F1 drivers have a reluctance to put their feet up and rest

Training and exercise are high on the list of plans for the F1 fraternity during the off-season.

Teams pack up. 

Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 27 November 2011.
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The chequered flag has fallen, the famous Brazilian post-race party has wrapped up and the personnel from the 12 Formula One racing marques have departed South America and are back in Europe. The season is officially over.

Yet the season did not end immediately after the race finished in Sao Paulo.

Drivers and principals remained with their teams, analysing data and fulfilling sponsorship commitments, while engineers had to be back at the factory to unpack cargo arriving by plane from Brazil before starting their well-earned rest this week.

Usually, the paddock needs to be packed up as quickly as possible, so it can be unpacked again in a new city a week or two later, but at November 28's season-ending race, at Interlagos, clearly that was not the case. And yet still, after the race, the teams worked busily late into the night. Why?

"You have to get the freight out as early as possible," said Geoff Simmonds, the race co-ordinator with Lotus-Renault. "The cargo is all booked on specific flights and can't be changed. It sounds obvious, but the end of the season is the end of a chapter and we want to get the cargo back, so we can unpack it at the factory and then start our holidays."

The next time the likes of Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton are seen behind the wheel of an F1 car will be in two months when pre-season testing starts in Jerez in Spain on February 7. It would be foolhardy, however, to presume holidays run into the second month of 2012.

"From the second week of December to the second week of January," is how Heikki Kovalainen details his off-season. "We have a month away from the team then we start preparing slowly: visit the factory, do the seat-fits and then from February we start driving again."

The Team Lotus driver intends to go home to Finland for Christmas to spend time with friends and family whom he has rarely seen during a season that now lasts effectively from early February to mid-December.

Vettel said all 24 drivers were "tired" and "ready for the break", but Kovalainen is the exception.

"I feel fresh - I could start the season now. I am not feeling tired or exhausted at all," said the Finn, who puts his unlikely energy down to tweaking his travel schedule.

In previous years he would fly back to his base in Geneva between races, but now when he travels to flyaway races, such as Singapore or Abu Dhabi, he remains in the region.

"My base is in Switzerland, but now when I go to the Asian races, I try to stay there for longer, use the time wiser and do less travelling. This seems to work much better for me, but, of course, the result is that I have not been back to visit my parents too much this year," he said.

Friends and family are a constant in all F1 people's plans, be it Lewis Hamilton hanging out with his friends or Pat Behar of the FIA communications team relaxing in France with his wife.

While things were winding up in Brazil one member of Renault's staff was planning to head to Goa with his girlfriend for Christmas; another at Hispania was looking forward to lazing on a beach in the Canary Islands.

Jenson Button's plans were no different in that his friends are involved, but his idea of an off-season is far removed from a few weeks kicking back at his home in Guernsey. The Englishman has a busy couple of months ahead, starting with the Race of Champions in Dusseldorf last weekend. However, with a schedule that includes triathlons, mountain biking and ocean-swimming, his McLaren-Mercedes team could understandably be concerned for their driver's health.

Mark Webber, in late 2008, broke his leg in a cycling accident while taking part in the Tasmania Challenge. Yet Button, who has a life goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championship, sees no reason to be overly cautious during his winter break.

"I'm not going to wrap myself in cotton wool," he said. "Formula One rules my life for most of the year, but I am going to go away, train and have fun doing it and nobody is going to stop me. You have to be intelligent with how you do it, but I am not going to stop riding a bike or stop swimming in the sea, or stop running or doing triathlons or the Race of Champions, because I love it."

Webber's idea of having his "feet up" included a 6.5km fun run through a hilly course around the picture-postcard Australia port of Hobart, then having a photo-shoot while abseiling on a sheer rock face at a national park, all to promote this year's Tasmania Challenge, a charity event.

The challenge sees teams of two kayaking, mountain biking and trekking, and Webber is one of those competing, despite the serious crashes on the mountain bike in the past. Apart from the 2008 accident, he also fractured his shoulder in 2010 .

"Obviously there's some adrenalin involved and that's what people get out of bed for to enjoy that sort of stuff and do things they haven't done before," said Webber, to explain why he is not relaxing somewhere on a beach. "I'm obviously the same, not just when I'm driving the car, I like to take some risks but [also] making the right decisions for myself knowing that my proper career is racing cars."

Nico Rosberg, the Mercedes-GP driver said the break is welcomed because it allows him to get out of the monotony of focusing every day on work.

"It's good to take a little bit of a break and get onto other things for a while," he said. "During the season, every day is a routine because even my free days, I am making sure I spend them recovering from the intense training I have done the previous day."

Some drivers, including Adrian Sutil, Pastor Maldonado and Vitantonio Liuzzi, opted to remain in Brazil and took part in Felipe Massa's Go Kart Challenge in Florianopolis last weekend. They will be joined on the track with racing drivers from other series, including Tony Kanaan of Indycar and Nelson Piquet Jr of Nascar.

Pirelli, the Italian tyre manufacturers who have enjoyed a successful return to the sport this year, have been using the break to launch the famous Pirelli calendar in New York, while the FIA will host their annual awards gala in New Delhi on Saturday.

But for some involved in the sport, the off-season is not quite so glamorous. Dr Michelle Boekelaar has volunteered her medical expertise at several grands prix this season, but will use the winter break to work.

The Australian resigned from her job to follow the Formula One circus around the world this season and while she has had an unforgettable experience, she knows that with the end of the season "real life kicks in".

She does not have a specific job to walk into, but acknowledged she is fortunate that a shortage of doctors means her skills are in demand.

"I shudder to think of how much of my mortgage I could have paid instead of travelling, but you only live once, and if you can find a way to work within your budget it's worth every penny," she said of her experience this year. "In the future I'd love to get a job where I could do all of this on someone else's dime, but for the moment I'll have to find a way to earn money and come to as many races as possible."

While Boekelaar will remained in South America visiting Peru and the Galapagos Islands, the race teams struggle for such flexibility.

The extended season means it is difficult for staff to find time to take the holidays accrued throughout the year, said Simmonds, adding that attention has already turned to next season.

"We do a thing called a logistical outline with the race team secretary," he said. "It covers every race and every test throughout the year, so we know for instance we will fly to Jerez on February 1.

The chequered flag in Brazil may have brought an end to the racing, but the race is on to ensure teams hit the ground running next year. "We know the Olympics will cause a massive impact with flights, especially the Germany and Hungary grands prix," Simmonds said. "But that's why we plan in advance, to avoid such issues."

In Formula One, as anybody in the paddock will confirm, the work never stops.

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