In Conversation with David Thompson
Head of Human Performance, Alpine F1
Sports Nation Magazine, Issue 3 (2023)
SportsNation sat down with the head of Human Performance at Alpine’s F1 Team to see what goes into fine-tuning the people that take the world’s fastest racing cars around a track.
What first motivated you to work in sport?
I’ve always been passionate about sport and been involved in it from a young age. Having played at a reasonably high level across many sports, I was always intrigued as to what sets the elite and professional athletes aside from the rest of us. Ultimately, my motivation was that, if I couldn’t be a professional myself, I would relish the chance to work with professional athlete(s).
What did you study- what qualifications did you have?
I recognised from an early age that I was certainly more of a ‘visual learner’. Being able to learn something and then apply it to scenarios was always going to be the best way for me to learn and excel. I loved PE at school and when I was able to choose my subjects in secondary school, sports studies opened up a whole new world for me- learning the theory behind one of my passions.
I followed this path and, once I had completed my undergraduate degree, I found myself undertaking a master’s degree in applied sport, exercise nutrition and exercise physiology. While undertaking my master’s degree, I was fortunate enough to undertake an internship at Reading Football Club, working across the academy, reserves and first team. This was a great experience for me and showed how a professional sports team functioned from the backroom staff to the players on pitch- and what it took to succeed.
After completing my internship, I then got my first job at Reading, working in the sports science and sports & conditioning departments.
How long have you worked in motor racing?
I started working Enstone in 2011, when it was known as Lotus Renault GP, and I’ve been here ever since. Over the past 12 seasons, the name of the team has changed from Lotus Renault GP to Lotus F1 Team and then to Renault before being called Alpine.
What does your role as Head of Human Performance at Alpine entail?
My role is quite dynamic. I manage a small team of performance coaches and therapists, and I work closely with our academy doctor too, to deliver a bespoke and individual training platform for our driver athletes and race team. We look after the sports science testing and assessments, sports and conditioning program delivery, injury management, cognitive testing and training and nutritional support, as well as well-being needs for this group.
Our role is also to educate all personnel in these areas, whether it be a karter, F3/F2 driver, or the gunmen on the pit crew. We work to get the best out of these individuals- on track or in whatever their role is.
When working with the team, as well as improving overall performance, I like to share in the small victories too- whether that be a personal best in the weights room of improving their lactate threshold. It is all a part of the work that goes on behind the scenes.
You also include Power Plate vibration machines in the training regime?
With our driver athletes, yes, as they are easy to use, portable and can be utilised in a number of scenarios- whether its pre-activation or warming up before a training session, or a pre-track event on a race weekend. They can be used as recovery tools again after training or a race. We also use them after long flights to increase blood circulation and re-energise after being seated for hours.
What’s the most exciting part of the job?
First and foremost I see myself as a coach. And any coach worth their while will tell you that the most satisfying and rewarding element of this job is to be able to make a difference, whether that’s improving their strength, aiding an athlete back to competition after injury, or seeing them on the podium achieving their goals. For me, you can’t beat that!
What qualities do you need to make a good human performance professional?
Strong communication skills and the ability to be approachable are important assets to have. I think having passion for what you do really helps and keeps the job fresh and exciting. It’s also a forever-evolving area of study, so being eager to learn and improve helps too.
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