Race doctor profession
The special fields of Dr. Vincenzo Tota are sports orthopaedics, sports psychology, traumatology and osteopathy. The internationally recognized specialist and lecturer gained experience in various motorsports categories and in space travel.
How does one become a race doctor, Dr. Tota?
Dr. Tota: “I was a race driver when I was younger. I began in motocross and then moved to rallying with cars in endurance events, including events in the Sahara Desert. Whilst I was still a student, I took part in and won the 1987 edition of the Camel Trophy, when this endurance challenge was held in Madagascar. That was the key moment in my life. After this, I convinced myself that I wanted to combine my two greatest passions in life: medicine and motorsport. In addition to this: I come from a medical family. My grandfather and my father were both doctors. That also brought me into this profession.”
How much of an advantage is it that you have experience as a race driver?
Dr. Tota: “It is a huge advantage. I get more respect from the race drivers, because they know that I know what I am talking about when the helmet gets put on.”
When is a race day a successful one for you?
Dr. Tota: “The only result that I regard as successful, is victory. When all of us in the team have performed at our highest possible level and brought home the winner’s trophy.”
Audi Sport operation
Dr. Tota has been the team doctor of Audi Sport since 2015. Together with assistance from physiotherapists and other doctors, he organises and delivers the medical services at the race events. Always there, where Audi is active in motorsport: Formula E, DTM and customer racing.
How different is the role of being the doctor in Formula E, DTM and Audi Sport customer racing?
Dr. Tota: “My work regarding these three programmes does not differ much. The team as a whole is fantastic: the engineers, mechanics, managers, drivers are all similar. The rhythm, however, is a bit different. In Formula E, everything is extremely compact with everything happening in one and a half days. DTM has three and a half days and then customer racing also has endurance races, which adds yet another different dimension to the rhythm with races that are up to twenty-four hours in duration.
How different are sprint and endurance racing medically?
Dr. Tota: “The physical and mental preparation is completely different. From a mental perspective, the level of pressure in endurance racing is very high and over an extended period – not only in the race itself, but also during the week leading up to the event, especially the bigger events like the 24-hour races at the Nürburgring or Spa. From a physical point of view, the drivers need to be fit in order to sustain their concentration, but they also need to have some body fat in reserve to carry them through the race with enough energy. Sprint racing requires the drivers to be as lean as possible, whilst maintaining strength and performance. They also need to be fit to sustain their concentration in the shorter, but still very intense races.”
What is your set-up like at the racetracks given the different motorsport projects of Audi Sport?
Dr. Tota: “Everything is mobile, fundamentally. My colleagues and I are moving with a mobile pharmaceutical kit and this then gets used in different operating set-ups at the different events. In Formula E, the pharmaceutical kit travels with me to all of the locations, because it cannot be transported with the team. I then conduct the work on site with the team, located in whatever space the specific venue’s pit lane has on offer for us. Sometimes inside the garage or outside in a tent. I do not have my own dedicated working space at the Formula E events.”
Dr. Tota: “It is very different in the DTM. There we have the luxury of dedicated working space in the form of our medical truck in the paddock. We call it the “medi truck.” Inside, we have all of the equipment we need to do provide all of the work – almost an entire clinic. In customer racing, we have a few medical kits distributed around the world, depending on the races. For the bigger events in Europe, such as the 24-hour races at the Nürburgring or Spa, we also have the medical truck, similar to our set-up in the DTM paddock. This varies for the oversees races, where it can range from hiring medical trucks or working space in the paddock buildings.”
Race drivers as patients
Trust is always the alpha and omega of the relationship between doctor and patient. How do you win over the trust of a race driver?
Dr. Tota: “Firstly, I am an experienced professional and I know what is going on in this profession. The drivers themselves will test you as a doctor on occasion, and they have done so with me. They do this to convince themselves that you are an expert who knows what you are talking about and that you are up to date – in order to for them to feel comfortable and to trust you. My colleagues and I always push ourselves to be at the forefront of the latest technology and practices. I also consider the drivers as younger brothers and sisters and I ensure to help them in any way possible. All of this adds to the relationship that I build with the drivers, which of course, has a foundation of trust at its core.”
