Formula 1 Racing

The legendary Senna confidant who called time on a 35-year F1 career

Gerhard Berger, McLaren relaxes with fitness guru Josef Leberer

No, we are not talking about former Toro Rosso and AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost, who rightly received a warm send-off in the Abu Dhabi paddock, but about Josef Leberer, a pioneer physiotherapist and every bit the paddock legend that his compatriot is.

As the 64-year-old has always shunned publicity, he isn’t as well-known as some of the other Austrian paddock pillars. But inside the paddock he is revered as a trailblazer, having worked as a trainer and confidant for Ayrton Senna at McLaren and Williams, before finding a home at Sauber for the past 27 years.

A protege of famed doctor Willi Dungl, Leberer was recommended to Ron Dennis by Niki Lauda, another Austrian icon, and joined McLaren from the opening race of the 1988 season in Rio de Janeiro. He steadily built up a good rapport with both Senna and Alain Prost, but it was ultimately the canny Brazilian that saw the potential of having Leberer on board as his personal trainer.

In 2017 we sat down with Leberer to look back in depth on the special bond he developed with the mercurial Brazilian, all the way until his fatal accident in San Marino 1994.

At the time that role was relatively new, with Leberer being a one-man band in charge of training, physiotherapy, nutrition, and mental coaching.

“It was a fantastic opportunity,” he said. “I mean, starting at McLaren in Formula 1 with Senna and Prost… what more do you want?! Since then, I worked with a lot of other world champions, like Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel. Working with the new generation was also very exciting. This is what kept driving me.

“At the time Dennis understood that F1 teams pour so much money into the cars and technology, but that the driver is the most important asset. The driver is your strongest link, but he can also be your weakest link in the chain.

Photo by: Sutton Images

Gerhard Berger, McLaren relaxes with fitness guru Josef Leberer

“What we did in nutrition already was even more than they do now, because I was cooking myself. I tailored everything to the driver.  They all come from different cultures, so you have to taken that into account. 

“I did the training, the therapy, the mental side and nutrition, so I gained a very good understanding of the individual I was working with.”

When asked to compare how much F1 has changed over the years from a driver preparation point of view, the increasing complexity of modern machinery has also had its impact on driver…

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