It is every young driver’s dream to one day have the chance to drive a Ferrari Formula One car. Some talented young people are lucky enough to be accepted into the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA). They embark upon on a real sports education, which helps them to develop their skills, while continuing with their education, a now indispensable requirement for any athletes.
Currently the FDA students are Antonio Fuoco, Charles Leclerc, Giuliano Alesi (all involved in GP3) and Guan Yu Zhou (who races in Formula 3).
The four live in a mythical and, at the same time, protected place: the house by the side of the Fiorano track. It was there, from his famous study, that Enzo Ferrari kept an eye on all company activities, the track tests and the races on television. The boys have their own space, their bedrooms, and a lounge to relax in but also a fully equipped gym and simulator.
FDA activities also include mental training - managed by Med-Ex, Ferrari's medical partner - which seeks to optimise the cognitive abilities of drivers to help them deal with emergencies and to manage stress, a constantly present factor in motorsport.
Marco Casarotti is FDA’s mental trainer and his work goes far beyond that of a classical analyst. ‘The era of trial and error has also been left behind in the field of psychology,’ says the scientist who graduated in Padua and who, before combining work with his passion for sport and motor racing, also taught at the same university.
‘Today, just as for a car, we also have telemetry for the human body that allows us to understand the progress that a driver is making.’ A series of sensors provides an accurate picture of the areas that need working on. At the start of a race every driver has to manage two machines: the vehicle and his body’, says Casarotti. ‘It is a great effort, which in motor racing reaches considerable heights given that the drivers are looking for milliseconds on each lap, for many rounds and so the utmost precision is required over a prolonged period.’
Everyone is different, which is why each “human machine” requires personalised preparation. ‘With biotelemetry we can evaluate the areas to work on with the lads. Some feel too much tension, so we focus on relaxation practices, while with others we need to increase the levels of concentration. Indeed a drop off in attention occurs involuntarily after a certain period and so we work to avoid it with the right exercises.
‘All FDA students train on reaction times, to try to lower them as much as possible without falling into error [there is also an index, the ICE, which precisely evaluates the relationship between speed and mistakes] and then we make them work on a routine in which other tasks are randomly included.’ This exercise has already borne fruit on the track. FDA drivers are among the best at handling the car recovery procedures at the start as well as in case of spin, and therefore often manage to prevent the engine from stalling.
However, it would be wrong to conceive this as a cool relationship, almost as if the students were guinea pigs: ‘Through dedicated sessions with each of the guys, trust has now built up and if needs be I can also act as a classical psychologist. The boys tell me about their lives, their passions, and this allows me to further personalise their preparation.
‘I love them all. I go through it if they are in trouble and I am thrilled when I see them respond to adversity with the methods developed in Maranello. Here they are in the best place in the world to try to pursue their goal. I am at the service of their dreams,’ concludes Casarotti.