I only asked Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli one question and his answer lasted a fascinating 45 minutes. I'd been pondering how come, if you look at any driver pairing in any team, one will consistently shine in certain circumstances compared to the other, and in other situations the positions are reversed.
Why, for example, does Jenson Button detest any instability in the rear of a car under braking or corner entry, whereas Rubens Barrichello can improvise his way around it? Jenson will tell you when the car is like that, Rubens is able to overcome the rear instability by artificially making the car understeer by putting a load of steering lock on very suddenly, whereas when Jenson tries that he loses all feeling of the car.
So what is it in a driver's sensory system that gives him the 'feelings' that differentiate the circumstances in which they shine?
Why, when the car is perfectly balanced, can Jenson usually squeeze more from it than Rubens? You could ask similar questions of team-mate pairings up and down the pitlane. There is presumably some physiological - or possibly even psychological - reason in each instance.
So I asked Ceccarelli - owner of Formula Medicine, a driver training group that applies medical, mental and athletic disciplines to the business and which has around 100 drivers as clients, including a significant proportion of the F1 grid - if there had been any physiological research done on this.
The short answer is no. But the fuller answer reveals a fascinating picture. A picture of how a huge area of performance potential is not even recognised as being there for the taking.
"Your question is like asking a third-world country if it has a programme to go to the moon," he said. "There's so little recognition of the human element of performance in this paddock. The driver is seen as just another component of the car, not something that needs to be nurtured and understood. To research something like that would require financial backing, an F1 engineer, the involvement of a major university and a timescale of maybe three years."
But although Ceccarelli may not be able to answer that question, he has built up a huge array of data in his 21-year 'project'. One of his early areas of research was heartbeat and its relation to performance. Once a driver is up to the necessary physical condition, all variations in heartbeat are stress-related, he explains.
Typically, when a driver is asked to extend himself - at around the pitstops, say - his heartbeat will increase by around 20bpm and the laptime improves. Why, Ceccarelli asked himself, could a driver not maintain that level of performance throughout?
"Actually, I have around 150 grand prix heart traces," he says, "and there is one - this one." He shows me a graph where the trace is up at the top with tiny variations throughout the full race distance.
"This was a perfect race, qualifying laps every lap, the only time he has ever done it in his life, the only time I've ever seen it. Peak 181bpm, average 178. We are trying to achieve this with every driver, make him the best he can be."
But the area Ceccarelli believes offers teams the most potential is in choosing young drivers and improving existing ones - and in this he describes F1 as 'like a desert'.
"We have teams from the lower formulas and also driver managers using us to help choose drivers, but not F1 teams. We have built up a 360-point, one-week analysis system that we know works very well. We have only ever had three drivers score more than 300 - and all of them are doing very well now.
"With a budget you can get a car from the last row to the front - and I have to be honest and say I don't think I can transform the last driver to the best. But I can make each driver as good as he can possibly be.
"The brain is a muscle. If you have a weak area it doesn't mean you are psychologically unsuited, it can just be you are not using your brain at 100 per cent because the muscle is not developed."
To continue reading this feature, join Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.