Are the new weight limits for Formula One drivers discriminatory?
The Federation Internationale de l' Automobile (FIA) has recently published new weight restrictions for Formula One drivers in 2014.
Formula One cars currently have a total weight limit of 642 kgs – any added weight will reduce the car's performance. The new weight limit will be 690 kgs in 2014 to make space for the 1.6-litre V6 turbo engine and the total weight limit includes the weight of the driver. Heavier drivers will be disadvantaged as teams rely on heavy, powerful turbo engines therefore having to choose lighter drivers.
Formula One 1992 champion Nigel Mansell was recently quoted as saying that the new weight restrictions are “disgraceful”: he disagreed with treating drivers as jockeys and clearly highlighted that the weight limits discriminate larger drivers. Mansell himself had to get his car refitted to widen the cockpit in 1995.
There are concerns for tall drivers like Mc Laren's Jenson Button, weighing at 75 kgs who said in a BBC interview about the weight limits "I love fitness training but there are things I can't do because I have to be a set weight - not eat carbohydrates, not build muscle. And next year it will be worse." Every 10 kgs over the weight limits add 1/3 of a second on each lap time. Sebastian Vettel weighs only 58 kgs so he will be at an advantage compared to heavier drivers like Nico Hulkenberg at 74 kgs or Fernando Alonso at 68 kgs. Felipe Massa weighs 59 kgs and Kimi Raikkonen 62 kgs.
McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh joined the weight limits debate urging Formula One to consider the safety and wellbeing of drivers as taller, heavier drivers could be pressurised into getting to a dangerously low weight to be able to compete. Team McLaren is particularly disadvantaged with the new weight limits rules and is facing additional costs for the redesign of their cars without compromising on the drivers' safety.
Drivers' safety must be a priority: being underweight can compromise a driver's decision-making and coordination. Extreme dieting and crash-diets can put the body at risk potentially causing fatigue, muscle wasting and irritability. Heavier drivers may be tempted to rely on quick fixes like using laxatives to lose weight which may severely compromise the digestive system in the long run causing malnutrition as nutrients cannot be absorbed efficiently.