November 21, 2022

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Let's start by knocking down a few open doors: it's not enough to hold a driving license and be an attentive driver to qualify for competition in motorsport. Like all high-level sports, car racing requires very specific physical preparation. For the drivers, of course, but also for the so-called “wheel change” teams which play a vital role. Without them, it is impossible to envisage even the slightest podium. Throughout the year, Jérôme Bianchi, dedicated physical trainer for the Peugeot Sport teams, provides sound advice and ensures adequate and rigorous physical preparation for each of them for optimal performance on the circuits.

Meeting with a passionate and knowledgeable professional.
Jérôme Bianchi, tell us how you became a physical trainer.
Initially, I was a physiotherapist and osteopath. I played high-level sport when I was younger: 14 years of rugby at the highest level in France, in the 1st division. I even played for the French team! At the time, rugby was not professional, so I had to work as a physiotherapist at the same time. One thing led to another and I specialized in sport. In my office, I have been working in sport for more than 30 years with many high-level athletes: tennis players, professional footballers, handball players, triathletes, etc.
I had already participated in the Peugeot epic in the 2010s and I had therefore already worked with the different drivers. I have now been part of the program since it was restarted after the pandemic. We first worked upstream to prepare especially the “wheel changing” part, i.e. the mechanics. And then, I was put in contact with the six pilots obviously. We have been working together for over a year and a half.

So physical preparation doesn't just concern pilots?

I would say it is almost more important to prepare the team for wheel changes, to work with them in order to be more efficient around the car. The mechanics team now includes 25 people. It is essential that they perform extremely well in terms of endurance. Indeed, in addition to optimal responsiveness at the time of the race, they need enormous resources and energy upstream to prepare the cars, set up the stands, and service the cars within the allotted time. During the race, you have to act to change the wheels, be physically and psychologically ready: in the event of a problem, you have to know how to make a quick and reliable diagnosis with the rest of the team. So excellent preparation is required and I think we are on the right track. The mechanics work hard to get the cars ready, they give their all on the field. Also, I would particularly like to congratulate them for the quality of their commitment.
As for the drivers, they are very often on the move: they race so they maintain their physical preparation. As top athletes, they train all the time. The drivers live in different places (Austria, Switzerland, Monaco, etc.): they therefore have their own physiotherapist. From time to time, we meet at Satori, we do sessions together. Often these are recovery sessions. But sometimes I make them work on their weak points. Together we point out the areas they need to work on more specifically to be more comfortable in their car.
Exactly, what are these specific points that pilots particularly need to work on?
It mainly concerns the lower part of the back, the pelvic part because they are installed in a seat which must suit three different pilots. They are not necessarily all the same size so in the car, they have to put a special seat to be in the best possible conditions. However, the seat does not correspond perfectly to everyone's body shape and, at the back level, they are more or less well installed. This can accentuate back problems that are already often present. At the end of a race, drivers have significant aches in their gluteal muscles, the stabilizing muscles, because they are constantly gaining strength. You should know that the right foot which presses on the pedal is always in tension. So there is tension that goes from the Achilles tendon to the back. The left part works less well, they are always obliged to stabilize, to strengthen: this is what causes all this pain.
I am there for all the competitions and also for all the tests. This year there were only three races but next year there will be six maybe even seven. So we will have more work to do in racing.
What are the specific physical preparation requirements depending on the type of race: Formula 1, rally, endurance, e-Formula?
Where there is the most G (gravitational force) to support is in Formula 1. So, in this discipline, there is a lot of muscle strengthening work on the upper part of the back, at neck level. , arms, shoulders. It is also essential that the pilots are “on weight” because there must not be any excess weight. So at the same time, they must do cardiovascular work to always stay in top shape. In any case, they are all sporty: they swim, run, cycle, tennis, paddle, etc.

For endurance races, it's a little different: there are fewer Gs but the effort is longer and more repetitive. So it's a little more complicated to manage. The back and forearms will be more tired. This is why, for endurance drivers, physical preparation must be rigorous and regular throughout the year.

For rallying, on the contrary, these are very short events. Pilots experience less G but upper body strengthening is essential for them.
Does physical preparation have an influence on the mentality of drivers during the competition?
When you push your physical limits, there is always a mental dimension that comes into play. When things become very difficult physically, the mind takes precedence over the physical in order to go beyond its limits. Through physical preparation, we also work on the mental part. There is also another important point in the mental part, this is what we call emulation. Indeed, in a group, there is always a kind of competition that sets in, even within your own team. This emulation will serve to surpass oneself, to concentrate, to focus on the essential. The mental part is very important, in fact some pilots call on mental trainers. As part of the Peugeot Sport competition, we have chosen not to impose it and to leave everyone the freedom to use the services of a mental trainer or not.
Finally, do you have an anecdote or memory that you would like to share with us?
A few years ago, in the 2010s, we won the world endurance championships. We were then very proud to represent both Peugeot and France. At the end of a race in China, we all started singing the Marseillaise together, naturally without consulting each other even though it was not at all planned. It was a great group moment: we had the feeling of having done something important together. It’s a moment that clearly illustrates the collective spirit and mentality of the Peugeot family and the competition.
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