Lewis Hamilton on his Bombarbier jet

How do Formula 1 drivers cope with jet lag?

Dieter's Inbox

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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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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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  • 18 comments on “How do Formula 1 drivers cope with jet lag?”

    1. Very interesting article, Dieter. LOL at the Kimi reference.

    2. I guess for the drivers it’s easier (albeit their work is arguably more demanding) as they can fly in/out close to the racing action, keep the home-rhythm, and fly in luxury.
      Most team staff stay longer, fly less comfortably, and often work longer days. It could be a solution for them to have more back-to-back races.
      And I speak from experience that it’s not necessarily the jet lag that stings my frequent travels between Australia and Europe but more the 30+ hours travel time I lose each time.

    3. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      20th May 2019, 10:45

      You wanna know the secret to surviving air travel? After you get where you’re going, take off your shoes and your socks then walk around on the rug bare foot and make fists with your toes.
      I know, I know, it sounds crazy. Trust me, I’ve been doing it for nine years. Yes sir, better than a shower and a hot cup of coffee.

      1. @fullcoursecaution – cut to Dieter slaying the Paddock Club filled with baddies. “Ho ho ho, now I have an all-access pass”

        1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
          20th May 2019, 11:02

          You ask for miracles @phylyp, I give you the F…I…A

          1. @fullcoursecaution – awesome :) I can just about see Todt as one of the Johnsons!

    4. Great piece Dieter! I recently asked Annastiina Hintsa about what drove the most distinct performance increases in drivers over the past 10 years – her answer surprised me. The blue light filter on phones! Apparently, it has a significant effect on sleep quality – especially in young drivers who run their own social media and look at their phones until later at night.

    5. John LeTourneau
      20th May 2019, 13:03

      Any chance you could post the sample plan that you referenced? I’d be very curious to see the details. Excellent article, thanks!!!

      1. Unfortunately these are driver specific – I was shown a copy, not given a copy, and personal stuff was blocked off.

    6. Not to say that F1 drivers have it easy compared to someone like yourself @DieterRencken, but my own experience was that trans-Atlantic jet-lag (six hours) did not affect me all that much until my mid-forties, or so. It is, however, getting progressively worse ever since, especially when travelling from west to east…I definitely feel out-of-sync for four days. So, kudos to you and others who are not-so-young anymore, but still do the entire F1 schedule!

      1. I certainly feel it more at 65 than I did 20 years ago, but I’d still rather have jet lag than sit in traffic jams on a daily basis.

        1. BlackJackFan
          21st May 2019, 6:38

          Ditto – it’s all relative. I often find jet-lag is easier to deal with when going… higher excitement levels maybe… Coming home can create it’s own melancholy… ;-)
          I also found going West was somehow easier than going East.

          20-40 years my own business travel situation was often worse than F1 currently suffers, but it would last for a few months at a time (6-8 months in the summer), not all year. My solution was, as soon as entering the departure lounge I would change my watch to the destination time – all through the flight I would be checking destination time and, on arrival, usually felt better than my colleagues…

    7. Hanoi operates in UTC+7 meaning it’s an hour ahead of Shanghai, another Far East Asian venue very early in the season, so I don’t think it’s going to make too much of a difference there.

    8. Great detail into something that always interested me. I wonder if all those schedules are sort of standard or they take into consideration the driver’s own needs… People react differently from one another… Kimi is said to love sleeping, so maybe they give him more time? Or the opposite?

    9. Bear in mind also that the body naturally processes time changes at the rate of a day per time-zone hour.

      This doesn’t make any sense.

      1. BlackJackFan
        21st May 2019, 6:40

        It does to me… ;-)

    10. BlackJackFan
      21st May 2019, 6:41

      If I’d been sitting behind you when you declined to ask the question about Kimi I’d had been nudging you like crazy… ;-)
      How often does one get a chance like that…? lol

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