Osteopathy & Formula 1

Q&A with Gemma Fisher M.Ost, F1 Human Performance Consultant

How did you initially come to be involved with Formula One?
I was initially brought into Williams F1 team as their Human Performance Specialist after being headhunted from the driver performance programme I was working on in endurance motorsport with Aston Martin Racing. The primary reason for this was to focus on the Pitcrew, as the regulations within Formula One had changed meaning that refuelling within pitstops was no longer permitted and the entire ‘choreography’ of the stops became an important strategic operation. With the reduced time required to service the car, races could now be won or lost in a pitstop.
With over a thousand channels of data being transmitted from the car at any one point, generating around 19 billion data points per Grand Prix, Williams were the first to turn their attention to the human elements within the team, realising that they had all the information they required from the car but knew very little about the driver and the 22 personnel that run into the pit lane in front of the car doing 60kph to carry out a pitstop. The Williams Chief Technical Officer at the time, Pat Symonds referred to me as an “Engineer of the body” and it became my responsibility to conduct the detailed analysis of every aspect of the crew’s performance across a race weekend.
How did the role of Human Performance Osteopath work?
The position had many roles under one title, as we know, a person’s performance is defined by a complex interaction of various mental and physical factors. None of which had previously been objectively assessed within an F1 pitcrew. This gave me the opportunity to provide a truly holistic approach to the challenge and to use our Osteopathic principles in designing a comprehensive package of care. The pragmatic, diagnostic mindset we develop as autonomous practitioners within Osteopathy lent itself well to the highly scrutinised world of F1 performance analysis and engineering.
As in any industry, I needed to understand the tools of the trade if I was to have an impact on the intricate series of actions and events within a pitstop. I examined each part of the process from the ‘structure and function’ of the pit equipment to the ‘neurology’ of the auto-release jack electronics. I understood what was required physically from each individual crewmember in their specific roles, I wrote the Pitcrew manual and became an integral part of the implementation of the new-style pitstops.
Human Performance is such a huge topic and extends beyond working with the Pitcrew. I’m also responsible for the physical health and cognitive performance of the entire race team.
What highlights have there been in your time working in Formula One?

We soon began to reap the rewards of the intense assessment and training structure that I embedded at Williams, combined with the enhanced pitstop analysis. The critiquing of a myriad of human factors including; psychometrics, skill acquisition, strength & conditioning and nutrition lead to Williams performing the fastest pitstops at 14 of the 21 races in 2016. Improving from one of the slowest teams in the paddock to a mind-blowing 1.92 seconds which, at the time, stood as the World Record for the fastest-ever pitstop in F1 history and secured the DHL award that year. 

I was then asked by Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams to take this engineered approach to performance healthcare from the trackside to the corporate setting and designed the company’s welfare strategy for over 1000 personnel to support the team behind the team. This position as Head of Health and Human Performance allowed further Osteopathic exploration of a whole system approach to health and wellbeing goals. From establishing commercial deals supplying the latest technology in order to quantify our healthcare efforts to devising a mental health program and providing nutrigenetic analysis. Building a multidisciplinary team expanded the service provision and partnering with fitness industry leaders gave me the opportunity to design and build a state-of-the-art gym with treatment rooms in order to complement the exercise programs and rehabilitation of the staff and drivers.

What other experience, qualifications or specialisms assist you in this role?
Prior to becoming an Osteopath, I was already qualified in gym instructing and personal training but the initial role certainly presented different challenges whereby many of your clients were expected to be mechanics 90% of the time, yet perform like elite athletes for an extremely important 10%! My former work with the emergency services and advanced life support provided the skills needed to identify and respond to medical emergencies. I’d previously studied Psychology and I’m now a qualified Nutritional Therapist with a specialist interest in Nutrigenetics, all of which helped prepare me for the wide-ranging applications of this unique job role, based upon an appreciation of the human mind and body. I’m also an associate lecturer in my specialist area of Temporomandibular (jaw) dysfunction and the neurophysiological relationship with the cervical spine (neck). I’ve been a speaker at numerous international conferences, appeared in TV and magazine interviews and been invited to panel discussions on various topics surrounding health and human performance. Gaining a reputation for delivering World-Recording breaking achievements in the motorsport industry now means that I get head-hunted by other F1 teams and I’m deployed as a consultant to revolutionize the corporate Human Performance programs that are responsible for the Pitcrew, drivers and the wider team. I have most recently been working for the Alfa Romeo Racing F1 team, splitting my time between their HQ in Switzerland, International Grand Prix racetracks and my clinic in the UK.

How did you want to
take elements from this out into the wider medical industry?

During my time at Williams, I was extremely passionate about the extrapolation of knowledge from the F1 environment to other industries via the Williams Advanced Engineering division and I was soon using my experience to help develop innovative technology and protocols for medical applications. This was recognised by a group of Doctors at the University Hospital of Wales who saw the parallels between the time-critical scenarios of pitstops and neonatal resuscitation. They, therefore, approached WAE for my support on a project to streamline their procedures and advise on the human factors involved. The outcomes of this project have now been rolled out as a national standard. I’ve subsequently coached other emergency medical teams, trauma surgeons and ambulance crews. It’s great to be able to feel like I’m giving something back to medicine.

Opening the clinic in Pangbourne provided the opportunity to deliver the elite-level, holistic medical model that I had established within F1 teams, making these interventions accessible to all. So, I set out on a mission to provide truly comprehensive and proactive health services available both at home and on the high street. I truly believe that Osteopaths play a key role in empowering the general population to get in the driving seat of their own health and that we can be the facilitators of revolutionary change to the largely reactive Western medical model that currently exists and lead the way with a proactive approach to primordial precision medicine.

When did you launch Formula Health and what did you want to offer?

Formula Health is an Integrated Medicine clinic in Pangbourne, near Reading that I opened in 2019. The multi-disciplinary model that I have established within the Formula Health clinic strives to incorporate elements of allied, complementary and ancient medicine into thorough rehab plans to support methods of diagnosis and treatment that help our patients understand the root cause of their symptoms but more importantly provide people with the tools to avoid recurrence of their presenting condition. The use of ground-breaking medical assessment technology allows the FH team to gain deeper levels of insight into the health and performance of our clients and deliver effective long-lasting results. Using this method and offering a diverse range of services allows detailed physiological analysis to be followed up by effective interventions and supportive education to help each patient take ownership of their health. Cutting out the guesswork and establishing a plan that works specifically for that individual.