An interview with the experienced Motorsport Psychologist, Lorenzo Baldassarri (he has been working with several racing drives competing in series spanning from karting to F1) relevant to his innovative and effective drivers’ mental training program.
You have been working with Motorsport drivers racing in karts at the international level as well as in single-seaters series all the way up to F1. Given your studies and direct on-the-field experiences, what are the three factors that make the functional psychology approach so suitable for the field?
During the last few years I have been working with young kart drivers, learning about many situations in which a young person makes the first steps in Motorsport.
For example I remember fondly the work done with Charles Leclerc when he started to race in kart.
The work with professional drivers at Motorsport’ top level is different. Among some of them I have been working with, Markus Eriksson in F1, all of the drivers of the BMW DTM and Hayden Paddon for for concerns rallies.
I would like to summarise the model that I utilise while preparing such athletes, it is called Functional Psychology and it is characterised by three elements: it is a modern psychological theory, very scientific and pragmatic, integrating psychological and physiological aspects, in other words Functional Psychology does not utilise simply words to intervene, better yet works at the cognitive, emotional, physiological and postural / muscular level; the second important factor is relevant to the practical tools that the driver can utilise when necessary during the race; the third factor is that it does not simply focus on motivational or behavioural issues: it interacts with personality deep functional factors that allow for lasting results making the driver autonomous and strong in the way he manages his/her resources. This is a key aspect of the program: making sure that the driver acquires a sense of aware and constructive self-reliance while managing delicate situations on track and off track.
Often key racing moments, as for example, race-starts bear excessive psychological pressure that influences negatively performance, have you dealt with it while working with drivers? what were the results? why?
I work with the driver for two specific situation: the key moments and the overall management of the race (considering that for a driver also the pre-race phase is also very important).
Pressure is no doubt one of the factor that can influence negatively the performance of a driver. It is possible to find several aspects of it to deal specifically with: pressure perceived during pre-race (performance anxiety); during specific moments as for example the start; pressure that increases during the race because the driver is not able to manage the unfolding events handling at best his/her emotions and energy; in addition what I define pressure extra-race meaning the one that relates to relations with sponsors, ambition to always be at the very top, family, media, progress within the career ladder and so forth.
Through my Action Procedural Protocol we proceed to build or strengthen the inner capabilities of a driver that are needed to manage at best such levels of pressure and stress being of inner or outer origin. The results reached through this program are excellent because they do not relate simply to a motivational or cognitive work, better yet we operate on the fundamental working of the overall mind-body system that are needed to react in an optimal way to pressure such as: calmness, consistency (that means to believe in ourselves and our skills), letting to (a concrete skill relevant to relaxing), the power of calmness (the underlining strength that makes us feel that we can overcome difficulties or endure through difficult situations) in addition to other aspects. In any case the drivers get used to utilise at best those underling capabilities that become aspects expressed automatically and tending to be eventually self-managed.
Do you use any specific tools while working with drivers? What is their function on the overall process?
Within the Procedural Protocol that I have created for the training of athletes several tools and machines are utilised, for example: measuring psychological and physiological variables, concentration improvement, tools to manage energy and body.
Tools supporting the Functional Psychology approach
The real Innovation of the program consists in what are called: Functional Techniques. The Functional Techniques (that can be utilised correctly only by Functional Psychologists) are specific action relevant to the psyche and body through which we proceed to improve and boost the power of the above mentioned overall underling factors, in other words the aspects from which depend our behaviours, our potentialities and our limits.
In your experience does the approach work best with younger drivers or age is not a factor?
The Procedural Protocol has the relevant characteristic to fit any single driver depending on the very own unique characteristics, age being a key factor, and in relation to his/her specific needs. Specifically for what concerns young drivers I believe it is more correct to talk about ‘personal overall athletic growth’ rather then simply mental training. These young people are at the beginning of their career and what they can acquire from a physiological and physical point of view by working on themselves will create solid foundations that are going to last throughout their lives inside and outside the track.
For what concerns drivers that are already within an adulthood we can talk about pure mental training. Those drivers already have a set mental structure developed through the years, and for that, for the majority of the cases the work that we perform concerns only the optimisation of physiological – physical management of resources. At the same time if an athlete has never gone thorough a professional mental training (obviously valid and scientific) will never be able to express of his/her potentialities even while reaching the top levels of a given sport!
Does this approach contribute to performance improvements that go also beyond the racing tracks?
I take advantage of this question to clarify a key issue: going through a mental training, even if solid and scientific does not guarantee winning on track. There are other factors at play: talent, vehicle, driving technique. At the same time I can state that a marked improvement of the mental program, even reaching consistent wins, has happened to drivers that we have worked with.
What is a key piece of advice that you would give to any driver that is determined to develop a long lasting, high performance, career?
Certainly to work on their abilities to manage energy. Too often we face activities, most of all if high level ones, thinking that our resources are endless, that we will be able to endure physical challenges, workloads, pressure and stress. In reality such abilities are not endless: mind and body (that always work together in great connection) are subject to wear and tear, efforts, we can get chronic stress illnesses, turning into medical consequences (it can even happen that we are no longer able to feel if we are tired or not).
All of this if we want lasting careers, in which to obtain satisfactory results and wins, is a factor that must be taken into consideration!
Synergy Pathways Motorsport Academy partners with Lorenzo Baldassarri and his colleagues at Eljos to develop the career of racing drivers.