The Importance of the Race Driver’s Brain – In Conversation with Sabine Tyrvainen

Mental conditioning is as key to performing well on the track as physical conditioning and racecraft. I talked to Sabine Tyrvainen, CEO of the Winner’s Institute UK about how a race driver’s brain works and what can be done to improve its performance.

Motorsport Prospects: You are the co-writer of The Winners Bible. Can you tell me a bit about why the book was written?

Head Shot of Sabine Tyrvainen, MSc
Sabine Tyrvainen, MSc

Sabine Tyrvainen: I’m co-author of ‘The Winner’s Bible’ German edition. The book was originally written by my long-term mentor and business partner F1 Neuroscientist and New Zealander, Dr. Kerry Spackman and I contributed to the book. It became an international number 1 bestseller. Kerry wrote ‘The Winner’s Bible’ because his clients kept telling him they wanted a book that contained all the tools and proven techniques they’d ever need in one place. ‘The Winner’s Bible’ shows step by step how to use the same ground-breaking tools and methods he customised for elite athletes, Olympic champions, and businesspeople to permanently rewire your brain and transform your life.

These lessons from champions are applicable to every area of sport, business and personal life and help you uncover your own unique and personal formula for success.

The Austrian Olympic Committee loved the book and suggested to make ‘The Winner’s Bible’ available in German so that Austrian Olympic athletes could benefit from it. For this reason, I translated and co-authored the German edition ‘The Winner’s Bible’: Das Geheimnis erfolgreicher und glücklicher Menschen. It’s available here [The Winners Bible (winnersinstitute.co.uk)

MP: You state that performance is limited and determined by a race driver’s brain processing capacity. Is this something that is genetic, and you are essentially “stuck with what you got” or is this something that can be developed? And why is this important?

ST: Yes, a race driver’s performance is determined by the limits of his perception, computation, and actuation ability. In other words, performance is limited and determined by a race driver’s brain processing capacity. If sufficient brain capacity is not available, the driver will either a) slow down or b) make errors.

Brain processing capacity is something that can be improved and is a crucial area for any racing driver to develop. Most young drivers focus all their efforts into honing their race craft and physical fitness and neglect the most important part, their brain. Drivers need to fine-tune their processing power to improve racing performance.

My own research in motorsport, presented at the European Congress of Psychology, shows single- and multi-time world champions make significantly fewer errors than elite-level performers, despite choosing similar information processing speed.

Dr. Spackman’s studies determined that ‘memory for motion’ is a crucial skill for racing drivers to possess and different drivers have different processing bottlenecks, e.g., one driver might not be able to process all the incoming information quick enough and miss a lot of important information whereas another driver may be able to process information quickly but not able to retain and remember it when needed. Drivers need to free up their brain to feel what is going on.

Drivers must create a library of solutions and through mental practice store those solutions in the unconscious brain modules. On autopilot they’ll be able to respond on a subconscious, intuitive, instinctive level, and bypass slow conscious processing.  Automatic, unconscious processing is quick and precise and frees up a lot of the brain’s capacity.

MP: You say you are using a methodology deeply grounded in psychophysics science. Without going into too much detail, at a high level what does this mean and how does it apply to training a race driver?

ST: The Winner’s Institute UK, amongst other things, is providing data-driven services that objectively measure mental performance and capacity in a motorsport valid environment.  A race drivers’ job is in most simple terms to read the car while produce fastest possible lap times. A driver needs to be able to focus and compute more than one task simultaneously otherwise one must give.  

When changes are made to the car, the driver is required to accurately feedback what is going on with the car. A common situation is that the driver gets it wrong BUT is highly confident that their decision is in fact right and the consequence would be to send the engineer into a setup chase, which is something nobody wants.

One of our special services is using an efficient methodology developed by Dr. Spackman and deeply grounded in psychophysics science relevant to racing, using a motion simulator setup to assess sensory perception threshold and response style, mental capacity limitations, motivation, decision making, confidence reliability, and uncover mental performance blocks rooted in a driver’s belief-system.

