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What does Formula One have to do with Neuroscience?

The engines are racing, and the flag comes down and the ten cars humming on the grid have their drivers push the pedal to the metal. At a tight corner, Hamilton edges out Verstappen, as he shifted the gear and steering wheel at exactly the right time and speed to win the race. Can you imagine what is happening inside the brain of these drivers. Behind the scenes the film-makers focus the stories on the drivers and what it takes to get a place on the grid. Especially fascinating was Esteban Ocon’s story. He was training his brain to improve his motor co-ordination, the brain’s processing speed and reaction times. He was doing daily training by playing car racing games, ping pong, switching his hands while doing it, changing his routines, doing thing backwards, and juggling. As a neuroscientist watching this, it was clear that he had intuitively discovered how to improve the physical connections between his motor and sensory neurons. As you know, for an F1 driver, there is nothing more important than superb reaction time especially when driving at 290km/h around a tight bend with 5 other cars next to you.

This week in neuroscience, scientists from the Allen Institute published a three-dimensional map of the brain (see link below). The investment in the tools and technology that allow us to map the individual circuits of the brain are revealing it like never in history. The startling finding was that one area of the brain extended to far greater distances than originally thought. The neural connection extended across the brain and down the spinal cord. This opens new ways to understand how the brain works, and possibly leaves behind some other ideas, such left and right brain, male and female brains and the separating the limbic versus the prefrontal cortical parts of the brain. Being able to see the brain in 3D in real time, shows how the sensory and motor systems integrate and can be trained. This is something the F1 formula drivers had already grasped, and other top athletes such as Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Wim Hof intuitively discovered. They have worked out how to train the extensive neural networks to improve their reaction times and optimise their performance. Neuroscience may be playing catch up with F1, but seeing the brain in 3D is laying foundations of knowledge for all of us to witness that the organic brain lying within is something can be trained, and everyone can try it- not only F1 drivers. Formula One is even more racy than it appears.

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