Formula 1 is physically demanding, and the drivers are some of the fittest athletes around. They go through extensive training to get their bodies fit enough to cope with the demands of a Grand Prix, and to help with this – they hire fitness personnel to train them to their limit. But have you ever wondered what a performance coach does? Well, I got to talk to Daniel Ricciardo’s performance coach, Michael Italiano, about his career in F1.
Hey Michael, could you please explain your role as a performance coach in Formula 1?
My role is to prepare Daniel to perform. I take care of his health and wellbeing. Controlling his training plan, his nutritional needs and all on track essentials. Preparing him all week for each session, warming him up and ensuring he’s in a positive headspace before the competition.
You obviously have a passion for health and fitness; why did you decide to become a coach?
I decided to become a coach because my passion was always in health and fitness. I had been competing in sport since the age of 5 and loved competition and was always trying to improve my athletic performance.
You made the move into Formula 1 at the end of 2017, becoming Daniel Ricciardo’s personal performance coach. How was the transition from fitness consultant to entering the motorsport world?
A huge change! I was very routine orientated as I had a very busy schedule as a PT in Perth, and to transition from 50 clients to 1 client was surprisingly difficult. Also, living out of a suitcase isn’t for everyone, so that took some time to get used to. The season is so fast-paced I didn’t really have time to settle; I had to ride the wave and deal with it. Not having a set routine was difficult at first; I found it challenging to look after myself, however like anything, the more you do something, the more you learn how to improve things.
Is working with professional athletes something you’ve always wanted to do?
Yes definitely, I’ve always had the drive to train professional athletes. As a coach who wouldn’t, they have special characteristics, which is an absolute joy to coach and helping them find their peak potential is very rewarding.
Formula 1 is demanding both physically and mentally, are there any challenges of training an F1 driver?
Yes, recovery is a big challenge, the season is so long, and we travel so much, the drivers don’t have that much time to rest. Crossing so many time zones can be an issue at times. Also, the neck undergoes a lot of G-force throughout a race; therefore keeping the neck strong is vital and something you need to keep on top of.
How do you keep your clients motivated?
Plan, plan, plan! Ensure my clients have completed a goal setting task to ensure they know their WHY! Then ensure they are celebrating the small wins along the way. Also, setting reminders to what you want to achieve. I have my 2021 goals on my wallpaper on my mobile and laptop, so I see them all day, every day, to remind me why I’m doing what I’m doing.
You focus on other people a lot, but how do you unwind from work, any hobbies outside of F1 and training?
I love my weights training; it stimulates me and keeps me positive. I also like running to clear the head if I’m in a busy patch and have a busy mind. I also enjoy reading, a nice quiet time to unwind and learn something new.
What advice would you give someone who wants to work as a performance coach within motorsport?
I’d tell them it isn’t everything they see on camera; it’s a lot of hard work and travelling. You are away from home 70% of the year, so personal relationships and routine becomes very difficult to manage.
It’s a rewarding job; however, it comes with sacrifices, so be prepared.
What does a typical race week look like for you? Any pre-race training routines you could tell us about?
Thursdays, I set everything up, I set up our race room. Unpack our massage table, sort all of Daniels racing clothes out, prepare my training bag and sort out supplementation for the weekend. Friday and Saturdays are the most busy days, two sessions each day. Warming daniel up pre sessions, ensuring he’s hydrated and controlling his meal timings. Also, preparing his helmets and being on hand in case he needs anything. Sundays mostly the same, preparing him for the race.
We have to ask, what is the best moment you’ve had with Daniel since joining him as his coach?
Easy, 2018 Monaco. He was the fastest in every session, put the car on pole and won the race. The perfect weekend and the perfect drive.
Thank you to Michael for taking the time to talk to me about his experiences in Formula 1 for our ‘Working In Motorsport’ series. Motorsport is a world so many people would love to work in, and it’s great to hear stories and advice from those who are there.