No seriously, are you guys KIDDING?
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised about Jenson and Lewis’ “revelations” about drivers intentionally compromising their health and well-being to minimise their weight. This is a sport that requires total commitment, and pressure to do anything to shave a tenth or so off one’s lap time. Millions are spent on aero tweaks, on salaries for the best designers around, etc. Remember that in the 80s we had a spate of drivers passing out post-race, because they were all taking beta-blockers. These were felt to improve performance under stress. Not.
I’m shocked and very very concerned about this development. I’m almost equally apprehensive of the potential reaction of the FIA in an attempt to mitigate this insanity. Oh and I think we need to be grateful to Louis and Jenson for their forthrightness about this.
So let’s start with a stable of drivers who are collectively some of the fittest athletes around, whose fitness regimens, 120 km bike rides, triathlons, etc, are the stuff of tweets, newspaper articles and tv reports. Everyone understands that the price of success in Formula 1 requires total physical condition. Only that will allow one to handle the physical stress of driving the cars and to maintain concentration despite physical discomfort. Only NOW we get to watch these guys starve and dehydrate themselves in order to minimise their weight. These are the same guys who never went ANYWHERE without their drinks bottles. I’ve been next to drivers who were tooting away on their bottles WHILE THEY WERE PEEING. Presumably McLaren has issued their drivers carbon fibre “peristalsis reversal devices”. They look just like spoons, and reliably induce vomiting. Jeez. Hey guys – nicotine activates the brain somewhat reliably. Maybe you should all take up smoking?
This is insane, and most worrisome. Obviously the implications of an unwell driver at the helm of a terrestrial cruise missile are huge – for themselves, for their fellow drivers, and for others. And the message this sends to the public, and to every young driver from go karts to GP2 is obvious – train for the week after a race, then totally fuck yourselves up for a week before the next one. Yeah, that’s the message you should be sending. Brilliant.
I needn’t go into ANY detail about why this regimen of starvation and dehydration is ridiculous from a medical point of view.
This has got to stop. And it’s got to stop now. And given the competitive pressures of the sport, this will not be easy. And given the implications for the safety of the public, track workers, and other drivers, it won’t be sufficient to issue some lame statement encouraging the drivers not to act like 90s heroin-chic supermodels.
Problem is, I fear that given the lack of experience of the current medical leadership (I’ll give an example of the absurdity this can lead to in a subsequent post), the solution will be more ridiculous than the problem. Let me make it clear – it is folly to try to paternalistically control nutrition or hydration of mentally competent adults by regulation. Any solutions must be legally acceptable, enforceable, and actually serve to discourage the behaviour in question.
So what’s to be done?
I’ve spend a bit of time thinking about this and pending something better, I think:
1) a statement highlighting the FIA’s concerns about this behaviour should be released
2) it should be stated that the nature of the problem of any driver who is unwell enough at the end of the race to require medical assistance will be investigated. The points of any points-finisher requiring medical assistance after the race will be provisional to the results of this investigation. A driver found to be intentionally dehydrating or starving (go ahead, think of a better word – Jenson said some of them eat NO CARBS for a week pre race!!!!!) will have his points cancelled and will receive a grid penalty for the next race. A second violation will lead to suspension of his or her super license. Forever.
These guys want to win, and as we can see, they’re willing to do anything for that to happen. We can question their sanity, intelligence, and wisdom, but not their motivation. But this also has ethical implications for those around the drivers with a duty to care, notably team physicians and the physios. If they are allowing this to happen, and worse, encouraging this, they are violating the cardinal rule of ANY caring profession: PRIMUM NON NOCERE. First, do no harm.