How F1 drivers seek to gain from “brutal” Las Vegas GP jet lag

And things are only set to get worse as the entire circus transits to Abu Dhabi next weekend, going through a 12-hour shift forward in time.

While the whole paddock is in the same boat, the focus is inevitably on the drivers. They may enjoy private jet or business class travel and have physios looking after their every need, but it’s still a struggle to be 100% rested and prepared.

And that’s why it could become an area of competitive advantage over these next two races, possibly the toughest faced by the championship in recent years, where drivers who do a better job dealing with the hectic schedule could reap the rewards.

“When you’re here, it’s not so much a problem,” said Red Bull driver Max Verstappen. “But then we have to fly to Abu Dhabi, where it’s already 12 hours difference, but then also a completely different time zone.

“Basically, we live on a Japanese time schedule, but then almost a different day. So I don’t really get that. I mean, that is very tiring, and also at the end of this season that we have to do this. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”

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“It is going to be big time difference, and we’ll probably face jet lag,” said Nico Hulkenberg. “Some suffer more than others. It’s going to be a challenge, and maybe you’re not going to feel super sharp on Friday or Saturday. But I think it’s same for all of us, and we have to manage and cope the best we can.”

Fernando Alonso, the oldest driver on the grid at the age of 42, does not agree with the schedule but believes drivers have no other choice than to deal with the demanding calendar.

“No, it’s not OK, it’s not OK,” he said. “But it’s the way it is. It’s a tough sport. This is not football…”

Alonso has not been impressed by the Las Vegas schedule

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Alonso has not been impressed by the Las Vegas schedule

The drivers are not alone. The arrival of the first night race in Singapore in 2008 led F1 teams to focus on sleep patterns for crews, and over the years they’ve paid more and more attention to the issue, receiving medical advice on how to manage sleep.

Driver physios have also become well versed in how to look after their charges, putting them on regimes that help.

“Usually when we have night races like Singapore, it’s quite easy,” said Esteban Ocon. “Because Singapore, we just don’t shift, we just stay on European time and live on night time. Here, it’s very different.

“And it’s also later than Singapore, so you don’t see the daylight for four days. That’s the first thing. So for the human body, that’s not great. You’re lacking vitamins from the sun and all the other things.

“Usually we do the American journey, with Austin, Mexico, Brazil, then come back to Europe to get back to the time zone for Abu Dhabi.

“This time I came back to Europe, but I was still living on Brazilian time trying to shift as much as I could. So I didn’t have quality time, let’s say, in Europe.

“I couldn’t see much of my family or have normal times. That’s fine, but it’s tricky to prepare, and you need to really put effort into it to basically feel good here. I feel good here, because I’ve done what I needed to do.

“But it’s been five weeks living on odd timings, let’s put it like that. So probably the toughest one since I’ve joined F1, I would say.”

Russell sees jetlag in his rivals as a potential opportunity out on track

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Russell sees jetlag in his rivals as a potential opportunity out on track

As noted the difficult situation could be seen as a clear opportunity for drivers to try and gain an advantage, and that’s exactly how Mercedes driver George Russell views it.

“For everybody it’s been a pretty brutal change coming to here,” he said. “And I kind of see it as an opportunity, because most people look tired and are struggling, and talking about it. But if you do a better job than your competitors, it gives you that advantage.

“I’m just sort of shifting one hour per day. And it’s going to be like a continuous shift for probably two weeks in a row from when I started shifting the body clock Friday last week. And I’m just going to continuously shift until Sunday next week.

“That’s probably been a bit of a challenge this season, especially when you look at Singapore/Japan back-to-back. Even though the time zone difference isn’t too much, Singapore being a night race and Japan early, it was effectively an eight-hour shift.

“The back-and-forth, Miami to Europe, Canada to Europe, Australia back home, the body’s been all over the place. So definitely something I’m going to be putting even more focus on next year.”

This being F1, it’s all about the numbers and Russell says he uses biometric data to judge his progress.

“From the disruptions of the time zone, my heart rate during a night’s sleep is on average about 25% higher than it would be when I’m in a consistent location,” says the Mercedes driver.

“I spent two weeks in one location this summer, which is the longest I’ve spent in three years, and my heart rates was the lowest it’s ever been.

Ocon is concerned about the wellbeing of his mechanics

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Ocon is concerned about the wellbeing of his mechanics

“Winter is always sort of stabilising in a low place. And then as soon as you travel, it increases, but definitely sleeping less, recovering less, which is all natural when you’re jumping all around. It’s not just a feeling, there’s definitely data to back that up.”

It’s not just about the drivers, either, and whether it be a mechanic changing a wheel or a strategist making a race-defining call, there’s little margin for error.

“I’m honestly more concerned for the guys in the garage that are working,” adds Ocon.

“We take care of ourselves as a team, but there are more people looking after me than for some of the guys. That’s where it’s important to look after each other a lot, because people are suffering the paddock.

“We are well prepared. We have good knowledge with some of the best experts in jet lag. Tom [Clark, his physio] is doing his PhD in jet lag at the moment. So we are quite strong on that.

“But I’ve seen people fighting and almost falling asleep in the meetings, because it’s not an easy thing.”

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