2021 was undeniably the year of Max Verstappen. His remarkable performances ignited my curiosity about what goes on inside the mind of a race car driver. Dive into this exploration for a scientific perspective!Read more: Max Verstappen’s Brain: The Secrets of a Racing Phenomenon
Celebrating the Nation’s New Hero
Max Verstappen’s achievements have garnered him well-deserved acclaim, making him the focal point of countless conversations. Like many others, I was captivated by his displays on the racetrack. Although countless articles could delve into his growth mindset, trust in the process, or perceived ‘luck’, I was particularly fascinated by a different aspect: the cockpit view during races.
A Glimpse Inside the Cockpit
The live race footage offered a peek into the driver’s world. We observed a dashboard brimming with buttons, the car speeding up to 250km/h, surrounding racing cars, turns, a halo in front, and even the palpable vibration. What’s evident from Max’s in-race actions is his continuous involvement in race strategy. It’s evident that his brain is constantly processing a multitude of stimuli.
The Evolution of a Racer’s Brain
Race car drivers, like Max, embark on their journey in karting, often around ages 4 or 5, eventually progressing through Formula 3, 2, and ultimately reaching Formula 1. This gradual progression ensures that their brains are adaptively trained for the demands of the sport.
Delving Deeper: A Scientific Perspective
Researchers Ines Rito Shlomi and her team embarked on a study to understand a driver’s brain in action. They examined a Formula E champion racing on the Top Gear circuit, measuring his brain activity using an EEG headset, alongside tracking his eye, hand, and foot movements, especially under challenging conditions such as high speeds, impaired visibility, and wet tracks. The study primarily focused on the driver’s reactions during straight paths and sharp turns.
Brain Waves and Racing Decisions
During turns, there was a notable increase in the driver’s alpha (associated with relaxation) and beta (related to logical thinking, problem-solving, and active external focus) power bands, while the delta band (linked to deep sleep recovery) diminished. This observation aligns with previous studies that found a similar increase in the alpha and beta power in expert marksmen during their preparatory pre-shot phase.
The Driver’s Gaze: Strategy and Precision
In sharp turns, the driver’s focus was on the curve’s contact point, as suggested by Land and Lee’s classic study. During straight segments, his gaze was steadfastly centered on the road, ensuring greater stability. Regardless of the segment, the driver’s focus remained remarkably steady, as depicted in the provided image.
Concluding Thoughts and Future Hopes
This study offers a mere snippet of the complexities within a racer’s brain. The hands-on approach of this case study is commendable. Moving forward, I eagerly await research featuring an F1 driver donning an EEG headset or even Max Verstappen undergoing an fMRI scan, providing us a more in-depth insight into his brain’s prowess. Stay tuned for more revelations!
Rito Lima, I., Haar, S., Di Grassi, L. et al. Neurobehavioural signatures in race car driving: a case study. Sci Rep10, 11537 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68423-2