Efficiency Coach Tom Clark Shares the Coaching Methods for F1 Success

The physical demands of Formula 1 require each driver to be as well-rounded of an athlete as possible. Along with the rigors of steering a high-performance rocket car, there are also a lot of crisscrossing time zones, which place a premium on the importance of reducing jet lag, quality sleep, and proper nutrition. This isn’t anything new for Tom Clark.

Tom Clark is the Senior Performance Coach for Alpine driver Esteban Ocon. He is also working on a professional doctorate in Applied Sport and Exercise Science, focusing on jet lag, travel fatigue, and coping strategies. Along with making sure Ocon is firing on all cylinders, Clark also hopes to help make changes to mitigate travel fatigue across F1 to help the longevity and performance of those within the sport.

Clark spoke with Muscle & Fitness on the work that goes into ensuring Ocon is at his best come race weekend, some of his strategies for managing jet lag, and ways that he makes sure there is always quality food available throughout each stop during the season.

Alpine Racing

Training an F1 Driver is a Year-Round Commitment For Tom Clark

Tom Clark spends close to 70 percent of the year by Ocon’s side. At the start of the season, the senior performance coach will fly to the driver’s house in Switzerland, where they’ll begin covering all bases in preparation for the upcoming season. There are then conversations with the other members of the training staff on what went well the previous season, what races were physically tough, and areas of improvement. This all comes after Clark’s communication with the engineers as he needs to see if any updates or changes could alter some of the modalities that will be implemented.

“The sport and the demands of it can change year-on-year just based on some quite subtle details,” Clark says. “Because, you have this unknown variable in a car, which very much is a big part of what is the centerpiece of the sport.”

Given that Ocon needs to be at his best each race, Clark says the focus isn’t on getting super fit in preseason, but gradually building throughout the season. During certain periods of the season, they can focus on gains or more targeted areas that need to be addressed.

There is also dedicated heat training as they approach some of the hotter races. Clark ensures that Ocon is prepared for basically any scenario or anomaly they can encounter throughout the season.

Make Sure There Are Always Quality Ingredients

Despite the time difference being in or against their favor, Clark does his best to see that Ocon maintains the same eating schedule. Clark is both organized and analytical when it comes to aspect and everything from snacks and supplements are planned to be less reliant on inflight food. If there are any flight stoppages, research has already gone into where to eat and there are also lines of communication established with any of the hotels they’re staying in.

“I will ring ahead, try and get any sort of feedback from people who have eaten at a restaurant to make sure the food hygiene is good,” Clark says. “With every hotel that we stay in, one of the first things I do is try and meet the hotel manager or someone from the dining team. I have them on WhatsApp and we will communicate on the produce and food on a given week.”

It also helps that they’ve been to each race location once before, so there is familiarity along with trusted contacts and spots to choose from. Arrival is usually a few days prior to the race so the teams can get settled in and prepare for the weekend. During race weekend, a priority is placed on carbs and proteins to help with recovery and to make sure Ocon is feeling at his best when he lines up on the grid.

Tom Clark Isn’t Lagging Behind Jet Lag

Tom Clark has been with Ocon since 2021 and has worked in motorsports for 10 years. There are many hats he wears as the senior performance coach. His pursuit of learning more about jet lag and understanding more about circadian rhythms stems directly from his experience in working with Ocon and a performance coach’s never-ending goal of improving their athlete’s performance.

“When I thought about what are we, as the Formula One community doing when it comes to jet lag, there really wasn’t much,” Clark says. “It was this thing that people just accepted. There definitely was an awareness to jet lag and trying to do something to mitigate the symptoms.

“I wanted to look at it from a more under-the-microscope perspective and really understand the mechanisms involved and what we can do in this extreme environment that we’re in because it’s not like there are research papers on Formula One travel.”

This season will take teams and drivers to a total of 21 countries across five continents. The schedule includes a record 24 races, including three triple headers (a combination of three races in three consecutive race weekends without a week’s break between the subsequent races), and will see teams travel approximately 123,000km (76,000 miles) between races. There simply isn’t a way to avoid jet leg with such extensive travel but there are ways to mitigate the symptoms.

Time Is of The Essence When Combating Jet Lag

Jet lag is defined as a temporary sleep disorder that occurs when the body’s internal clock is out of sync with cues from a new time zone. Those cues are usually light exposure and eating times, which lead to fatigue and difficulty concentrating — symptoms that could be disastrous for drivers. Tom Clark says the first key thing to whether you’re traveling east or west over time zones as this will determine the severity of jet lag one would experience.  He mentioned a saying that is used commonly in jet lag research “West is best,” as most people will find traveling west a lot easier than east.

“The simple reason for that is we find it easier to make the day longer as human beings,” Clark says. “Generally, our body clock is actually slightly longer than 24 hours, which means to make the day longer is generally something we’re predisposed to prefer compared to making the day shorter.”

Clark says it’s important to start mimicking some of the behaviors you’d have in the new time zone days before you even board your flight. He mentioned what he would do in traveling from the U.K. to Central America, where the time difference is seven hours behind. Clark says he would begin going to bed and waking up one hour later while making sure in the evening that he’s seeing light for an extra hour as well by turning on every light in his vicinity to help his eyes adjust. This begins to help shift the body clock more powerfully. If he’s going eastward, he’ll wake up and go to bed an hour earlier.

Even if you’re not a frequent flyer, Clark mentioned the modern phenomenon of social jet lag which is the desynchronization between your body clock and your environment. This comes with many people who work Monday through Friday and rise early and get to bed early but do the reverse on weekends, which bleeds over into the start of the following week. Clark says simple changes and consistency with a sleep schedule go a long way in ensuring better performance and even a better mood.

“Let’s say you had a late Saturday night,” he says. “Don’t try and make up for it Sunday morning. Try and wake up earlier than you would normally. Keep some of that tiredness to then go to bed early Sunday night. That’s where a lot of people will go wrong in that. They’ll sleep in on Sunday.”

Follow Tom Clark on Instagram @tomclarkpc

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