Why Are Formula 1 Drivers Short?

Shortest F1 Drivers Ever Feat. Yuki Tsunoda & Lando Norris
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Yuki Tsunoda, who drives for the Alpha Tauri F1 team, is probably among the smallest Formula 1 pilots to ever race in the prestigious motorsport discipline.

At just 159 centimetres in height, its a minor miracle that he is able to see above his own steering wheel (pun intended!).

His inclusion on the grid last year in 2021 reignited an age-old question which baffles many F1 fans around the globe to this day: why are F1 drivers so small?


Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton is weighing after winning his...  News Photo - Getty Images

There is a strong incentive for those racing in Formula One to keep their weight down.

This is almost a prerequisite from very early in their careers; racing teams spend vast sums just to shave a few grams here and there from their cars.

For all that investment and time to be wasted with a heavy person in the driving seat would be like throwing money down the drain.

How does this affect the vertical length of the person, I hear you ask? Weight is kept low by stringent dieting and minimal calorie surplus.

Eating less is going to affect the growth of young kids, and may result in the driver not reaching the average height for a person of their ethnicity and sex.

Centre of Gravity

Character design 1: Center of gravity | Physics for Animators

Creator: donggu | Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This one is probably a negligible one, but worth mentioning. Shorter pilots will have a marginally lower centre of gravity.

Centre of gravity can be defined as the average location of the total mass of an object. If Yuki Tsunoda wasn’t a human and was merely a dot in space, he would be found lower down nearer to the floor of the F1 car compared to, say, Alexander Albon.

A lower COG allows for greater cornering speeds, as the car will have less lateral motion opposite to the direction it is turning in through the corner.

This will shave off a few precious milliseconds off of the lap time. In 90 minute long race, this could mean the difference between winning and not even appearing in the rostrum!

Exercise From a Young Age

Max Verstappen's brutal training regimen: How the F1 champion is preparing  | Marca

Withstanding massive loads on the body has been scientifically proven to slow down a person’s growth rate.

F1 after all is an intense sport, requiring heavy muscle training to be able to deal with the huge G-forces and turning the steering wheel in a Formula 1 vehicle.

F1 drivers carry out such vigorous training before they’ve even finished puberty in some cases, so their vertical height is going to be adversely affected. Weightlifters suffer from a similar affliction. The things we do for glory, eh!

The Key to Success in Karting

A gaggle of small, low brightly coloured karts underway together on a dark grey tarmac circuit
By Kvintich – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86078519

Go Karts are severely affected by weight. You are orders of magnitude more likely to get better results in the karting scene if you are genetically predisposed to a shorter height, and consequently weight as well.

Since early success in karting is incredibly important in the road to F1, those who are smaller are more likely to climb up the ladder to the top echelon of motorsport.

Are F1 Drivers Actually Short?

F1 driver line-ups: full grid for the 2022 Formula 1 season - Motor Sport  Magazine
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This is an excellent question! The average height of F1 pilots in 2022 is 177.1 centimetres. This is actually higher than the global average male height of 171 cm (of men born in 1996).

However, all but 2 of the drivers on the grid have European blood in them. So it makes statistical sense to only look at the mean height of European males instead. This currently stands at 180 centimetres (again, pun intended!). Only 6 of the 20 drivers racing this year are taller than this.

So the jury is out on whether F1 drivers are really short. However, there is no doubt that these racing pilots are very thin for their height.

I did some calculations (it took me a very long time), and found that the BMI of the average F1 driver is 21.485. This is very much in the healthy range, but considering the average American male has a BMI of 26.6, Formula 1 pilots are definitely on the skinny side.

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