George Russell was in Australia, raring to go for the first race of the year, when he got a text from Alex Albon to inform him that one of the McLaren team had tested positive for Covid-19. “I couldn’t sleep all night, fearful that I was going to get stuck out in Australia. It was just such a bizarre feeling. You’ve gone from this height of excitement and it’s all just come crashing down.”
The 22-year-old Formula One driver flew back to England, moving in with his family, and had to figure out a whole new version of 2020: a year of races now spent in isolation. He misses the parade lap, “when they’re chanting your name… it gives you goosebumps”, and now he’s working in a remote office, communicating with his engineers over Zoom. F1 has been doing “exceptionally well with testing protocols”, he says, but they’re also having to stay in bubbles and work exceptionally hard to limit exposure.
But one thing that’s kept Russell structured in this weird time is virtual racing. He has a whole rig set-up with a chair, steering wheel and pedals and he plays in races online with other F1 drivers – there are usually five or six per game – and professional gamers. “When I started this virtual stuff, I was miles off the pace. I was a complete amateur,” he confessed. “Even though it’s still racing, these professional gamers were making me look like an idiot.” He would practise and practise to no avail, until finally one day it clicked: now he’s playing at the same pace as some of the pro gamers. “I so easily could have just said, ‘Right, I’m stopping this. It’s a game. It’s not real life,’” he said. “But I practised like hell, spent a lot of time and effort with some people helping me, and suddenly I became good at it.”
Besides his new virtual racing career, Russell has found other ways of keeping structure and order in a time of chaos. Here, in his own words, is how he’s kept himself ready to return to the track during one of the most challenging years on record.
In the early days of lockdown, I had no routine. I’d go to bed whenever I felt like. I just felt useless, really. Days were flying by. So I tried to get to bed roughly the same time every evening.
I’ve been training a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors – cardio, cycling, running. I’ve set myself little goals. I said to myself I’m never gonna have three, four months doing nothing ever again in my life. And I want to try to achieve something and set myself a fitness goal, set myself a fun goal – learn to juggle – and trying to learn a language.
Then the virtual racing came around. I wanted to put everything I had into that and do it properly and it motivated me to have a routine: I had my fitness in the morning, a healthy lunch, then try to have a nap in the day. I’m not really a nap kind of guy – I tried it, I don’t like it, but gave it a go, why not? Then I’d go on every day at 3pm, jumping on with the pros, who were tutoring me along the way. It gave me something to focus on on a daily basis.
I think it’s making better use of your home space, improvising, and then finding ways to mix things up. I was using a heavy fruit bowl we had for some core exercises, or making use of the kitchen table to lie down and do pull-ups to help with my chest. Doing single-leg squats off the sofa. Making use of a TRX as well.
I wanted to – and I still do – avoid the gym as much as I can. But I’m very fortunate: I actually know a guy who owns a private gym that he uses himself, a really nice little place that I go and use. So I feel comfortable there. I try to stay out of the public gyms even though I know they’re doing it as best as they can. I feel that responsibility on my shoulders – not just for myself, but for the team, Formula One. We need all these exemptions to go around the world, to go racing, and we need these exemptions to keep the show going.
I’m a healthy guy and I took the opportunity to be even more healthy, really see how I handle that: cooking more myself and more extravagant meals, nicer recipes. I used to do a very standard carbs and veg and protein, nothing too spectacular. You’d be a bit disappointed if you got one of my dishes at a restaurant.
I love pizza as a cheat meal here and there, but I was finding ways to try to make it healthier and better and, actually, it tasted really nice as well. You don’t just need chocolate or sweets to get you going, there are home pleasures that have always been around. In all honesty, now the season started again and we are flat out, I won’t be doing any home baking or making pizza or whatever. But it was a nice opportunity and I enjoyed it.
I’m a cappuccino-a-day kind of guy. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a caffeine addiction. One a day keeps the doctor away. Or so they say. Not too sure that goes for coffee.
I lived with my sister and brother-in-law during lockdown, who were just ice cream perverts: we were just all over it. It was very difficult to resist, in all honesty: I do love a bit of Ben & Jerry’s here and there. Ice cream and a proper greasy, dirty burger are probably my two guiltiest pleasures. But it is tricky. I’m a 6ft 2in, tall racing driver and we have to be less than 74 kilos. And it’s quite a tall order to keep that weight down.
It was staying in good contact with my friends, who I couldn’t see and I still continue not to be able to see because I’m trying to isolate as much as I can. The virtual racing congregated all of my racing friends together and that was just really good fun.
And if there is ever an issue, talk about it to the people you’re closest with. I know during lockdown I had things going on in my life that were personal to me, and you try not to let it affect you, but it does, and you just need to get it out there to the people you trust.
It’s been good, actually. There’s probably been less to stress about because race was my life – and we weren’t racing. Anything between seven and nine hours is pretty good for me. I’ve actually got a ring that I sleep with that tells me all of the information of my night’s sleep. It’s almost like a challenge to try to better the previous night’s.
I actually really used to struggle to sleep about three years ago: I was really anxious, a lot of things going on in my life and my career, I didn’t know what my future held. I undertook some professional advice and it took me a solid year for my sleep to improve. And since then it’s been great – having a good bedtime routine, which is what we call it, avoiding phones, television, any bright lights for 30 minutes to an hour before bed, making sure the room is nice and dark, there’s no excess light coming in, making sure it’s cooled. I’ve learned that I sleep better when it’s colder. It took my body time to adjust to all these little things and now suddenly I sleep like a baby, which I never would have believed three, four years ago.
Original post: Source link