Behind the glamour: F1 stars struggle with gruelling schedule

As the Las Vegas hangover begins to fade, a chorus of concern continues to rise from Formula 1’s heart – the teams and drivers who form the lifeblood of this traveling spectacle. Amidst the glitter and glamour of the event, the human cost of an increasingly demanding schedule has come sharply into focus.

Photographs captured during the weekend spoke volumes without words: the sport’s elite, usually the epitome of vitality and focus, caught in unguarded moments of exhaustion, yawning their way through a schedule that seemed more suited to a Las Vegas boxing match than a Grand Prix. The unusual 10pm Saturday race time, designed to cater to the city’s nocturnal heartbeat, only added to the strain.

The disruption began early, with a manhole cover delay on Thursday pushing activities into the ungodly early hours of the morning. Drivers found themselves powering down the Strip at an ungodly 4am, with the daunting prospect of a timezone leap to Abu Dhabi for the season finale looming.

Alpha Tauri’s Daniel Ricciardo, known for his upbeat demeanor, couldn’t mask his concerns. “It was definitely doubtful,” he admitted when discussing the schedule. Ricciardo, ever the advocate for his peers’ well-being, suggested, “If it’s an option, they should move the whole thing forward for everyone’s health and safety. It would be better for everything – including giving everyone a bit more juice in their tanks.”

The fatigue was more than physical; it was a mental fog that seemed to envelop everyone. “It did feel like we were all a little delirious,” Ricciardo confessed, giving a rare glimpse into the toll taken by such extreme schedules.

Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko, obviously one of the paddock’s more hard-nosed figures, echoed these sentiments. Speaking to Servus TV, he humorously confessed his own confusion: “Many of our people fly to Abu Dhabi via Europe. Or to Dubai? No, it’s Abu Dhabi. I’m already confused,” he laughed, but the underlying issue was serious.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, balancing his professional commitments with personal ones, shared his whirlwind itinerary: flying back to Europe immediately after the race to spend a day with his family before heading to Abu Dhabi for the next Grand Prix. “I think all of our minds are on the moon somewhere,” he said with a smile that belied the challenges of such a hectic schedule.

The race calendar, now swollen to 23 grands prix this year and 24 in 2024, has become a grueling marathon of back-to-back-to-back races across continents and time zones. Marko pointed out the logistical nightmare this presents, especially with the 12-hour time difference in Abu Dhabi. In a move to mitigate the impact, Red Bull decided to rest their star drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, during initial practice in Abu Dhabi, handing over their cockpits to rookie drivers for some well-deserved rest whilst satisfying the rookie driver rules.

“We were aware of the timezone issue so that’s why we’re doing it with both cars on Friday,” Marko explained. However, he momentarily forgot the name of one of the stand-ins, Jake Dennis, the Formula E champion, highlighting the disarray even among the top brass. “He is not a junior driver, but he spends most of his time in our simulator. Now he gets a better feeling between the simulator and reality,” Marko added.

Former F1 driver Christijan Albers pointed the finger at the FIA for not keeping pace with the sport’s growth. Speaking to De Telegraaf, he criticized, “The big problem is that the FIA is not growing with the organisation… Money should be going into getting better people, and they’re missing that at the moment. I really think they have really failed in the last few years on that.”

The timing schedule in Las Vegas, while unique and challenging, was seen as the “biggest challenge” by Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director and Mercedes driver George Russell. “As far as the jet lag is concerned, it was the toughest race of the season,” he stated. “And now there’s Abu Dhabi. There are 4,000 people who now need to make that trip.”

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