Sunday, 29 July 2007

Anti-doping in F1

I have really got into the Tour de France this year thanks to access to digital television. I absolutely love it, especially the team strategy element. There is something quite admirable about the
way the ‘domestiques’ sacrifice their entire races for their team leader.

The whole doping scandal surrounding this year’s tour – which I think is more to do with tougher regulations than increasing drug use – got me thinking about Formula One. I realised that I knew absolutely nothing about the sport’s anti-doping policies.

I was amazed to find out that despite conforming to the standards set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the FIA’s first drugs tests of the 2007 came as late in the season as Magny Cours. And even these were for a random sample of drivers – Kimi Raikkonen, Rubens Barrichello, Nico Rosberg, Tonio Liuzzi and Anthony Davidson – rather than the full grid.

Mark Webber in his capacity as director of the F1 drivers association has voiced concern that more needs to be done to ensure F1 stays drug free:

"I think we should do a lot of it," he told Autosport earlier this month.

"If we rave on about how awesomely fit the drivers are, why don't we do proper tests like that in every other sport?

"The FIA says it's too expensive - but what a load of bulls**t! How can it be too expensive in this game?

"If they can do it for a bloke jumping into a sandpit, how come they can't do it in F1? We should do more of it."

In 2004 WADA adopted the World Anti-Doping Code which standardized anti-doping regulations across all sports and countries for the first time. WADA still have a long way to go in my view before things like testing frequency become universal.

Motor racing is perceived as a clean sport with only a few cases of drivers testing for cocaine or marijuana rather than traditional performance enhancing steroids.

“Out experience is that drugs are not a problem in Formula One,” the Spanish newspaper El Mundo quotes president Max Mosley as saying.

However, just because Formula One is clean of doping does not mean that the testing should escape the same rigour seen at other sports such as athletics and cycling which arguably have a bigger problem.

Indeed stepping-up the amount and depth of drugs testing would also help to quash rumours that some drivers are using Erythropoietin or EPO, a protein hormone produced by the kidney which is harder to detect that traditional performance enhancing drugs. EPO essentially increases oxygen carrying capacity by stimulating the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells (erythrocytes).

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo have quoted an unnamed driver as saying: "We are all well prepared physically, but it is a certainty that EPO would improve for example our concentration levels."

So, should F1 being doing more to combat doping?

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