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Following a series of studies carried out on Formula 1 drivers, Formula Medicine has shown that the race pace of a driver depends more on his mental performance than the physical. Even the greatest champions of Formula 1 are unable to drive a whole race on the limit as they do when qualifying. Normally their race pace is about three tenths of a second per lap less than the maximum and only when race strategy requires them to push hard can they reach the limit, but only for a limited number of laps. On these occasions, their heart rate increases by about 15-20 beats per minute compared to that measured during normal race pace, which means that in order to make up three tenths of a second per lap causes a significant increase in psycho-physical stress. Further in-depth analysis allowed us to demonstrate that the increased effort is almost entirely attributable to a higher use of the nervous system and ultimately of the brain. And it is for this reason that a driver is unable to drive an entire race at maximum effort as in qualifying, as he would be liable to premature mental exhaustion.
Formula Medicine, since its inception, has always sought to study the performance of drivers and to find areas in which to intervene in order to improve performance. From the above considerations it is clear that every driver has within himself the potential to improve his performance over an entire race by about 20/25 seconds, a huge amount in the world of motor sport where most of the time improvements are measured in milliseconds. Following these discoveries arose the need therefore to further investigate the characteristics that distinguish the brain of a Formula 1 driver and led to Formula Medicine to conduct a scientific study, unique in its kind, carried out in collaboration with the University of Pisa and the National Research Council (CNR) in Pisa.
12 professional drivers, most of them coming from F1, were subjected to intense mental tests during which their brain performance and expenditure of mental energy was examined using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. This group was then compared with a group of 12 non-athletes of the same age. However the results were surprising and revolutionary from a certain point of view because they debunked the idea in general circulation that the Formula 1 driver is some way a superman. In fact, judging only mental performance, there was no difference in the results between the drivers and the group of “normal” people. However the unique feature of this research was in the demonstration that the drivers’ brains showed a greater optimization of their resources and used fewer areas of the brain. These areas were seen to be engaged at a much lower level while also having a faster and more efficient communication between the areas of the brain used. In other words, for equal performance, the drivers’ brains were much more economic in terms of expenditure of neurological energy.
Following on from the results of this research, Formula Medicine created “Mental Economy Training®” which consists of a set of tools and techniques, largely designed and made by Formula Medicine, in order to evaluate objectively both the performance of the brain and expenditure of neurological energy. With this way of working it is possible to train athletes to continually increase their mental performance while continually lowering their expenditure of neurological energy, a feature that distinguishes the champions of motor sport. Thus Formula Medicine was able to show that what seemed impossible is now possible: some recordings of heart rates during a Formula 1 race clearly showed that a driver training with our new methodology is capable of maintaining a qualifying performance for the whole race.
The core of the programme is the “MentalBio”, a special console designed and built by Formula Medicine, with 4 screens and 2 computers, which allows the capture of various biomedical parameters and transmit them wirelessly while the driver is engaged in mental performance tests. “MentalBio” has been designed to investigate and improve brain economy in its purest form, meaning that the training is performed while seated and thus does not involve a significant physical component. Within MentalBio there are the following software and tools: Formula Test, Mind Band, driving simulator, band for recording heart rate, BioStress, Multisensor Belt.
In addition to “MentalBio” there are also a number of computer tools for making assessments and neuro-muscular training during which the driver has to achieve high performance while seeking to minimize psychophysical energy expenditure. Currently the principal activities used are table tennis, the balance board and a system of wireless LED lights.
Another feature that makes Formula Medicine’s training both unique and innovative is the extension of the methods of “Mental Economy Training®” carried out also in the gym thanks to the development of mostly muscle exercises, but also require the application by the driver of techniques to manage and optimize his psycho-physical resources previously learned during mental training while under the guidance of psychologists.
An important part of “Mental Economy Training®” is Functional Psychology. This scientific approach has a holistic and multidimensional vision of the individual and affects all mental and bodily processes resulting from mind-body interaction.