Pete McKnight is the Director of Coaching and Sports Science at Hintsa Performance, where he manages several performance coaches in Formula 1 and works as a performance scientist. Pete first started as a strength & conditioning coach working with both professional and Olympic athletes in 2001, and he has continued pushing the boundaries of performance with elite athletes ever since.
Freelap USA: With a Formula 1 race taking over an hour, but running at 200mph, can you illustrate the physiological and psychological demands on a driver? How does training prepare them to handle the strain of racing?
Pete McKnight: There is a fascinating mix of physiological and psychological demands in motor racing, which is what makes it so interesting. Typically, you can expect the driver’s heart rate to reach around 80% of max and stay at that level for sustained periods of time during the race. Drivers generally have a VO2 max upwards of 50ml/kg/min. The new regulations in 2017 allowing wider tires means higher cornering speeds; thus, the drivers experience higher G-forces, reaching 5-6G. They must brace themselves against the shocks, vibrations, accelerations, decelerations, and cornering. All drivers require an exceptionally conditioned trunk and neck to withstand these demands. Additionally, a good general strength and endurance capacity is needed to be robust enough to withstand racing, testing, and traveling, and to recover and be on their best form every time.
Furthermore, the psychological stress is considerable. Decision-making at high speeds, demanding quick-reaction times, and controlled but rapid braking, coupled with the skill of driving, which involves pressing buttons on the steering wheel console while watching the road, offers a high cognitive load. These skills must be deeply ingrained to ensure the driver’s attention is not divided, and they can concentrate on executing the less autonomous actions with precision.
I would recommend a book called “Exponential,” which is written by a colleague of mine, James Hewitt. He talks further about concentration and attention.
Freelap USA: Traveling from country to country, sometimes on the other side of the world, is very demanding for not only the driver, but for the staff. Without getting into trade secrets, what are some strategies that are not typical to help cope with jet lag?
Pete McKnight: Sleep and jet lag are pretty well-researched subjects, and most athletes and sports science support staff are well-versed in what strategies help reduce jet lag and fatigue. A few years ago, there was an explosion in the number of articles on the internet and in the press about this area, and it was the new thing. It seemed like everyone was optimizing sleep, and looking to reduce jet lag to optimize the body’s adjustment to the new time zone. This is now standard practice among teams and athletes, and there is not yet much new in research pushing this field farther.
There are, however, a few helpful podcast episodes by Dr. Shona Halson from the Australian Institute of Sport, which can be found online and give some good basic principles and practical tips. These podcasts are a great starting point for anyone wanting to know more about sleep. Where it is legal to do so, most airports now sell melatonin to help shift the body’s sleep cycle, and there are numerous apps available that can give directions on reducing or introducing light exposure depending on travel times and time zones crossed.
Personally, there aren’t any non-typical strategies that I apply when traveling. I follow the standard scientific guidelines and ensure that I am well-rested when I begin the journey. I like to dress in comfortable clothing, take my shoes off when I am on board (I wear clean socks!!), have a comfortable pillow to lean on, and wear an eye mask when I sleep. During the flight, I like to walk around as much as I can without annoying the flight attendants and other passengers, and discreetly do a few stretches and mobility exercises. I also avoid caffeine and alcohol, and I generally find that I sleep well. When I get to my destination, I love to do some light exercise and mobility, and take a shower, then I’m ready to go!
Freelap USA: From a technology standpoint, what solutions are you using to help monitor athletes in motorsport better? Anything new or anything tried and true that you can share? Perhaps go into how you use the data you collect?
Pete McKnight: Monitoring is a big part of what we do. I like to do workload monitoring, but also to monitor subjective markers of readiness to train, physiological markers of improvement, fatigue, sleep, hydration, nutrition, illness, and some cognitive metrics. We are not allowed to wire drivers up with devices in the car, as this is a breach of the rules, but in some cases, we can get data from the sensors already in the car, and from the engineers that work with the teams.
I can’t share any specifics, but monitoring is about measuring and collecting data, understanding what the data is telling you, and what is a meaningful change in the data, and then using this to inform training. There’s no point monitoring for monitoring’s sake, but it can take time to work out what is meaningful, and what is not. Sometimes you need to collect and observe over a period of time to see patterns arise. Stu Cormack is a great advocate for this and I’ve learned a lot from his work. It’s simple really. Collect data, find patterns. Look for a meaningful change. Make decisions accordingly.
Freelap USA: What influences, be they events or people, have shaped the way you problem-solve? Coaches are very creative and I am sure you have to come up with solutions that are uncanny at times.
Pete McKnight: Fortunately, I have had the privilege of working in many sports with lots of great people. Some of the standout individuals who have had a profound impact on me at different times in my development have been great creative thinkers and decision-makers. Tommy Yule, Duncan French, and David Bailey are three that I would like to mention. There are loads more, but observing these guys and working with them has really helped to mold me.
Additionally, I have a wide network of S&C coaches, physiologists, physiotherapists, and other support staff and academics that I have had the privilege of knowing and working with through Loughborough University, where I studied and worked, and also through the UKSCA, NSCA, Australian Strength & Conditioning Association, English Institute of Sport, and Australian Institute of Sport. I also have friends working in Premier League Football & Rugby in the U.K., the NBA, and the NFL who continue to inspire me.
Freelap USA: Anything you are experimenting with now that may be trending in other sports for training and recovery that you can share? What have you learned this last year regarding sport science that we can all benefit from a little?
Pete McKnight: Recently, I’ve enjoyed delving into the work of Tim Gabbett and Mike McGuigan on monitoring, as this plays a big part in my work as I mentioned before.
I’ve enjoyed discussing technological innovations with individuals from sports technology departments, and attending a couple of conferences on technology and innovation.
I’m looking forward to seeing further advancements in clothing that can accurately measure physiological metrics, as well as in-ear and in-glove telemetry that could be useful in some of the sports I’m interested and involved in, like motorsports, skiing, and cycling.
One thing that is interesting, and that is capturing my attention at the moment, is in-body telemetry. Implantable biosensors for long-term continuous monitoring of body chemistry is one of the advancements being made by Profusa in San Francisco. This could give a live measurement of muscle lactate levels in Alpine skiers, for example. Some molecules can already be measured, and they are working on measuring others.
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