Formula One and cycling share a close working relationship; it’s not uncommon to see drivers recceing the track, or just getting around, on two wheels instead of four.
There's a lot that cyclists could learn from F1 drivers; "moving up" in the bunch takes on a whole new definiton when it means overtaking at a speed most of us would struggle to maintain in a straight line, not to mention the significance of aerodynamics, quick reactions and handling prowess.
In recent years, the partnership has intensified: Ineos Grenadiers has revealed an aim to emulate the F1 approach through its hire of Race Engineer, Dan Bigham; McLaren had a fleeting partnership with Bahrain before pulling out, Williams F1 was working with Israel Start-Up Nation, and recently BMC and Red Bull have joined forces, too. On a personal level, most cyclists can’t fail to have noticed the burgeoning relationship between Canyon-SRAM’s Tiffany Crowell, and Alfa Romeo-Ferrari’s Valtteri Bottas.
For four-time world champion Sebastien Vettel, training on the bike is a means of building base fitness, as well as getting around; the 34-year-old Aston Martin rider says he discovered quite how hard cycling was when trying to emulate his idols, Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong.
“In Germany, Jan Ullrich was very big at the time and his rivalry with Lance Armstrong was so inspirational,” Vettel says.
After reading in Armstrong’s book that 500 watts was the target (though, it transpires, not unaided), Vettel got on board to test out his own prowess: “I think I only lasted about a minute or maybe a minute and a half at 500 watts – my respect for what they can do is huge.”
Born South of Frankfurt in the small town of Heppenheim, Germany, Sebastien Vettel knew from an early age he wanted to race go-karts and emulate one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers there has ever been: Michael Schumacher. He was successful, in 2010 - aged 23 - he became the youngest ever World Champion. After five successful seasons with Red Bull, in 2015 he switched to the red of Ferrari before joining Aston Martin in 2021.
“Driving a Formula One car is an endurance sport, from a young age I followed a regime which is similar, I suppose, to what I do now, working at intervals to boost my base fitness,” Vettle explains.
The routine which keeps Vettel in fine fettle after all these years is a fairly basic interval session, his bike is set up on a Wahoo Kickr turbo trainer with an SRM power meter. He warms up at around 100 – 200 watts, before working at intervals between 200 and 400 watts.
The amazing thing is Vettel will do this for a couple of hours while stationary on the bike, without any form of visual aid such as Zwift, or even watching a bike race. “I’ve never tried any of these apps, such as Zwift or Sufferfest [now Wahoo Systm]” he says. “I’m really competitive and I think if I start getting involved in them then my competitive edge will take over and I’ll forget the reason why I’m training, it’s not to be fastest on these apps but to be fit enough to drive an F1 car.”
It’s not only indoor cycling for Vettel, though, who has ventured into a mix of cycling types from his home in Switzerland; Vettel has a Cannondale road bike, Canyon Gravel bike a Rocky mountain bike and also a Fixie bike which was made for him by a bike shop owner in Australia.
The rewards for riding a bike for Vettel are the same as for many of us who ride for recreation: “For me riding a bike isn’t about going as fast as you can, the sense of personal achievement you get from cycling is such a huge reward, getting to the top of a climb, it’s the best.”
As for arriving at racetracks, one of Vettel's clear messages this year has been around keeping the world tidy. After the Silverstone Grand Prix, Vettel toured the grandstands with colleagues from the Aston Martin F1 team, litter picking after the fans. This environmental approach has been something of a push in F1 of late, and more drivers are arriving to the circuit by bike. Mick Schumacher, Lando Norris and Vettel have all rocked up by bike at some point, and many riders take to two wheels to check out the circuits as a way of seeing how the track flows.
There are clear benefits for Vettel, outside of reducing emissions and providing a fitness fix. “Riding to the circuits isn’t about getting an extra bit of training in, I find it much more pleasurable than sitting in a car in traffic. Most of the races are in busy cities and if it’s 20 minutes by car in traffic or 20 minutes on a bike – a million times over I’ll choose the bike.”
After Vettel hangs up his racing helmet and reflects on a long successful career in F1, could there be something of a different career for him?
“I’ve always found bike couriers fascinating – I’ve always wanted to do it, the thrill of riding flat out through a busy city, that’s something I love and something I’d really like to do. I’m jealous of those guys!” - imagine having your takeaway delivered, on a bicycle, by one of the world's most successful F1 drivers.
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Myles Warwood is a cycling journalist, automotive journalist and videographer. He writes for Cycling Weekly, Cyclist and Car magazine.
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