Have you been watching this season’s F1 races? Around the world each fortnight the Red Bull Racing team has appeared to dominate each race putting Sebastian Vettel onto the podium in first place 11 times this season.
They make it seem easy. Each win adds to the impression of a team dominating the sport.
But the reality is very different.
Winning is a knife-edge situation
In order to win a highly competitive race, any team has to produce the best performance across a number of factors. Any one of these has the capability to de-rail a best performance to a lower grade and lose the race for the crew.
The results from the Head Races in Boston (HOCR) and London (HOR Fours) show how closely fought top racing is and the anecdotal ‘tales’ after the race from participants show that most athletes understand what contributed to their win or loss.
Understand why you win or lose
Take a look at the paper “An 8 factor model for evaluating crew race performance” by Cornett, McCauley and Cummings on the High Performance Rowing Website.[Update June 2018 the website is no longer active].
The formula they posit is algebra: but the explanations give insight into the factors that coaches and athletes need to comprehend, improve and seek to influence when preparing to race.
Understand what you can influence
As a coach or an ambitious athlete, there are some factors you can affect and influence and others that you have to accept and work with; some are short-term and others will take a season or more to change.
Let’s consider the full list within the forumla.
- Base Capability is the raw talent of a crew and their capabilities in using the equipment (human talent and biomechanics). Raw talent is god-given but can be improved but capabilities using the boat, oars, force curve application and stroke rate data are learned.
- Race Scenario defines the circumstances a crew faces on race day. (Physiology and the Weather and Environment). How well-prepared – peaking – your body is on race day can be trained but the weather is not under your control. How you cope with the weather however is a skill that can be learned.
- Performance Execution is how well a crew actually performs relative to its base capability and the race scenario. (Quality of Execution and effect of Race Psychology). Psychology and mentality are trainable and execution – of starts, pushes, overtaking – can be practiced and improved.
- Decisions taken before and during a race also affect the outcome (the coach’s pre-race Strategy and Race Plan and the coxswain’s actual in-race application of Tactics and Contingencies). This area is where experience counts for a lot. The steersman/coxswain is one of the most important crew members as what s/he does at critical decision points has a disproportionate effect on the race outcome.