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Christmas break? Not a bit of it.

FEATURE BY CHRISTIAN KLIEN
23/12/2012

The season might be over, but that doesn't mean the hard work for the drivers is!

We saw a fantastic end to the championship in Brazil. Congratulations to both Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, they did a great job all year, and while their reward was the world championship we were all rewarded by the fantastic fight down to the wire. Both Fernando Alonso and Vettel drove well, but of course there can be only one world champion.

Two of my favourites in 2012 were Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg. Perez had a couple of strong races and has begun to really show true potential. I think he will do well at McLaren if he can keep that momentum going. It will be interesting to see how he gets on, and if he can get the most out of his talent.

Hulkenberg was just as impressive. He kept out of the headlines for most of the year, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and I thought he really maximised the potential of his car. That's all any team can ask of a driver, and I think Hulkenberg's results started to show just how good he is. He was so close to winning in Brazil, but for that drive through penalty after coming together with Hamilton. He is definitely one to watch.

Of course now the season is over the drivers have all disappeared. At this time of year there are lots of Christmas parties and events to attend which keep drivers busy most weekends, but it's also an important time of year when it comes to fitness.

Between Brazil and pre-season testing drivers will be working hard to get fit for 2013. Because the schedule is so busy it's difficult to improve your fitness during the season, so the work the drivers can do now is important. They'll be cycling, hiking, swimming and doing lots of endurance training so they can handle the stress of a two-hour Grand Prix around Monaco.

One of the biggest things they'll be doing is working on their necks. The neck is made up of very small muscles which make it difficult to build and maintain strength, so it's an area that needs special attention. I remember during my first Formula One test I could only complete eight laps in a row because of the strain on my neck. I was driving Formula Three at the time so I was quite fit, but Formula One puts a lot of extra strain on your neck.

Believe me, when drivers get back in the cars in February their necks will hurt no matter how much training they've done, but it will get better once they get back in the groove.

The first few laps of testing after the winter break are always interesting. It can take time for drivers to get mentally back up to speed; a driver can be exiting one corner in his mind while already heading into the next! It's why a lot of drivers spend time in the simulators these days; just to stay mentally fit.

Many people think of simulators like big, expensive computer games but they're really not. They are incredibly realistic and are usually accurate within about a tenth of a second a lap. With all the buttons and switches on the steering wheel, as in the actual car, simulators now play a key part in how teams develop now testing is restricted.

A big 180 degree screen surrounds the driver and it really immerses you in it. It's a great way for young drivers to get used to the speed of Formula One, but it's also very useful for teams during Grand Prix weekends.

Typically on the Friday of a Grand Prix the leading teams will have a driver in the simulator working on a test programme. It's almost like having three cars on track, and any part of the programme the drivers at the circuit don't get through is handed on to the driver back in the simulator to finish off.

The whole thing is very Formula One - testing has been banned so teams have developed million dollar simulators instead! Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Williams all have fantastic facilities - I was lucky enough to help Williams in their simulator during 2012. They're currently upgrading it too, which should help the drivers next year.

Of course there is a lot of work going on at all the teams at the moment in what is probably the busiest time of the year in the factory. While to the outside world it looks like Formula One has gone to sleep I promise you everyone is working just as hard, if not harder than normal.

About now the final preparations are being made to next year's car as they start assembling it ready for pre-season testing. There's a little bit more time now than there was because of the January testing ban but the teams will still be working hard to get everything done in time. Often time off for the guys over Christmas is based on how whether the new car is on schedule or not!

The drivers are in contact with the team all through this period, curious to know how things are getting on.

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