New FIA weight rules a heavy burden on Formula One drivers

Though car limits are actually increasing next season, the pressure on racers to save every pound they can for speed will be intensified

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 10:19pm

Been on a diet recently? Bit concerned about the odd moment of overeating? Be thankful you are not a sportsperson. We all know about jockeys. Not the bulkiest of the species in the first place, they often go to extreme lengths to keep their weight down.

It would appear that jockeys are not the only ones concerned about their waistline. Increasingly, racing drivers are having to keep an eye on their weight. It would seem to be a preposterous state of affairs given how fit they are, but such is the concern that the Grand Prix Drivers Association discussed the problem at a meeting before the Korean race.

Weight has always been an issue with motor racing, but the radical new rules for 2014 mean that it will be drivers who become part of the equation. The minimum weight at present for a car is 642kg, which teams can struggle to get their cars down to. Next year the weight will be raised to 690kg because of the new engines and power recovery systems.

I have lost half a tenth or a tenth of a second because I have been overweight. It sounds small, but in qualifying that could be a position or two and in the race it could be five or six seconds
Jenson Button

Teams will be looking to hit that minimum weight, or even go below and make it up with ballast that can help the balance of the car. In this scenario, you do not want a heavy driver.

Heavy in this case is relative. Mark Webber is 1.85 metres tall and just 75kg, but he reckons that is too much for future cars. He feels that the ideal man for the job would be between 60 and 65kg, as it is reckoned that every 5kg of weight adds 0.2 seconds to a lap.

He tweeted recently: "Haven't eaten for last 5 years! Minimum weight has been too low for ages." The Australian can afford to be outspoken as he makes his F1 exit at the end of the year, but he's backed up by a host of other drivers.

Jenson Button is certainly one of those who is voicing his concerns. Here is a man who has just six per cent of body fat and is a serious triathlete. And yet he feels he is in danger of becoming too big to be an F1 racing driver.

Despite being 1.83 metres tall, he weighs only around 70kg, but says he is on the limit for his car, having to fast before races. He said recently, "I don't eat carbohydrates at all. I eat limited amounts of food and it is always high in protein and no carbs, which puts weight on. And this is all of the time, all year. I love food, but I love the food I don't eat".

The Briton (pictured) has spelt out just what this means to the performance of the car: "In the past three years, I have probably had four races where I have lost half a tenth or a tenth of a second because I have been overweight. It sounds small, but in qualifying that could be a position or two and in the race it could be five or six seconds. It is a big deal and something that goes unnoticed."

It might go unnoticed to the public, but not to the teams. It's been suggested that Nico Hulkenberg missed out on the McLaren drive because at 1.83m and 74kg, he is just too big for the new generation of cars.

It is a problem on several fronts. Firstly, as several drivers have pointed out, we could miss out on the talents of great new drivers just because they are the wrong shape. Perhaps more importantly is the worry over the health of drivers. There is no suggestion that any driver has anything as serious as a eating disorder. But in the world of horse racing and on the catwalk we know it is an issue.

David Coulthard did admit that he was bulimic as a young man as he fought to control his weight for racing. Having to fast or pass on a food group can't be healthy. The sport's governing body the FIA needs to act on this to make sure a driver's weight is not a huge issue in the future.