Racing Like An F1 Driver

As published on this month.

A glimpse into the mindset of a World Champion F1 racecar driver.

Racing like an F1 driver
By Melanie McQuaid

July 5, 2007 — During my early years in cycling I was bitten by F1 fever. For a number of years, particularly those that I spent racing in Europe, I would watch the F1 World Championships with a passion. The strategy, the innovation and the focus of the sport was captivating. No, I never became a tire biter and still to this day I have never become a true “gear head”, but I always loved witnessing the race strategies while they would unfold. As I learned more about the sport, I became aware of one of the fallen heroes as well, Ayrton Senna.

Ayrton Senna was a Brazilian driver who took three F1 World Championships titles before dying in a crash in 1994. He was known for his incredible ability in qualifying where he won 65 pole positions, a record until the reign of Michael Schumacher. With three World Championship titles, Senna was known for his passion for the sport and his incredible drive to win. Even when won a race he would search for ways in which he could have driven faster. He was a deeply introspective man who used his racing as a metaphor for life. Whether or not you are a car racing fan, after reading some of his quotes, you will see that his passion and dedication truly shines and is an inspiration for those of us who also would like to pursue our own potential.

"On a given day, a given circumstance, you think you have a limit. And you then go for this limit and you touch this limit, and you think, ‘Okay, this is the limit’. And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high."

This quote is my absolute favorite. Sport is about finding your limits. I think so many of us have assigned a limit from the start and work just hard enough to get there. We don’t give ourselves enough opportunity to exceed our own expectations.

In most cases, life is setting limits to how much room is left for triathlon. Even with additional responsibilities you can achieve your potential. This is why I think most people should goal set and then discuss them. It’a preferable to talk to someone who will help ensure your goals are high enough and to help you be accountable to yourself. I believe it is always better to dream big and then commit to the best of your ability.

This is why I find challenged athletes so inspiring. For these athletes, limits have not been preset or predetermined. It is all go, no fear, no limits. So many people I coach or talk to need to think more like that. Who cares if you bonk? Who cares if you don’t win because you biked a bit too hard and blew up? Learn from your experiences and improve. It is better to find your limits than to never know where they are.

"I continuously go further and further learning about my own limitations, my body limitation, psychological limitations. It’s a way of life for me."

It is better to finish a race knowing that there was absolutely nothing left for you to give than to finish having been conservative, knowing that you could have done more.

"I know that it is impossible to win always. I just hope that defeat doesn’t come this weekend."

Given that Senna was a standout favorite whenever he slipped into the driver’s seat, the pressure to perform would have been incredible. This quote outlines his confidence and resignation to the uncontrollable. Some people get really nervous before races because they feel like if they don’t have a good performance it will be the end of the world. If you are racing triathlon you have to realize that sport is a fun activity. Challenging yourself to race other people is an opportunity to motivate yourself to be healthy, to measure your progress in a meaningful way and an opportunity to share your passion with people from all walks of life. Results on a given day provide fleeting recognition whereas the personal journey is what really lasts. Achieving your ultimate goal will likely last a lifetime. However, thinking this way – about the journey and not the outcome – doesn’t open the door to mediocrity. You still need to hold yourself accountable to your own ability and potential. Hope for the best, shoot for the win, do your best and accept the result. Learn from the experience.

F1 racing is literally living life in the fast lane. It’s about taking calculated risks, having courage, skill and sometimes, having the best car. In triathlon, we train ourselves with our best possible guess as to what is the right recipe. Then we equip ourselves with the best possible arsenal and arrive at the start line having determined our intention. In car racing and in triathlon, it will always come down to your mind. I believe that mental capacity, courage and the ability to put yourself out on the edge is what wins races. This final quote from Senna confirms that the same is true in car racing:

…the last qualifying session. I was already on pole, then by half a second and then one second and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel. Not only the tunnel under the hotel but the whole circuit was a tunnel. I was just going and going, more and more and more and more. I was way over the limit but still able to find even more.”

It appears that again, finding that “zone” and pushing yourself to a place you have never been is the key to outstanding performance. Here’s hoping you find it in your racing.



Based in Victoria, Canada, Melanie McQuaid is a three-time defending XTERRA world champion. For more information about McQuaid, please visit


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