Mental Health is defined as ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being’. So, why is something that makes us human still a subject which is so difficult to talk about?
The inner circle of motorsport is a busy place to be, the physical training that drivers endure is exhausting to even read about. From training camps to reaction training, spending time in the gym, which many drivers have at home, hours in the simulator, and let’s not forget about the health regimes they have to follow. But, what about their mental health?
Over recent months, more drivers have started to speak up about their inner struggles and how they have overcome them. More than often, I see racing drivers referred to as “superheroes”. Their ability to switch into their relaxed state of mind before a race continues to amaze me, but the truth is – they aren’t superheroes; they are people, just like you and me.
Last year, McLaren announced a partnership with the charity Mind, which provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. McLaren said that this partnership stems from their “increased focus on mental health as part of its overall health and well-being programme.” A few months later, McLaren F1 driver, Lando Norris, spoke up about his struggles since his career began in Formula One. He wrote, “have you ever struggled with something mentally but hidden it from the world by putting on a brave face? I know I have.” He explains how he was questioning his own self-belief and comparing himself to his teammate and other drivers. Something, I’m sure, many of the drivers deal with day to day.
Mental Strength has a huge part to play in Formula 1; it is a big mind game. Every single lap, maximum concentration, and nothing else on your mind. Can you imagine how difficult that must be? Admittedly, writing this post has taken days of on and off concentration. So how do these drivers do it? Last month, F1 revealed that the balance of mental wellbeing is starting to shift. More and more drivers have started to receive mental coaching, which has been common in other sports for years. Both Nico Rosberg and Mika Hakkinen revealed after they had quit racing, they both sought mental coaching for one reason or another. Nico once said, “We all train our bodies flat-out every day, yet we don’t do that much for our minds”, he revealed how he worked on moving his mind towards more positive thoughts every morning and evening for around 20 minutes and says it’s a big part of why he became world champion. In 2016, Romain Grosjean admitted that he needed to consult a psychologist in the darkest moments of his early career, particularly after 2012 and credits the specialist for improving his life, both on and off the track. Understandably, he will be working with a psychologist again to overcome the mental effects of his accident at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Social Media. Ah, you just knew this was going to come, didn’t you? Does social media have a part to play in mental health? Absolutely! As human beings, we thrive off the need for companionship and being socially connected to others. Social media can, in some ways, ease stress, anxiety, boost your self-worth, provide comfort and prevent loneliness. Unfortunately, we also live in a world where keyboard warriors troll our ‘safe’ platforms. Even my friends and I have been on the receiving end of multiple attacks on social media platforms. Now, imagine you’re a driver. You’ve worked your ass off all weekend but couldn’t pull out the results you were expected to, and maybe one little mistake cost it all, those feelings of not being good enough, letting everybody down – not just yourself. At the end of the day, you have to go onto social media and see an onslaught of comments calling you every name under the sun and telling you; you shouldn’t be doing the job you love. I get it, Formula 1 is and always will be an opinionated sport. Of course, you are frustrated too, but constructive criticism is a lot different to being unkind. Certain drivers choose to live their lives away from Social Media or have taken a step back due to these kinds of incidents.
Earlier, I mentioned how people often think of Formula 1 drivers as superheroes. In the 2019 season, tragedy struck in Belgium when 22-year-old Anthoine Hubert was involved in a fatal accident in the FIA Formula 2 Feature Race. An incident that rocked the motorsport community. Current Formula 1 drivers Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc knew Anthoine personally; they were friends outside of the sport and grew up together from karting onwards, sharing their journey every step of the way. Motor racing is a hard, brutal business. However, these moments confront drivers with the reality of the sense of danger their profession poses and that they are, in fact, human. Although they do it because they love it – the mental strength of every single one of those drivers to get back into their cars the day after and watch those five red lights come on one by one is incredible.
Unfortunately, to this day, mental illness can be seen as a sign of weakness, and I know what you might be thinking “Does that really matter?”. In a way, yes, it does! The idea that someone struggling with mental health is weak is stigmatising and could negatively affect certain subgroups of the population, for instance, men. Due to societal expectations and ‘traditional’ gender roles, men are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health problems. We all know that F1 is a predominantly male sport; could this be why mental health is a rarely spoken about topic in the world of motorsport?
Mental health is an important topic, not just in Formula 1 but everywhere. Yes, drivers and teams are becoming more open to discussing them; however, my question remains.
Can F1 do more for Mental Health?