STORIES OF EXCELLENCE: JÉRÔME BIANCHI, PHYSICAL TRAINER FOR THE PEUGEOT SPORT TEAMS
Let's start by stating the obvious: it is not enough to have a driving licence and be an attentive driver to compete in motor sport. Like all high-level sports, motor racing requires specific physical preparation. For the drivers, of course, but also for the so-called "wheel change" teams, which play an essential role. Without them, it would be impossible to achieve a podium finish. Throughout the year, Jérôme Bianchi, the Peugeot Sport teams' regular physical trainer, provides sound advice and ensures that each driver receives adequate and rigorous physical preparation for optimum performance on the circuits.
Meet a passionate and knowledgeable professional.
Jérôme Bianchi, tell us how you became a physical trainer.
Initially, I am a physiotherapist and osteopath. I practised high level sport when I was younger: 14 years of rugby at the highest level in France, in the 1st division. I even played for the French team! At the time, rugby was not professional, so I had to work as a physiotherapist at the same time. One thing led to another and I specialised in sport. In my practice, I have been working for more than 30 years in sport with many top athletes: tennis players, professional footballers, handball players, triathletes, etc.
I had already participated in the Peugeot epic in the 2010s, so I had already worked with the different drivers. I've been part of the programme since it started up again after the pandemic. First of all, we worked upstream to prepare the 'wheel change' part, so the mechanics. And then I was put in contact with the six drivers of course. We have been working together for more than a year and a half.
So physical preparation is not just for pilots?
I would say it's almost more important to prepare the wheel change team, to work with them so that we can be more efficient around the car. There are 25 people in the mechanics team now. It is essential that they are hyper efficient in terms of endurance. In fact, apart from optimal reactivity at the time of the race, they need a lot of resources and energy beforehand to prepare the cars, assemble the pits, and revise the cars within the allotted time. During the race, you have to act to change the wheels, to be physically and psychologically ready: in the event of a problem, you have to be able to make a quick and reliable diagnosis with the rest of the team. So you need to be very well prepared and I think we are on the right track. The mechanics are working hard to get the cars ready, they are giving their all on the track. I would like to congratulate them for the quality of their commitment.
As for the pilots, they are very often on the move: they do races so they maintain their physical preparation. As high-level sportsmen, they train all the time. The drivers live in different places (Austria, Switzerland, Monaco, etc.): they have their own physio. From time to time, we meet in Satori, we do sessions together. Often, these are recovery sessions. But sometimes, I make them work on their weak points. We point out together where they need to work more specifically to be more comfortable in their car.
What are the specific points that pilots need to work on?
It's mainly the lower back, and the pelvis part because they are in a seat that has to fit three different drivers. They are not necessarily all the same size, so in the car they have to put a special bucket to be in the best possible condition. However, the bucket does not perfectly match the morphology of each driver and, in terms of their back, they are more or less well installed. This can exacerbate the back problems that are often already present. At the end of a race, the riders have a lot of pain in the buttocks muscles, the stabilising muscles, because they are always sheathing. You have to know that the right foot that presses on the pedal is always under tension. So there is tension from the Achilles tendon to the back. As the left foot works less well, they are always obliged to stabilise, to sheathe: this is what causes all these pains.
I am here for all the competitions and also for all the tests. This year there were only three races but next year there will be six, maybe even seven. So we will have more work to do in the races.
What are the specificities of physical preparation according to the type of race: Formula 1, rally, endurance, e-Formula?
Where there is the most G (gravitational force) to bear is in Formula 1. So, in this discipline, there is a lot of muscle-strengthening work on the upper back, neck, arms and shoulders. It is also essential that the drivers are "at weight" because they must not be overweight. So, in parallel, they have to do cardiovascular work to stay in the best shape possible. In any case, they are all sportsmen: they swim, run, cycle, play tennis, paddle, etc.
For endurance races, it's a bit different: there are fewer Gs but the effort is longer and more repetitive. So it's a bit more complicated to manage. The back and the forearms will be more tired. This is why, for endurance riders, physical preparation must be rigorous and regular throughout the year.
For rallying, on the other hand, these are very short events. The riders have less Gs but upper body strengthening is essential for them.
Does the physical preparation have an influence on the mental state of the pilots during the competition?
When you push your physical limits, there is always a mental dimension involved. When it becomes very hard physically, the mind takes precedence over the body in order to go beyond its limits. Through physical preparation, we also work on the mental part. There is also another important point in the mental part, which is what we call emulation. Indeed, in a group, there is always a kind of competition that takes place, even within one's own team. This emulation will serve to surpass oneself, to concentrate, to focus on the essential. The mental part is very important, and some drivers use mental trainers. In the context of Peugeot Sport competition, we have chosen not to impose this and to leave each driver free to call on the services of a mental coach or not.
Finally, do you have a story or memory you would like to share with us?
A few years ago, in the 2010s, we won the World Endurance Championship. We were very proud to represent both Peugeot and France. At the end of a race in China, we all started singing the Marseillaise together, naturally, without consulting each other, even though it was not planned at all. It was a great moment for the group: we had the feeling that we had done something important together. It's a moment that illustrates the collective spirit and mentality of the Peugeot family and the competition.