MP: Should a race driver consider mental conditioning as important as physical conditioning?

ST: ‘A race drivers’ brain is their weapon in the battle for better lap times’ – Dr. Kerry Spackman.

As mentioned above, many young racing drivers focus all their efforts into honing their race craft, physical fitness and hopefully also technical knowledge but neglect the most important part, their brain.

The most successful racing drivers understand their brain, mental skills, and mindset in the same intricate way a race engineer understands the detailed setup of their car or motorcycle.

Drivers need to increase and strengthen their brain processing power, and this is achieved with the correct mental practice and tools.

Research shows you can get a big advantage over your competitors if you learn how to do mental practice correctly.

MP: You provide web based Mental Edge Assessment. How is this beneficial to race drivers?

ST: Engineering your mind is a crucial ingredient when performing at the highest level!

Assessing their mental edge helps them gain a laser sharp understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, how they concentrate, make decisions, control emotions, interact with others, and most importantly how they perform under pressure.

Armed with this data and the insight it provides, they are able to consistently perform at their best, even under pressure.

MP: You are CEO of Winner’s Institute UK. What kind of activities does the Institute conduct?

ST: We provide proven tools and methods, rooted in science, that were specifically developed for elite athletes, Olympic medal winners and world champions to rewire their brain and transform their performance and lives. The Winner’s Institute UK offers a complete mindset system with online courses, personalised App, book (in German), web based Mental Edge Assessment & comparison profile with the world’s best athletes, personalised high performance coaching programmes and objective data-driven services for motorsport. Our clients are serious competitors committed to personal development and performance improvement. We help our clients unlock their next level racing success, maximize brain power, gain a superior mental attitude, fine-tune their focus, overcome performance problems, and unleash their full potential. 

We are currently focusing our work on race drivers and recently decided to also specialise helping female racing drivers because we want to support the mission of diversity in motorsport.

These proven tools and methods have also helped successful businesspeople and we offer web-based assessment and effective performance profiles, especially performance in high pressure situations for CEO’s and entrepreneurs too.

MP: We are discussing race drivers and motorsport but how important is mental conditioning to other types of athletes?

ST: Mental training is important for all types of athletes and any athlete must learn to perform on a subconscious level. Our mindset system can help any athlete. However, a racing driver has to deal with an enormous amount of cognitive load and demands a lot of computing work from the brain. It requires mental practice techniques specific to racing and through mental practice a driver must create a library of solutions ready to be accessed on a subconscious level when it matters most.

MP: Does this kind of mental conditioning apply outside sport?

ST: Yes, absolutely. In fact, our mindset system is completely personalised, because a one size fits all approach is doomed. It can be applied to all areas of life, business, sport and personal. We help people rewire their brain for permanent change and transform their life and performance.

MP: How does a race driver get in touch with the Winner’s Institute?

ST: You can contact us via email contact@winnersinstitute.co.uk or schedule a free discovery call to discuss how we can help you.

Follow us on Instagram @winnersinstituteuk and Facebook The Winner’s Bible App | Facebook

Websites: Mental Edge Assessment_LP (winnersinstitute.co.uk)  & The Winners Bible (winnersinstitute.co.uk)

You can also stay up to date at this link and receive new free downloads, etc. @worldclassperformance | Linktree

MP: Any closing words?

ST: Our one-to-one services are aimed at already highly successful and committed competitors who want to further transform their performance and life. Our online courses are aimed at a broad range of performance levels, suitable from entry level to high performance level.

You can view the full listing for The Winner’s Institute UK on the Motorsport Prospects Directory here.

Mark Boudreau
Author: Mark Boudreau

Mark is the publisher of Motorsport Prospects. As a former lawyer, he applies his legal background to assist race drivers in finding the resources they need to make their motorsport careers happen.