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Special | Formula Medicine, for the physical and mental preparation of kart drivers

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28 June 2021

F1 drivers use it, but it also caters to kart drivers of all levels, even to you: it’s the facility founded by Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli, now more than ever a crucial tool to improve performance



Formula Medicine was established in 1994 by the idea and will of Dr. Riccardo Ceccarelli. It is a Sports Medicine Centre for physical and, above all, mental training of drivers (but not only, because it also deals with sportsmen from other sports and managers). Since its foundation it has collaborated with the likes of Jarno Trulli, Robert Kubica and, more recently, Charles Leclerc.

Riccardo Ceccarelli was born in Viareggio in 1960. Since he was a child he has had a great passion for sport, especially football and motorsport. His love for the latter led him to attend driving courses on the track, including the one organised by the Federal School for Young Drivers, in 1981. On this occasion he met Ivan Capelli, at the time a young promise of Italian motorsport, with whom he established a strong friendship. Ceccarelli followed his friend in all stages leading him to Formula 1, first with Tyrrell and then with Team Leyton House. In 1989, as a recent graduate in medicine, he began a real collaboration with Capelli and his team, becoming an official doctor and masseur. Riccardo Ceccarelli is a true visionary, a pioneer of medicine applied to motorsport. He deals with issues not even touched on by the “preparers-trainers” who frequent the F1 paddock and give assistance to the drivers of the moment. His professional path is daring and fascinating: his hyper-scientific and at the same time almost engineering approach to the physical and mental preparation of drivers allows him to innovate in a sector, that of applied medicine motorsport, with tools, tests, training equipment that today athletic trainers from all over the world use with their drivers and that Riccardo Ceccarelli, instead invented and introduced throughout his career. If you wish to know more about it, you can read in his book, published in March 2021, “Cervello Super Veloce” (super-fast brain), in which he explains his career and recounts the studies that led him to start Formula Medicine. But there is more, because the book also contains a series of tests and tips to improve your mental capacity.

Riccardo Ceccarelli, the pioneer

When he started in F1, Riccardo Ceccarelli began a period of study on drivers, as well as work. At the 1989 Hockenheim Grand Prix, he attached a heart rate monitor to Capelli to understand how the bodies of athletes function during a race, from which he achieved unexpected results. Ivan recorded an average heart rate of 174 beats per minute, a high figure if you consider that the driver sits and his physical activity, trivializing, is turning a steering wheel and pressing pedals. This data led Dr. Ceccarelli to go into more detail on athletic performance on board single-seater cars. In the same year, he also began to observe, through pre and post driving blood tests, how nutrition affects activities on the track.
The 1990s was the richest period of innovations and changes: in 1992, with Capelli’s transition to Ferrari, Ceccarelli became the official doctor of the Scuderia di Maranello. It was a very complicated year: the driver did not finish the season and with him also the doctor. The appeal of the track, however, was strong, and when in 1993, in the current season, he met Pierluigi Martini (then without a job, but recently contacted by Giancarlo Minardi), he did not miss the opportunity to return to the Circus. He collaborated with Martini himself, and then, starting in 1994, he became the official doctor of the Minardi team, with whom he remained until 2000. In 1994 he founded Formula Medicine, the Centre for Sports Medicine, now located in Le Bocchette di Camaiore in Viareggio, where drivers can train under his watchful eye, and in which he can observe and study the data collected during training sessions and on the track. In 1995 he developed, with Magneti Marelli, a device able to connect cardio frequency meter data to that obtained from the car’s data logger. This system was such an innovation that the data was reported in real time during the Monza GP of the same year.
As mentioned, from 1994 to 2000 Dr. Ceccarelli stayed with Minardi. With the beginning of the new millennium, however, Toyota, which was working on a return to F1, approached him. In 2001 he became the team’s official doctor, returning to the paddock in 2002, after a year of carrying out tests.
In the early 2000s, in addition to working for the Japanese company (with which he exceeded the 300 GP target in F1), he was also contacted by other teams: this led him to expand his centre in Viareggio due to the numerous requests of the drivers who wanted to work with him. At that time, Ceccarelli began studying mental training. Over the years, with studies and experiments, he elaborated mental economy training programmes, which were very important to achieve excellent brain performance with low energy use. With the goal of improving mental efficiency, he set up and inserted the Mental Economy Gym (which we will deal with in more detail in the following chapters) into Formula Medicine, which, starting from 2011 until today, has helped to improve the mental skills of drivers, and not just that, among the most important in the world.

The stages of his career

Since the beginning of his career, Dr. Ceccarelli has had illustrious exponents of the world of sport among his clients. In fact, from a young age he worked with the best drivers in the world.
His activity in the paddock began with Ivan Capelli and his Leyton House teammate Mauricio Gugelmin. With the evolution of studies on cardiac activity and blood values, many drivers, including Nicola Larini, Michele Alboreto, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, were interested in the doctor’s work.
In 1992 he became the official doctor of Ferrari, working, albeit for a short time, in addition to Capelli, also with Jean Alesi.
Since 1994, with the foundation of Formula Medicine, the number of collaborations increased more and more, reaching athletes also from other sports, not only from F1. In addition to the drivers of the teams he worked for (Minardi first, and then Toyota), Ceccarelli set up teams that directly assist teams such as Renault, Toro Rosso, Super Aguri and Ducati.
At the same time, in the early 2000s, in addition to Mika Salo and Allan McNish, (then Toyota drivers) the following began arriving at the headquarters in Viareggio: Felipe Massa, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica, Sébastien Buemi, Daniel Ricciardo and Robert Doornbos.
In 2004, with the establishment of the first Mental Economy Training, Formula Medicine also “helped” Marcus Ericsson, then a young kart driver, to start his career that was to take him to Formula 1 and the Indycar championship.
In 2006 Dr. Ceccarelli met Nicolas Todt, one of the most important managers of drivers. This meeting led to the arrival in Formula Medicine of Jules Bianchi, first, and then Charles Leclerc in 2011. In recent years he has also been dealing with other motorsports in addition to Formula 1. He also worked with motorcycle drivers such as Danilo Petrucci, current rider of the MotoGP KTM Team.

Illustrious collaborations

In Formula Medicine the goal is the all round improvement of athletes, making them efficient in every aspect. This is why Formula Medicine is dedicated to the research and development of new tools and methodologies to work on every detail of an individual, starting from a check of the starting condition on the basis of which a specific training programme is developed. The key element is to get the most out of your abilities, consuming as little energy as possible. To do this, it is essential to be trained both physically and mentally. This is why Formula Medicine combines gym training with sessions in the Mental Economy Gym, designed by Dr. Ceccarelli after observing how often drivers are conditioned by their mental strength and how, during sessions on the track, they often have a worsening of performance due precisely to the consumption of too much brain energy. Physiotherapy and osteopathy in clinics are added to these activities sessions, to ensure that athletes are always at their best. Last but not least, Ceccarelli and his staff develop personalised diet plans that allow everyone to always have the right energy supply to face any type of activity to the maximum of their abilities.
The approach and philosophy followed are therefore to maintain an interdisciplinarity between the various compartments, not working separately on various aspects, but creating a collaboration that leads to a single result. It is a type of work that is also reflected in the staff: in fact, during sessions in the Mental Economy Gym you can find, together with psychologists, athletic trainers who actively follow the drivers during the various exercises.
Interdisciplinarity is also the basis of Mental Economy Training, since with his exercises Ceccarelli allows athletes to improve their neural efficiency, making riders aware of their abilities, improving their optimisation techniques and their mental plasticity.

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