BMW Motorsport drivers benefit from mental training at Formula Medicine

Mental strength is playing an increasingly important role in motorsport. It’s not enough to simply drive fast if you want to be a world-class racing driver. Being able to deliver top performance under pressure, in unpredictable situations or over a long period is what makes a champion. Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli has set new standards with Formula Medicine when it comes to mental training. Luxury car brand, BMW Motorsport has collaborated intensively with Ceccarelli for many years now. The BMW works drivers and the BMW Junior Team benefit from his progressive training philosophy.

Tuscany has been a favourite destination for the BMW works drivers for years. However, it isn’t primarily the sea, wine or good food that draws them to the coastal town of Viareggio (ITA), it is the Formula Medicine training location.

Up until the current COVID-19 crisis hit, Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli and his team were the most popular port of call for some of the best racing drivers in the world, as well as many young athletes when they wanted to work on their physical and psychological strength – and will be once again after the crisis is over, because, be it medical examinations, fitness training or mental training, Formula Medicine offers a holistic programme.

The main focus is on mental training. “It is totally different to what was available previously,” says Ceccarelli, explaining: “Our philosophy states that mental training is only there to optimise the performance of the brain. Many people only turn to a mental trainer when they have a problem that they want to solve. Our mental training is aimed at healthy top athletes and top racing drivers, who aren’t having any issues and just want to further optimise their brain’s performance. It is a totally different approach.”

As the starting point for this new approach, Ceccarelli, who dreamed of becoming a professional racing driver in his youth and started working as a doctor in Formula 1 in 1989, followed the typical processes in motorsport. “In over 30 years in racing, I learned from engineers that objective data and its analysis are what is most important,” says Ceccarelli.

“We transferred that to our mental training. We developed our own hardware and software that we can use to measure brain performance objectively. During the analysis, a driver can identify their strengths and weaknesses directly from the data, like looking in a mirror.”

However, the sober analysis of the status quo is only the first level. That is followed by the athlete’s self-awareness, which is also incredibly important. “Many of the best racing drivers in the world are characterised by a high degree of self-awareness,” said Ceccarelli, who knows the Formula 1 drivers Charles Leclerc (MON) and Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) very well and has worked with them intensively.

“The best racing drivers are able to make really good assessments of themselves and are always striving to learn as much about themselves as they can. Only those who can assess themselves really well will be able to perform optimally in stressful situations. That is the key.”

The third crucial point in Formula Medicine’s mental training philosophy is efficiency. Ceccarelli explained that “When you optimise an engine, you try not only to get as much power out of it as possible but also to make it as efficient as possible. We do the same with the brain: increase performance, whilst keeping the energy consumption as low as possible. The more efficiently the brain works, the more powerful and enduring it is under stress.”

To reach the various levels, Formula Medicine uses a variety of forms of training and measurement techniques. Brain performance is recorded alongside exercises in concentration, coordination and response. Flexibility and adaptability of the brain are also trained. “If, for example, the weather changes quickly on a race weekend, the driver must be able to mentally adjust to the new conditions within a short period of time,” said Ceccarelli.

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