18. 7. 2023
Behind every athlete is a team of people equally as driven to achieve greatness – both on and off track. In the midst of a lockdown which put the world on pause Tom Clark began his role as Esteban Ocon’s Performance Coach in January 2021. He describes his job as a direct service to the human aspect of every driver, and his first few years with the team are a testament to that mission.
“Working with Esteban is a dream for me – this job came at the perfect time in my career. I was ready for a new challenge, and I was fortunate to get this job, working with a great driver.”
Through restricted flights and border closings, Tom joined Esteban in France for six weeks of training in isolation prior to the season’s start. The pair quickly became acquainted over weightlifting sessions and countless hours in Esteban’s home simulator, cultivating an off-track relationship focused on maximising Esteban’s racing potential before heading into the 2021 season.
“A lot of drivers have their nuances and things that already work for them. When I first started working with Esteban, I had to bear in mind that he had been a successful driver in Formula 1 before I arrived, and he had success in GP3 and Formula 3, so he had a lot of things that he has kept as part of his successes which I had to understand. It was very much a process of observing, seeing what I could contribute and bringing the two together to hopefully achieve the best outcome.”
Tom’s role over a typical race weekend is focused on Esteban’s preparation and recovery. They prioritise physical fitness, nutrition, managing sleep and jet lag strategies and ensuring that Esteban is in a good head space. Having quickly established a rhythm for working through the highs and lows of a race weekend over the first half of the 2021 season, Tom and Esteban celebrated the Frenchman’s first win at the Hungarian Grand Prix in August 2021.
For Tom, life as a performance coach was not always a clear career path. He went to university with a passion for sport and exercise and decided to obtain an undergraduate degree in Health and Exercise Science with a focus on personal training. While there he was drawn to the idea of working in the world of professional sports, and the concept of performance as a measure of success quickly became a fascination for him as he began to build his career.
Going on to study a Master’s in Applied Sports Science, Tom got the opportunity to intern at a gym based near Gatwick Airport that was opening its doors to racing drivers. Becoming full-time after university, Tom’s two years of working with them provided the ideal experience for him at such a pivotal time in his career. Over the course of his tenure there, hundreds of drivers would stop in for a variety of reasons – a training session, an assessment, nutritional support – giving Tom a better understanding of what successful racing drivers need in their training regimen.
Esteban’s win in 2021 was an early highlight for Tom, but his favourite moments are when they get into the rhythm of back-to-back races. They stay on the road and get a head start on training and resting with a focus on creating a relaxed environment before the next busy weekend of racing.
“It’s probably not glamorous enough for the drivers to talk about their jet lag strategy but that’s obviously a big part of the race weekend. I don’t think it’s very well documented, so we might assume that a driver jumps on a plane and hopes for the best but the ways in which you want to tackle jet lag are in your preparation and in your behaviour and the way you approach it.”
Alongside working as Esteban’s Performance Coach, Tom has been pursuing a Doctorate in Jet Lag Research. Given the unique travel involved in a global sport such as Formula 1 which can change time zones each weekend, Tom felt jet lag was an under-researched and often misunderstood area of a driver’s performance preparation. His interest in what limits a driver’s performance the most across a 23-race calendar steered him towards helping Esteban and the wider BWT Alpine F1 Team understand how important it can be to manage jet lag whilst travelling the world for F1.
Last year Tom delivered a presentation to the team on jet lag and how to cope with it, observing a few team members as they travelled from the UK to Austin, and then Austin to Mexico, to see how they differentiated between the two race locations. His work with the team has informed much of the research involved in his Doctorate. Through presentations and short questionnaires, he drives discussion within the team that helps each person leverage their experience with jet lag in a way that allows them to maximise their hours of rest and performance. He perceives his Doctorate as a professional pursuit for becoming the greatest asset to his driver, and subsequently the greatest asset to the team.
“The ways in which you want to tackle jet lag are in your preparation, and in your behaviour and the way you approach it rather than, say, a pill to fix things. Seeing people adopt those strategies when we are at the airport – maybe pulling out light blocking glasses as an example – is really encouraging. With the way the sport is going, with more and more races each season, and big jumps between time zones, it's good to see people are being more wary of it.”
With an uptick of cross-continental races on the race calendar over such a short period of time, Tom believes his research in jet lag will ultimately change the way team members travel. He is glad more people are becoming aware of the impacts of jet lag on the body because the negative symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation will ultimately make sustainably working in F1 much harder over time. His wealth of knowledge on jet lag has become a defining characteristic in his role as a Performance Coach, and he is always laser focused on being the best support to Esteban, as well as the wider BWT Alpine F1 Team.