The head also plays a major role in the Formula 1 title fight. We spoke to the sports psychologist and mental trainer Matthias Herzog about the two protagonists.
In Formula 1, the title fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton goes back and forth, and mind games are also played.
The sports psychologist and mental trainer Matthias Herzog (44), who has worked with the handball players of the THW Kiel or the former Bundesliga soccer team Hannover 96, knows how crucial the head is in professional sport. Especially in Formula 1.
Matthias Herzog, how important is the head in professional sport?
The mental makes up 70 to 80 percent. In top sport, at the very highest level, the head can decide everything. The skills are there, the question is: can I get it or not? And that’s just a matter of the head.
How much can the psyche affect performance?
There is pressure in professional sport and the feeling it creates is fear. And it is one of the greatest hit killers out there, it can paralyze you. On the other hand, fear can also release energy. The problem starts with the fact that many do not even admit this fear, so many are not even aware of why they fail. It is the fear of the consequences, that I embarrass myself, that the game will be lost or the title not won. The art of mental training is therefore to get full control of the body in order to achieve top performance.
How can you train the psyche?
Positive self-talk is one option. A positive self-influencing that ensures that the body thinks positively. Negative images are immediately interrupted, new, positive images arise in the head. And our brain cannot distinguish between an intensely imagined experience and an experience made. Means: Positive thoughts arise through positive self-talk, which in turn generate positive feelings, which in turn lead to positive actions and positive results.
And it works that easy?
It makes a difference whether I imagine that I am standing on the penalty kick and the goalkeeper is holding the ball or whether it hits the corner. Depending on which images I imagine, the body will subconsciously do everything to ensure that exactly that happens. You know it from everyday life: you buy a new shirt and say to yourself: “You just can’t get a stain on the shirt.” And what happens then? Exactly: there is a stain on the shirt. That is the law of attraction. So I have to say or imagine what I want and not what I don’t want. I need positive pictures.
How crucial is the psyche?
That’s basically just psyche. The boys have to be physically fit, but also have to keep their concentration, have to be courageous, are under constant tension and under pressure. The smallest mistake can have a big impact. Verstappen and Hamilton are mentally completely painless, they are “killers”. Just like Michael Schumacher in the past. They say: “I know that I will make the right decision.” With Sebastian Vettel, for example, you can see that the priorities have clearly shifted. He is no longer who he used to be.
With Vettel, is that really only due to the psyche?
Physical factors also play a role. But focus plays an extreme role. When I have family, I think more about what might happen. That can easily amount to a tenth of a second. In addition: How great is the greed still? Schumacher always wanted to be world champion. For example, Nico Rosberg didn’t have the greedy, he wanted to become world champion one day. After that, he would not have taken the risk, could no longer have motivated himself. This plays an increasingly important role in old age.
Does Vettel distract himself too much with his environmental protection activities or criticism of the Formula 1 system?
Yes, there are too many construction sites. Those are nice things and it’s good that he does it too. But that clearly takes the focus. Even if it’s only five percent.
Who is the mentally stronger in the title fight?
Hamilton has the advantage of knowing how to win titles. Verstappen has yet to prove that. He is also the one who naturally takes the greater risk. He has the advantage that he doesn’t think much, because thinking is a hindrance in Formula 1 as well.
How effective are the mind games between the two of them?
With them, it’s always difficult to tell whether it’s strategy or whether they’re missing something on the relationship level. Especially with Verstappen, I have the feeling that he is hardly interested in people, but only in himself. So it doesn’t have to be a tactic at all, maybe that’s just how it is. But of course: something like this can be used specifically to weaken the other extremely. But such actions can also trigger the opposite. If you convert high negative energy, a high positive energy comes about that cannot be compared with anything. And then you achieve with the games that the opponent responds with top performance.
So can Verstappen do the games better?
I guess so. Many don’t like him. And in his younger years he is very relaxed about rejection and takes it away well. That makes it easier for him to use it for himself, and he may even be spurred on by it.