Why Monitor Racing Driver Vital Signs?
Physiological parameters such as heart rate and breathing rate give important information on performance.
The driver is the most important and valuable component of a car. Racing drivers are subjected to physical and environmental extremes and it is important to understand their physiology in order to improve performance, fitness and driver safety.
Real-time vital signs information allows teams to make tactical decisions based on driver performance alongside car performance. By understanding man and machine as a single unit it’s possible to balance the needs of both to achieve the best lap times.
“Yellowcog is committed to providing real-time physiological monitoring for drivers at all levels of motorsport. All aspects of vehicles are monitored and we believe the same attention should be given to the driver. In the event of crash we currently have the situation where the engine’s RPM is known but the driver’s BPM isn’t. The more routine monitoring that’s carried out, the more that’s mandated, the greater the gains in performance and safety for the athletes who participate and risk their lives.”
Marc Smith, Managing Director
Sport is now more competitive than ever before. Motorsport is one of a few sports where regulations and financial constraints limit the time a driver can train in the target environment. As such, it is important that the simulator and training results can be compared to race-day performance. Without timely comparisons in performance, the time taken to improve is unnecessarily lengthened.
To improve track performance it is essential to know exactly how the driver is performing during the race. Having this information in real-time allows a team to adapt to conditions as they change.
Every race is different and a driver’s psychological and physiological responses cannot all be predicted in advance. By receiving continuous information on the driver’s state it is possible to balance the needs of the driver and vehicle. The team’s tactical decisions can be made with a complete picture available.
There are many situations where driver information can lead to a better team decision. Endurance drivers who are fatigued make mistakes that could cost the race, drivers past safe physiological limits become a danger to themselves and others - individuals are generally not aware of these limits until they are crossed. There are many tactics to deal with these situations, for example instructing them to ease-off for a time in order to recover and regroup.
Pushing Past the Limit
Motorsport is operating at the extreme limits for both the car and the driver. Every athlete has a threshold beyond which the body cannot sustain that level of intensity. Exceeding this limit requires a finite amount of time to recover. Finding the driver’s limits can be done in the gym but only by monitoring in the race and in real-time can the driver’s track performance be fully understood. A driver exceeding their limits on a complex of corners is less able to carry out an overtaking move during the recovery period. This will only become apparent with routine monitoring. Alternatively: did the driver brake late because he made a misjudgement? Was that misjudgement caused by mental or physical fatigue? Real-time monitoring can allow a team to use this information tactically just as brake temperatures may be managed.
Information collected from drivers shows that physiology is very variable driver-to-driver and also during a single lap. Drivers are not constantly “at the limit” as is often assumed. Our information is used to inform driver training by preparing them for the “load terrain” that they will experience on each specific racing circuit. This makes the information useful and relevant.
Motor racing is inherently dangerous and any accident presents medics with a potential life-and-death situation.
Seconds are extremely valuable; providing real-time information to the course medics, either direct or relayed by the team, means that while on-route to the crash site they can make informed decisions about whom to treat and how. Having access to driver vital signs from previous races allows doctors to better understand recovery progress.
Case Study – Driver Safety
Yellowcog designed the Pilot™ system with safety as our primary objective. We tested the system in the East African Safari Classic Rally in Kenya; the course medics were able to monitor drivers’ vital signs in real-time from the medical helicopter. The importance of having such physiological information was shown when a car hit an obstacle and barrel-rolled. The drivers both escaped serious injury but the changes in the physiological data in the moments after the accident were dramatic. This sort of information is important in tailoring the response of the medics, for example by prioritising the person most in need. Having such information in the seconds before arriving at the scene makes a huge difference to the treatment.
When a driver crashes they are subjected to major g-forces. The assumption is always made that a driver may have spinal injuries. Giving medics the real-time vital signs information means they can balance the speed of extraction against the urgency implied by the vital signs.