Professional racing drivers are supreme athletes, they and their personal trainers monitor every aspect of their fitness to enable them to cope with the extreme demands motor racing places on their bodies, so it seems inconceivable that an F1 driver would knowingly take performance enhancing drugs.
When Rubens Barrichello was involved in Formula One’s first ever drug testing scandal at the 1995 Japanese Grand Prix, the drug testing laws applicable to the sport were considerably weaker than they are now. Rubens had taken an over the counter nasal decongestant that contained ephedrine. As soon as it was realised that Rubens had taken a prohibited substance the FIA’s medical advisor, Prof Sid Watkins was informed. In his opinion Barrichello was “totally ignorant” that the medication contained a banned substance and he was not punished.
Since then, the list of prohibited substances has been incorporated into global anti-doping policy via the World Anti-Doping Code. Although the Fédération Internationale de l´Automobile are relatively new adoptees of WADA standards there has been one driver from another series to have tested positive for prohibited substances. Thirteen year old Polish junior champion kart driver Igor Walilko, was banned for two years after testing positive for the stimulant Nikethamide.
The case showed just how difficult it is to know what is and isn’t allowed within the regulations but ignorance of the rules is no excuse. The prohibited list includes items that are banned “in-competition” and those that are not allowed at any time, indeed competitors in the testing pool must advise the FIA of their whereabouts on a quarterly basis so that they can be available for ad hoc testing.
The obvious no-no’s for motorsport will need no further explanation; these include drugs controlled by law, in-competition alcohol, in excess of 0.1 mg per ml (in blood) and anabolic steroids, but it’s the less well known substances, perhaps sold as over the counter remedies or prescribed by a doctor that can get the driver into trouble. One such substance that surprised me was Insulin, used in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. Whilst it’s highly unlikely that a super fit F1 driver would require insulin, some competitors who hold motorsports licences and take part in classic races could find themselves at odds with the regulations.
It’s not only drugs and over the counter remedies that have the potential to get the unwary driver into trouble, even relatively normal foodstuffs can cause problems. WADA recently warned drivers at the Chinese GP to be careful of what they eat as farmers use the hormone Clenbuterol (Autosport paywall) to make meat leaner, prompting Fernando Alonso to joke “Yes, I eat plain rice boiled in mineral water, and energy bars”. For these reasons the FIA have launched the “Race True” anti-doping campaign which will give drivers and the medical staff with whom they are in contact, the information they need to know to comply with the regulations. The complete list of prohibited substances can be found in the further reading list below and on the FIA website; an e-learning course and quiz on the prohibited list will be available there from next month.
FIA Anti-doping regulations
Press Release re Igor Walilko
The Prohibited list