Sport and Exercise Science Professional Doctorate student, Tom Clark, visited LJMU last week in preparation for the start of the new Formula 1 season.
Tom has spent the past four years working with the Alpine team and specifically their driver Esteban Ocon.
During his visit to LJMU Tom spent time with his doctoral team discussing his jet lag research project and the data he captured during the previous F1 season.
Dr Simon Roberts, Programme Leader for the Professional Doctorate in Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences said: “LJMU and F1 have a couple of things in in common – they are both innovative and world-leading and the jet lag research Tom is undertaking as part of his doctoral studies is a good example.
“With support from LJMU computer scientist, Simon Morris, Tom has adapted the LJMU Jet Lag Questionnaire and configured it to a digital platform so members of the F1 team can monitor jet lag and travel fatigue via handheld devices or tablets across the season.
“Tom has a gruelling schedule when the F1 season begins, and it was good to see him before pre-season testing begins in February. It was a productive couple of days and the team are looking forward to the next stages of the project.”
Q & A with Tom Clark
How did you find yourself working in Formula 1?
“I had a passion for motorsport as a child and competed in go-karts for a large portion of my early adolescence. After I had completed my MSc in Sport and Exercise Science I worked in a private gym (near Gatwick airport) that specialised in motorsport performance. Initially I worked for free as an intern, but over time I began to develop professional relationships with drivers across motorsport.
“A few years later I became self-employed, and started working with a few racing athletes, attending race competitions and providing performance support and physical preparation advice. This led to an approach by Hintsa Performance, a performance consultancy working in Formula 1 and I landed my first F1 performance role in 2018.”
Tell us about your role with the Alpine F1 team?
“My primary role is with Alpine F1 driver, Esteban Ocon. I work exclusively with Esteban, providing support and expertise on both his health and performance. Consequently, I spend a lot of time with Esteban. I travel to all the Grand Prix’s on the F1 calendar and deliver pre- and mid-season training camps. I spend on average 250 days with Esteban across the course of a year and in effect I am Estaban’s a head of performance.”
Can you give us an insight into the typical routine to prepare Esteban for race day?
“On race day (Sunday) of a given Grand Prix, we have a consistent routine. The biggest problem to overcome is associated with travel, local time zones and organisational logistics. Formula 1 is a global sport with 23 races taking place in 22 different countries across five continents. With TV licensing and audiences driving the scheduling, race start times can fluctuate greatly depending on the country we are in. So, priority number one, is always allowing for a large sleep opportunity the night before, waking up as late as we possibly can. Formula 1 is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one, so keeping Esteban fresh and not starting the day earlier than is necessary is often a priority, particularly when we consider that by race day a lot of fatigue (both physical and mental) has built up.
“When we arrive at the track, meal and snack times remain relatively routine (time zone depending), hydration protocols are important and will reflect predicted sweat loss during the race. If we have time, we may schedule some down time between meetings for some mobility, light activity or soft tissue therapy depending on the context of events so far that weekend.
“The final hour before a race start Esteban will undertake his warmup, which includes some racing specific components as well as areas more typically seen as part of a physical preparation routine.
“Once we are on the grid before the start of the race, my job is to try and minimise unnecessary stressors for Esteban and attempt to him to keep focused on what’s important. We will plan and pre-empt as much as possible, even down to which broadcaster will interview him before the start of the race. Finally, we will do some reactive drills in the final seconds before getting in the car, to refresh and refocus after the chaos of the grid-walk.”
What has been your career highlight to date?
“Most definitely winning the Hungarian Grand Prix with Esteban in 2021. As a fan of the sport and as a child once dreaming of being a Formula 1 driver, it felt very special to be a small part of that enormous high in an athlete’s career.”
Can you tell us a little about your doctoral research you’re undertaking here with LJMU and the experts you are working with?
“My doctoral research is in the area of jet lag. I am currently being supervised by Dr Ben Edwards (Director of Studies) and from a professional doctorate perspective Dr Simon Roberts (co-supervisor). Dr Javier Fernandez Navarro has recently joined the team to support me with some of the statistical modelling techniques I need to learn. I feel very fortunate to work with both Ben and Simon at LJMU, they have not only been integral to my development along the doctorate journey but have also provided me with great guidance outside of my doctoral studies.
“My jet lag research is an important consideration in F1 due to the extreme travel demands we endure as part of a season. Prior to undertaking the doctorate, I did some scoping searches on how to mitigate jet lag and I soon realized that LJMU had a world-leading expert in Ben. I was aware of the Liverpool John Moores University Jet Lag Questionnaire, and I knew I would need to use this instrument if I was to measure jet leg effectively.”
How do you hope your research and findings will improve the performance of Formula 1 drivers?
“When it comes to jet lag, there is little in the way of applied research which translates to athlete populations, not just F1 drivers. Travel is multifactorial and can vary significantly; different classes of plane travel, departure times relative to the new time zone, time of year (when the sun rises and sets), what tools an athlete might have at their disposal (light promoting or deducing garments), are a few examples that can influence jet lag. Consequently, I want to better understand the mechanisms of circadian rhythms and jet lag to establish where the difficulties lie in translation to practice.
“I hope to be able to better guide F1 drivers and key stakeholders to make sustainable behaviour and logistical changes to better mitigate jet lag and travel fatigue to ensure individuals have longevity in the sport, remain healthily and perform at a high level in whatever their role.”
Could this translate across other sports too?
“Absolutely, international travel is part and parcel of modern-day elite sport. Moreover, the scheduling of training/ competition of sports at all levels, often leads to social jet lag and a disparity between the lifestyle of athletes and that required as part of their sport. Identifying the barriers to specific sports, managing sleep schedules and mitigating social jet lag is an area a large number of professional sport organisations view as important for performance gains.”
Find out more about the work of the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at LJMU and the courses available to study.