How do you assist the drivers in terms of nutrition?
Dr. Tota: “It is not an easy task. You need the race drivers to understand what they should and should not eat. This varies in difficulty depending on the catering of the specific event. This can be, for example, the in-house food preparation and service in the Audi hospitality buildings at DTM events and the 24-hour races of Audi Sport customer racing in Europe. I always check in with the kitchen and the cooks to ensure that the drivers are well catered for with a good number of meals and a proper rhythm with healthy easily digestible food. In contrast, the Formula E events have a central caterer for all of the teams in the paddock. This, plus the fact that the schedule is so tight, makes it difficult to manage the drivers. It is especially important that the drivers must understand what they are doing and where the limits are.”
You also assist the drivers on the mental side of their health. How do you do this?
Dr. Tota: “I especially assist the drivers regarding anger management. My advice is always to “box it”, during practice or races – whereby they take whatever it is and then they mentally put it inside a box, close it and throw it away. A driver cannot afford to be caught up in anger, because if you try to compensate or hang onto it, you are guaranteed to lose out on performance. Especially during a race, a driver must be able to move on and focus on the next corner – not compounding any mistakes. And it is always a good reminder to do the same with mistakes. Mistakes are part of the game and the drivers need to be able to move on as quickly as possible.”
How big is the impact of anger and frustration in general on a race driver?
Dr. Tota: “It is a key factor. It affects some drivers more than others. It comes down to the personality of the driver. Some drivers act out, others don’t. Acting out is also a sign of a driver who is not strong enough to cope with the rigorous stresses of being a race driver – and work needs to be done to help such drivers become stronger.”
You advise that kick-boxing and Muay Thai boxing are good training methods for race drivers. How does this help them?
Dr. Tota: “I used to train a lot of motorcycle riders, both in enduro and circuit racing disciplines, and they need speed, agility, coordination, flexibility and rhythm. And in my opinion, nothing is better in helping in these areas than kick-boxing or Muay Thai boxing – but only the training, no actual fighting, of course. It offers a complete and thorough exercise routine involving the whole body, including a lot of hand/foot and eye coordination. This really helps drivers in what is generally needed to drive a racecar.”
How is the physiotherapy organised at Audi Sport?
Dr. Tota: “There is a team of physiotherapists and they work together with the doctors. Due to the tight schedule and limit working space at the Formula E events, there is no planned physiotherapy for the drivers. When something is requested or required by our drivers, for example a massage, then we treat them at the hotel the night before. In the DTM and customer racing, especially the endurance races, we have our medical facilities. A physiotherapist is for a race driver what a mechanic is for a racecar. Simply phrased: It comes down to fine tuning, keeping the machine in perfect working order. The race drivers need to be comfortable and fit all of the time. The physiotherapy adds to this by making sure that all of the driver’s muscles and joints are pain free and ready to perform at the highest level.”
Which demands are higher on a driver inside a racecar: physical or mental?
Dr. Tota: “Firstly, race cars are demanding on drivers physically and they need to be strong and fit in order to cope with this. This differs depending on the specific racecar. In the DTM and GT racing, the cars have closed cockpits and higher forces when accelerating, braking and cornering. In Formula E, the cars do not have such high forces. Complementing the physical side is the mental strength. There are many racers, but only a few champions. The champions are the ones who are able to best bring the mental and physical sides together on track for maximum performance.”
The new DTM racecars in 2019 have a power output increase of about 100 hp thanks to the new turbocharged engines. As the team doctor, how do you react to the new demands placed on drivers?
Dr. Tota: “We are involved early on when there are major changes like this. There are new forces and new vibrations that the drivers will be experiencing. The ergonomics inside the car also need to be considered: the headrest, the seat and how the car rides the curbs. Most of these aspects are addressed during testing, long before the lights turn green for a race. We make sure to always be part of the open discussions for this, and this an ongoing process. But, the good thing is that: the more engine power you give to a race driver, the more they will like it.”
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