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How F1 provides mental health support

a formula one car
a formula one car Image credit: autosport.com

Behind the wheel, as world class professional Formula 1 drivers’ race round the track has to be a sportsperson with a mental state of mind. One error, one wrong turn – and it could be fatal.

Speaking openly about mental health has, over the years, become easier. With events such as yesterday’s [Sunday October 10] World Mental Health Day and an increasing amount of awareness in the media more of us taking our foot off the brakes and leaving behind the stigma still attached to mental illness.

But when it comes to F1 it seems the concern of the drivers’ wellbeing is still being left in the pit stop.

When AlphaTauri principal Franz Tost was asked how the 23 races planned for 2022 will have an impact on the racers’ mental health he replied: “If someone doesn’t like it, then he should go.”

Numerous Grand Prix’s across the world sees loved ones separated for weeks on end as drivers commit to leaving their families behind as they compete in the races.

German racing driver Sebastian Vettel believes F1 “mustn’t neglect that we are a group of people and human beings travelling around the world” as it continues to expand the calendar, and the series “must be very careful where we want to put our interests.”

Team manager of Haas Formula One Team, Gunther Steiner, said: “We are facing this reality now, I would say, with people getting tired and being worn out.

“We try to do things differently to help them to get along, so we can get to the end of the season with people not worn out and not wanting to leave Formula 1.

“But it’s one of these things, you just have to work at it and try to find compromises which work for the team and work for the people.”

First past the finish line when it comes to mental health awareness sis McLaren who partnered with Mind asking their drivers to wear the charity’s badges and drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo designing T-shirts which were sold to raise money for the cause.

McLaren boss Andreas Seidl highlighted the importance of sharing mental health concerns so they can be resolved.

“The way we approach it within the team is trying an inclusive approach, to speak openly about the challenges that everyone is facing, which is quite individual as well,” Seidl said.

“We simply try to help our people with the help we can give, with the help we can give for example with partnerships we are having with Mind for example, to get through these challenges together.”

Ricciardo backed his support for mental health awareness saying: “You need to rely on your team-mates to help you out if you're a little a little down or missing home.”

McLaren has announced they have eight mental health first aiders in their team to support drivers when they are away from home.

When Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff experienced the glamour and glitz of the Monaco Grand Prix at first he was confused how drivers living the high-life could have issues with their mental health.

But it did not take long for Wolff to lift the bonnet and understand the stress the drivers were keeping to themselves.

“We are working in this fantastic environment and you see us all smiley on TV,” he said. “But I think it’s important for us to say not everything that shines is gold.”

So concerned about mental health awareness Wolff launched his own company, Instahelp in 2015 offering support to those who needed it.

“We wanted to create a safe place where people get instant help from professionals," Wolff said. “You go through an assessment, and you get an answer within a few minutes, and you’re put in touch with somebody nearby and you can talk to that person.

“That was something that was close to my heart. It’s psychological support, which is a niche that is important.”

Mercedes now offer an internal wellbeing programme for race engineers, senior leaders and travel staff run by their wellbeing manager, Chris Armstrong as well as providing a confidential support space open to anyone wishing to discuss their mental health in confidence.

Armstrong told Autosport: “We want team members to support team members, knowing they can turn to each other and have a difficult conversation, and say, ‘I’m not feeling great’.

“Having that is so powerful. Silence can often be negative, in terms of performance. Speaking up and having regular conversations can be a really positive thing.”

Things have already been put into place in an attempt to improve travellers’ wellbeing, such as booking them into comfy hotels with individual rooms so they can have private conversations with their families.

However Wolff believes more can be done. He said: “From 23 races, being able to take five out, makes a huge difference for every individual that is in the sport.

“We need to provide a more sustainable environment for all of these people.

“We are sitting at the table and we can influence that. We have to do it for their benefit.”

Armstrong said: “We’re lucky that we’ve got a leadership that really role models this as well.

“Toto spoke up about it, and there’s also a lot of stuff that the world doesn’t see. Any time the team comes up against hardship, we always look to support team members."

He added: “I think it gives you an edge in understanding yourself. If you understand yourself, it’s much easier to understand others.

“Many of us that you would identify as peak performers or high performers, actually perform because they have this fine sensorium.

“The bullies and the blunt-minded, they don’t have these abilities. That’s why at the end of the day, they will reach a limit that is impossible to overcome.”

An F1 car can go from 0-100mph and back down to 0 in as little as 4 seconds.