The Watering (and Urination) of F1 Drivers

By Craig Scarborough on at

At this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, the drivers have an extra battle on their hands: dehydration! In the high-tech world of F1 where millions are spent in using the latest technology to develop the fastest car, their response is surprisingly simple. Each car will be equipped with a drinks system for the driver, no more complex than the humble windscreen washer fitted to your road car.

In the heat and humidity of Malaysia, the driver has a tough environment to work in. Along with the heat generated by the electronics tucked away alongside the driver, the cockpit can reach over 50c degrees. Along with the driver’s physical exertion, while dressed in several layers of fireproof clothing, means they are going sweat, and sweat a lot. The driver loses nearly two kilogrammes of fluid during the race -- this along with heat stress can lead to the drivers losing performance and even passing out.

The F1 car drinks system aids the driver to maintain his fluid levels during the race. To deliver this, there is nothing more than a flexible bag of drink attached to the side of the cockpit. To save the driver having to suck the drink up from the bag, it is delivered by a pump. Rather than an expensive titanium-carbon fibre pump, the teams use nothing more extravagant than a road car windscreen washer pump, with the pump linking the fluid bag to the driver’s helmet via a long tube. On the steering wheel, the “drinks” button powers the pump, squirting some of the drink into his mouth. The drivers will call for a squirt of drink most laps when they are on the longer straights.

Even though before the race, the driver is continually topped up with the special hypotonic drink, during the race they will consume around one and a half litres of fluid. No more fluid is needed than that, as the driver only needs to be replacing the fluid they've lost. This hydration process starts before the Grand Prix weekend and the driver's physio will be ever-present with another bottle of drink.

The drink varies from driver to driver, but usually it’s a high-concentration drink, not a refreshing cool watery drink, mostly made from a glucose-based fluid with vitamins and minerals to boost the immune system and stabilise blood chemistry; much like the sachets of minerals you drink after having a bad stomach. In fact, water would be a bad choice of fluid as it’s not as efficient at replacing the body's fluids as an isotonic drink. Despite the driver needing to keep cool, the drink is not kept cold within the car. The drink soon warms up, and with its sugary and salty taste in the heat, the drink actually resembles warm tea.

Of course, what goes in must come out; it’s not unusual for drivers to head off to "take a leak" before the race. However, some drivers have a preference for sitting in the car for a longer period before the race starts, with several drivers being well known to take their comfort break while actually sat in the car. The puddle of fluid gathering under the car can often catch out the inexperienced mechanic, who thinks it’s come from the car itself. Much to the hilarity of the older mechanics, you can imagine, who ask the youngsters to find out what has caused the leakage from the car.

So while you’re sat watching the race and enjoying a beer, spare a thought for the drivers who are having this unsavoury, warm tea-like drink squirted into their mouth every lap. Give us a cold brewski and a comfortable chair any day of the week.

Image Credit: IB Times

Craig Scarborough is a London-based freelance F1 journalist and illustrator who blogs here and tweets here.