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When the button lights up you press it

Posted on 28 July 2010

When the button lights up, you press it.Alert and fit, Bennett achieves a score of 60 in a minute, which is pretty reasonable. Giancarlo Fisichella, the talented young Benetton driver, holds the record of 88. But in a state of near exhaustion after the step machine, Bennett’s fumbling attempts to locate and press the buttons make him resemble a drunken spider trying to track down a particularly elusive fly. It is an extraordinary demonstration of how quickly the brain can disintegrate under physical pressure. Bennett, who has just sailed his 21ft yacht to a highly respectable fifth place in the recent mini-Transatlantic race, is suitably chastened by his diminished score of 42. Lesson one learnt: pace yourself.Formula One drivers need to have the build of a jockey, the forearms and wrists of a darts player, the neck muscles of a prop forward, the stamina of a marathon runner and a ballet dancer’s suppleness in the ankle joints. In one exercise, Fisichella sits on a red bouncing ball in full race gear with his helmet attached by wire to weights on either side.

Not exactly hi-tech, but the nervous movements of the ball precisely recreate the twitchiness of a Formula One car at high speed, while the weights work to develop the ability of the neck muscles to withstand enormous G-forces.Benetton are the first team to develop their own in-house performance lab. During a race, the Italian’s heart rate will average 140-160 beats a minute, rising to 200 in moments of extreme tension, which puts him in the same category of stress as a marathon runner or a Tour de France cyclist. He is wedged in a tiny cockpit, yet no amount of discomfort must affect his levels of co-ordination or concentration.It is the ability to balance extreme physical exertion with logical thinking and delicate manoeuvring that Shrosbree is trying to drill into his new sailing recruits It is what he calls total body conditioning. “When you haven’t had any sleep and you’re trying to do the most basic task like making a cup of tea for the crew,” he says.Being sailing fit, Goss calls it. “You will lose weight because the cold and the sea grinds it out of you. You need power and a bit of padding and you need to be supple. You’re static for long periods and then you take explosive exercise, pulling down a sail or whatever This is good because it’s making us think about our fitness.

This boat is a real man- eater and it ain’t going to wait for us.”Visualisation is another technique favoured by Shrosbree. “Being able to see what might happen can help you focus when you’re tired,” he says. Fisichella’s powers of visualisation are so acute he can sit on the ball, turning an imaginary steering wheel, working the pedals like a child at play and, in his mind’s eye, lap Monaco to within two seconds of his true qualifying time last season.Under pressure, Goss’s crew will have to react no less instinctively than Fisichella. “We’re going to be leaping off a wave at 40mph in pitch black in the Southern Ocean and no one can afford to freeze mentally,” Goss says.

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