Jo Leberer from Austria works as a physiotherapist in Formula
One since more than thirty years. For over twenty years now, he
works for Sauber / Alfa Romeo. He is as close to the drivers as
one can get - here is what he has to say about his career:
TSS: Jo, you are working as a physio therapist in F1 since the end of the nineteen
eighties.You were practicing at Willy Dungls rehab center in Austria and he was your mentor.
Have you been in contact with motorsport when the call from McLaren came?
JL: Actually not directly. Motorsport was popular in Austria since the times of Jochen Rindt
and Niki Lauda, but I was not a fan. There were people from motorsport coming to the
Willy Dungl health center asking for help when they suffered injuries and so I got to know
some of them – most famously Niki Lauda of course. When working together with these
drivers, my interest in motorsport grew naturally.
TSS: Your first job for a team in motorsport was with McLaren when Senna and Prost were driving.
JL: Right, McLaren was the best team back then, so I started at the sharp end of the grid.
TSS: Compared to the athletes you knew: How fit were these two?
JL: Especially Alain was very fit. He was a clever guy who knew that he had to focus not only on driving but
also on physical strength - he was and still is a passionate cyclist. And Senna improved continuously, but
both were already on a good level.
TSS: Which parts in their training did
you take care of? Have you only
been present at the race track or did
you also work with them at home?
JL: The main part of my work took
place at the races, but I visited
them also at home if necessary or
we organized special training weeks
to improve their fitness. Ayrton for
example did never test the cars during the winter. He went home to Brasil and enjoyed his spare time
and showed up again in spring when the new season began. But he had his program on which he worked
at home to stay fit. During this time, it was a co-operation of me and their coaches at home.
TSS: When Senna left McLaren you went with him to Williams.
JL: Correct, and after his accident I finished the season with Williams but went back to McLaren for 1995
and 1996. Coming back to McLaren was like meeting my family again.
TSS: But you were faced again with a terrible accident in Adelaide 1995 when Mika Hakkinen crashed.
JL: Yes, I accompanied him directly after the accident and worked with him during his rehab. It was tough
time, because I did not experience accidents with “my drivers” so far and then there two bad accidents
in two years. After the 1996 season I switched to Sauber and here I am still working for the same team
since more than 20 years.
TSS: Can you tell us what has changed in this period of time, concerning your work with the drivers?
JL: First of all, everything became bigger. Now we are Alfa Romeo, there are many more people working for
the team and I do not only take care of the drivers fitness, but also look for the wellbeing and health of
all team members. It is like everywhere in the world: everything becomes more intensive, faster and
more analytical and technical. Both drivers have now their personal coaches and I work with them
together in a very harmonic way.
TSS: With Raikkonen and Giovinazzi you have a very young driver and a very
experienced driver in the team. Is there a difference between them when
you look at their fitness or the way you work with them?
JL: I am not directly involved anymore in the drivers` training programs.
That`s the job of their personal coaches. I can only say the young Italian
and the rather old fin complement each other in a perfect way.
TSS: How does race day look like for the drivers?
JL: This is very different and depends on how he feels comfortable. Drivers
have their own approach and as a coach or trainer you need to develop a
feeling what the driver is comfortable with: does he need some distraction or does he want to
concentrate now, do you have to activate him or do you need to calm him down.
TSS: How important is nutrition when it comes to a drivers` fitness?
JL: Nutrition is of course very important. In the beginning I was also cooking for the drivers: I was
preparing breakfast and lunch and all the small things in between. Nowadays the catering is much better
and I only supervise what they eat.
TSS: Is it true that drivers needed to be physical stronger back then?
JL: Yes and no… you had manual gear shift, no power steering back then, so it was physically harder, yes.
Nowadays, the sport is much more complicated with all the instructions from the engineers and
strategists the drivers have to obey. And therefore you need mental capacities you can only use when
you are physically fit.
TSS: Do you have a sort of a “teacher`s pet”? A driver who did follow your advises most accurately?
JL: I cannot pic one single driver. I am very lucky that I can say I had very good relations to all my drivers,
Prost and Senna who became a very good friend, the fins Hakkinen and Raikkonen, Kubica and
Coulthard, even Michael Andretti, who only drove one season for McLaren, is still a very close friend. Or
Johnny Herbert for example, who had this terrible accident in F3000 in Brands Hatch with severe leg
injuries. He came to the Dungl center in really bad shape. It is incredible how hard he worked to learn to
walk again and gain fitness – a miracle! You knit close bonds with people when you accompany them
through such hard times.
TSS: I am glad you enjoy your work still so much and practice with so much joy. I can only say thank you
for your time.