Fine-Tuning Visual Performance in Formula One Drivers

Dr. Zöe Wimshurst is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at AECC University College. She specialises in screening and optimising visual performance in elite athletes.

In January 2020, she was visited on campus by Red Bull F1 racing driver, Alex Albon, and his coach for vision screening. Zöe tells us more about working with professional racing drivers and elite athletes to optimise their visual performance:

“The Human Performance Laboratory at AECC University College is really well placed and equipped to screen elite athletes in this way. As well as Alex, I have previously screened Red Bull driver, Max Verstappen and I’ve also had a few Formula Two racing drivers and drivers in the lower levels of competitive racing come in to see me.

Above: Zöe Wimshurst with Max Verstappen.

“The Sport Performance Centre is brilliant as it’s a completely private environment that elite athletes can come to. They often don’t want lots of people to see what they are doing and the tests that we do are all highly confidential. It’s also a really nice environment to be in.”

Vision Screening F1 Drivers

“I do a series of different tests to assess different aspects of drivers’ visual abilities. This covers all the things that drivers’ eyes need to do to excel in the car. For example, I measure how quickly they can move their eyes from one place to another and I test their peripheral vision.

“I’m looking to see if there are any particular strengths or weaknesses in the drivers’ visual skills. For example, if a driver has particularly poor peripheral vision then they might struggle to identify the other cars around them as quickly when they’re making overtaking manoeuvres.

“Or if a driver has a problem with their depth perception or coincidence anticipation timing, they might struggle to get exactly the right braking point when they’re coming into corners. I also identify their visual strengths, which drivers can exploit and push themselves further in. Lots of aspects directly affect driving ability and different skills affect how they perform on race day.”

Making Recommendations

“I then write reports, which go back to the drivers and their coaches. The feedback that I give offers ideas for specific things to work on; I develop visual warm-ups in preparation for race day and suggest different training ideas that they can do when they’re out travelling around the world.

“I’ve been screening elite athletes for over a decade now and have tested over 300 professional or Olympic athletes. I have a whole database of information that I can use to compare how well different athletes are doing – generically, or in their specific sport. The tests that I have developed have evolved over that time too.”

Assessing Pit Crew

“When I first worked with the Red Bull team about 12 years ago, I worked with the team’s Strength and Conditioning Coach to screen their pit crew, which was really interesting.

“It was really different for me, because these guys aren’t athletes as such but the demands of being in the pit mean they have to respond to things so much faster than a mechanic normally would.

“It’s a high-pressure environment, so lots of the demands on their visual system are the same as elite athletes. All the different members of the pit crew need to react together in split seconds to be able to make adjustments to the car mid-race.”

McLaren Applied Technologies

“I have also been involved with McLaren – most recently with the McLaren Applied Technologies Shadow Project. This is McLaren’s e-sports competition and they have invited the best contestants to join their elite sports team in previous years.

“I was asked to test the vision of their top eight e-sports athletes from around the world. As these were gamers, and not traditional athletes, I adapted the tests that I would usually run. It was a really exciting project to be part of.

“I have also worked with McLaren in the past, screening a couple of young drivers coming through. One of which was Lando Norris, who has had a phenomenal start to this season. He finished third on the podium a few weeks ago. I first worked with him when he was 10 years old and everyone was saying that he was going to be a future superstar.”

You can read more about Zoe’s career here.

  

Above: Zöe Wimshurst with Alex Albon.