your race kit and shoes should fit snugly without chafing or rubbing. Your helmet must be comfortable and aerodynamic and should be able to accommodate sunglasses. 
  • Running is all about the shoes. They should fit correctly and provide the right amount of support. Consider sunglasses or a running hat/visor, hydration/fueling vessels and sunscreen. Be sure to test all of these prior to race day.

2. Study the race course

Before an F1 driver even touches the track, they study the course they will be racing. Drivers will study pictures of turns, review race footage and meet with other drivers who’ve spent time on the track. Their primary objective is to understand the basic nature of the course from start to finish so they are better prepared to build their race strategy. 

For triathletes, this guidance is completely transferable. While we can all analyze a flat course map and elevation chart, there is much more to be gained by getting more tactile information. Review photos and videos online of different race courses. (Some coaching organizations will do first person videos of a race course.) Try to connect with other athletes who have raced the course and learn from their experience. 

3. Spend time in the simulator

Since F1 drivers are limited in the amount of time they can spend on track, they turn to advanced simulators for much of their training and race prep. They suit up and conduct simulation rides. Race engineers are able to program various race conditions so drivers can get a feel for what race day might bring. It is here they start to develop their race strategies. 

For triathletes, this race course simulation opportunity is more available than ever. With easy to use course mapping tools like Strava, Garmin Connect and others, athletes can create courses near their homes or training areas that best mimic the conditions they will see on race day. We also have the benefit of smart bike trainers and treadmills that can realistically simulate elevation changes of a race course. Some will even provide first person POV videos. Note, not only should you simulate the race course, but also try to replicate the conditions (e.g., temperature, time of day, wind, chop, etc.).

4. Detail your race strategy 

F1 teams will meticulously build out their race plans, laying out every inch of the track and how it should be approached. They will dissect every minute detail from engine modes to tire pressure fluctuations.

For example, the driver will know that at turn two, he/she should downshift to X gear, apply Y amount of brake pressure starting at point A and ending at point B and apply Z amount of throttle before shifting back up. 

In triathlon there are far fewer moving parts and lower implications to minor adjustments. However this doesn’t mean that this level of planning wouldn’t be beneficial. Within each discipline there are strategies you can plan out and deploy. 

Understand your effort levels and paces throughout different segments of the swim course. Build in room to surge when needed to get away from slower traffic, or slow a bit to conserve energy. Know where each turn buoy is and how you will approach it. 

Depending on what you are using to pace (heart rate, power or perceived exertion), you should understand how those levels will fluctuate across varying terrain on the bike and run course (e.g., changes in elevation). On the bike, this will also help you build a gearing strategy, recognizing change may be needed for climbs, descents and sharp turns. 

Think through a nutrition strategy so you know where you will be when it’s time to take on nutrition and where aid stations are located. This could also include potty breaks.

5. The “Track Walk”

One of the most popular elements of race prep in F1 is the track walk. Here drivers and engineers physically walk the entire length of the track, reviewing race strategies and creating visual cues. 

For a triathlon, especially longer distances, consider driving the bike course in your car, riding the run course on your bike and swimming in the water. You can familiarize yourself with each buoy, hill, turn and mile marker, thus helping you more clearly conceptualize your race day plan.

6. Schedule your race week

F1 can be quite a circus on race weekends. Drivers must contend with distractions, such as press conferences, screaming fans, parties and public appearances. To address this, many drivers work with their team to create a solid schedule for the week leading up to the race. This schedule includes all mandatory events as well as down-time, meals and bed times. This rigid structure keeps racers sharp and preserves their energy. 

For triathletes, race expos, team dinners and sightseeing, can be distracting and tiring. It’s easy to get caught up in the experience. Building out a similar plan with emphasis on nutrition and hydration can keep you in top shape for race day. If you are traveling for a race, research local markets and restaurants to ensure you know where to find the foods you typically eat. Or, do some meal prep and bring your own food. Remember, nothing new on race day.