As race seasons and championships are drawing to a close, the mental weight it creates for drivers and teams can really affect focus and performance. A great example of this late-season tension was seen at last week’s Global Mazda MX-5 Cup finale at St. Petersburg. There were two championship contenders battling until the final laps of the final race for the title. They weren’t battling each other on the race track, but they were battling each other in the points.
The last race unfolded in a very different way than the championship leader would have liked. He had a momentary issue with the car that dropped him back in position and therefore out of the championship lead as his rival led the race and was poised to get a championship-winning points payout.
This kind of stress on a driver—knowing that the entire season is coming down to just a few laps of a race—can create a feeling that it’s all slipping between your fingers. At that point, it’s key to focus on the specific tasks that need to happen in the race itself. In this case, those tasks included passing enough cars to secure a finishing position that would guarantee a return to the championship lead.
For the driver who was up front, leading the race—and at that moment, the championship—there were also big mental challenges to stay inch-perfect, not making any mistakes that might give up the lead and the championship. When you’re the driver in the lead, a race can never end soon enough—that’s especially true for a championship race! When you’re the driver trying to make up a few spots, on the other hand, it can feel like you’re rapidly running out of time.
I personally have experienced these same feelings, coming down to the wire of a championship when you’re struggling with a car issue that is a hindrance to your performance. It’s a challenge to keep your focus and keep calm. It’s important to only concern yourself with the factors that you can control rather than all of the aspects that are outside your ability to change (like an ailing car). You should take that mental bandwidth that’s dealing with worry and use it to maximize your performance instead.
Focusing only on those things you can change means you’re giving it your all, and you can be proud that no matter what the results are, you crossed the finish line knowing that you minimized distractions, maximized your potential and you put in your best performance.