Driver Monitoring

Developments in technology and the introduction of electronics in the last two decades has enabled to Formula 1 engineers to fill their cars with a multitude of sensors that can analyze every little reaction during a lap. Looking closely at their work Dr. Ceccarelli was inspired to do the same with his drivers, thus becoming a pioneer of Sports Medicine in Formula 1. Since 1989, his first year on the circuit, he started to record drivers’ heart rates during races, analyze their performance and to study ways to help them improve.

At this time the teams were entirely focused on their cars and paid little interest in the drivers’ physical condition, thus the importance of Dr. Ceccarelli’s pioneering work was not understood and he conducted his research on his own with neither technical nor economic support from the teams. However the first data collected from the study of heart rate during races had shown that drivers are subjected to intense cardiovascular workloads, higher than in any other sport. In fact in no other sport do the participants have an average heart rate above 180 beats for two hours. Dr. Ceccarelli continued with his research but soon found that the tools at that time available on the market were insufficient for his needs and initially had to modify them before eventually having to design and make specific equipment that would meet constraints of size and weight as well as the ability to withstand high g-forces. From simple heart rate monitors were developed instruments capable of measuring in addition to the heart rate, more complex data such as the electrocardiogram, HRV (an index of the activity of the nervous system) and respiratory rate.

Back in 1995 Dr. Ceccarelli was able to accomplish what no one else until now has been able to replicate, namely, during a Formula 1 race broadcast on Italian television, the electrocardiogram and heart rate of a driver was transmitted to the team garage and then shown live to the TV audience (Italian state TV, RAI2). At that time, before getting into the car, the driver had to undergo a long ritual in order to achieve a correct application of the electrodes using sticking plasters, which would ensure good signal quality. Aware that this would limit the use of these tools on a large scale, in the following years Dr. Ceccarelli worked on developing a chest strap in which the electrodes were made exclusively of fabric and enabled an almost instantaneous application to the driver’s body.

In addition to the data gathered by studying the drivers’ cardiac activity and an analysis of their physical, mental and metabolic stress, Dr Ceccarelli initiated a study looking at 30 variables in the drivers’ blood from two samples, the first taken 30 minutes before the start of a Formula 1 race and the second within ten minutes of the end. The results obtained with 7 Formula 1 drivers were essential in the development of advanced techniques for nutrition and hydration and the prevention of psychophysical stress. In this case too, up to now, no one else has been able to replicate this research in Formula 1. In parallel with the research carried out on the track, a study at Formula Medicine’s headquarters began in order to extend the monitoring of pilots during training, especially while engaged in the futuristic Mental Training carried out by the Formula Medicine team. After having shown the importance of brain performance in the race, recently Formula Medicine has focused its attention on the analysis of EEG waves as an additional parameter with which to further improve mental performance. With these tools it has become possible to objectively quantify attention and concentration during a race. The next frontier will be the development of tools available to the driver while actually racing.