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F1 fitness: Button ready for Spa after triathlon test

By James Masters, for CNN
updated 10:40 AM EDT, Fri August 31, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • F1 car is able to create around 3.5g of cornering force
  • Drivers could lose up to 3 kg of their body weight during a race
  • Cycling, tennis and swimming all help to deal with strain of racing
  • Triathlon just as difficult as racing in Grand Prix

(CNN) -- As glamorous as it may seem, Formula One is not all about fast cars, fast women and partying on luxurious yachts in Monte Carlo.

The heavy demands of a punishing schedule, and the physical requirements of handling a car at extreme speeds, mean that even during the off-season the drivers are constantly putting their bodies through increasingly strenuous training.

McLaren's former world champion Jenson Button takes his conditioning seriously. The Englishman has caught the triathlon bug, and has even set up his own trust which organized a charity race during F1's month-long summer break..

"I started racing in triathlon in 2008 and it was mostly training for F1 and I got really into it," Button told CNN ahead of Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, which could be particularly testing if the wet conditions that marred the practice sessions continue.

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Simulating the F1 experience

"I've become addicted to triathlon because I'm a competitive person as most sportsmen are, and so when I do something else and I'm OK at it, I want to improve.

"I've been doing triathlons for four or five years now and improving all the time."

Formula One drivers are some of the fittest athletes in sport, undergoing extensive conditioning and cardiovascular work.

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An F1 car is able to create around 3.5 g of cornering force, and the extreme heat inside the cockpit means drivers could lose up to 3 kg of their body weight during a race.

While Ferrari's 2012 championship leader Fernando Alonso likes to go cycling and play tennis to help build strength, some like Red Bull's Mark Webber prefer the challenge of mountain biking.

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Strength plays a key part in helping drivers deal with the rigorous demands of the car, and the neck and chest muscles take much of the punishment.

Muscles can be helped to cope with the demands by specially designed "rigs" while hours in the gym also help to develop strength in the arms.

"The all-round fitness of a triathlon is great because you have the swim, which is upper body and core, and you have the bike, which is legs and it is core, and you have the run -- which is an all over workout," Button said.

"It's working your heart very high, its working your lungs very hard, but the bit we really take away from it is the mental side of it because it hurts a lot."

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Button, now 33, is enjoying his 13th year in F1 after joining Williams back in 1999 but has admitted that he's already got one eye on retirement as the demands of the sport take a toll on his body.

Button believes he loses nearly three liters of fluid during a race, while his heart is thumping at around 150 to the minute.

"It's very draining to drive a Formula One car," he said.

Australian Grand Prix: March 18, Melbourne<br/><br/>2012 champion: Jenson Button, McLaren Australian Grand Prix: March 18, Melbourne

2012 champion: Jenson Button, McLaren
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"It's obviously a very stressful environment, so mentally you prepare yourself by doing other sports and for me triathlon is the sport to mentally prepare myself.

"I did a half Iron Man two weeks ago. I took four and a half hours to do this triathlon and that's a 1.9 km swim, 90 km bike and half marathon at the end.

"That was in the Philippines where it's 100 degrees so that definitely prepares you mentally for F1. I had a little bit of fun on the way, a lot of pain though."

Latest Formula One standings

The 2009 champion has endured a mixed season so far and stands seventh in the drivers' standings going into the final nine races.

While some F1 fans might have expected their heroes to let off some steam and re-energize for the second half of the season, Button has been putting himself through rigorous training.

In the past, he has cycled with Lance Armstrong in Hawaii, while he's also ridden alongside professionals Mark Renshaw and Phillipe Gilbert in Monaco.

He's even been known to go for a 2 km swim with his model girlfriend, Jessica Michibata, before heading for the escapism of the mountains on his bike.

"A lot of people say we're on holiday but a lot of us are taking part in events," Button said.

"Fernando Alonso is doing the same, he is doing a cycle race, Mark Webber is into his cycling and adventure racing.

"It's good to see so many guys into sports outside and I cycle with a few of them in the South of France. It's enjoyable; it's good to have a hobby outside your main job, I think.

"After an F1 race, you're mentally very drained, and you build a lot of lactic acid because of the vibrations with the car.

"When you first step out of the car you feel very dizzy, you've been in one position, pulling a lot of G-force. It's very different but equally as tough."

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