After each race win, one of the first people that can be seen congratulating Lewis Hamilton is a blonde woman named Angela Cullen. But who is Angela Cullen? Find out in her own words and the words of her colleagues.
Most F1 fans already know Angela is Lewis’ physiotherapist, but her job description actually includes much, much more. She is responsible for Lewis Hamilton’s daily routine, personal logistics, his diet, sleep patterns, travel arrangements and more.
Born in New Zealand, Angela Cullen has been involved in sports since she was a child.
“I was born and grew up in New Zealand, famous for outdoor activities,” said Cullen in an interview with her current employers Hintsa Performance.
“I have always had a passion for all sports. I was hugely competitive and got involved in everything from netball, soccer, cricket, volleyball, basketball, to swimming athletics. If there was a sports team, I wanted to be part of it.
“But it was field hockey that I represented New Zealand in from the ages of 15 to 21. This was my first introduction to high-performance sports and human performance.”
Cullen went on to get a degree in health science and physiotherapy, which led to her first professional job involving high-performance athletes.
“My first private practice job was working near Crystal Palace in London, UK’s hive of world-class track and field athletes. I’m hugely grateful for this opportunity which fast-tracked me into the world of high-performance sports.
“Initially, my work was primarily with 100 and 200-meter sprinters, although I worked across all track and field athletes, endurance athletes and the British triathlon team.
“You could say that the 100 and 200-meter sprinters are the F1 of athletics. And my role was like the engineer or mechanic working closely with the athlete; fine-tuning their body to optimise their performance in terms of speed, power, mobility and control.
“This was an amazing opportunity to learn about achieving ultimate body performance. I worked alongside some of the world’s best physiotherapists with some of the world’s best athletes.
“Working trackside before, during and after training sessions, constantly monitoring, mobilising and adjusting the body to achieve maximal speeds.”
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In 2014, after learning about Dr Aki Hintsa‘s work with Ethiopian runners, Olympic athletes and F1 drivers and his ‘model of wellbeing and philosophy’, Cullen decided to join Hintsa Performance and become a performance coach.
“Hintsa’s model of wellbeing and philosophy, that ‘performance is a by-product of wellbeing’, resonated with me and reflected my beliefs and ideals of understanding human performance.
“It was then that I decided to come on board as a physiotherapist and Performance Coach at Hintsa Performance.”
Finland’s Dr. Aki Hintsa, originally a specialist in orthopaedic and trauma surgery, has been involved in Formula 1 since Mika Häkkinen invited him to assist him and his family in his quest to win the 1998 World Drivers’ Championship. After Häkkinen won the title in 1998 and 1999, Hintsa found Formula 1 to be “the most fascinating laboratory” for his philosophy of wellbeing and high-performance.
Later Dr. Hintsa became one of Lewis Hamilton’s mentors in his early years at McLaren. After Hintsa died from a heart-attack in 2016, Angela Cullen joined Hamilton’s team and the rest is history. Her move to Formula 1 was explained by Pete Mcknight, Hinsta’s director of coaching and sports science.
“At the time, Angela was mainly working with corporate clients, but when the opportunity to work with Lewis came up we thought: ‘Why not give this a go?’,” McKnight told MSN.
“It has worked out perfectly. People don’t always ‘get’ the performance environment, but she does. She understands that it’s performance first.
“It’s her level of experience, too – she has worked with top-level British track runners, and she just knows how to put the athlete first.
“Sometimes you get physios who are more interested in the therapy than they are in the athlete. Angela is a good physio and she understands her trade very well, but she puts Lewis first.
“There’s also just something quirky about it: a woman in her mid-forties, with a family at home, two young kids, and then there’s this mid-thirties racing driver.
“It might seem a really weird match, but it just works,” concluded McKnight.
Over the years the bond with Hamilton has become so tight that they even share the same tattoos, according to paddock photographer Kym Illman.
“She’s loyal to Lewis, so loyal in fact, that on her wrist she has loyalty tattooed like Lewis has on his wrist. The inner-circle are loyal to each other,” explained Illman.
“One of her roles is to get Lewis to the track. Sometimes she even has to act as a bodyguard for Lewis.
“She’s been in the field of sport for some 25 years, she’s his PA, his driver, his performance coach, his confidante, his friend.
“It is her role to eliminate all the distractions for Lewis over a race weekend, so for 4 days, she’s with him almost every minute of those 4 days.”
And what does Angela think about working in Formula 1?
“The biggest surprise is the fact I am working in motorsport,” she explained.
“Historically the drivers have had male strength-based trainers as their coach and I think I was the first physio and definitely the first woman to be involved.
“However, my most outstanding observation has been the importance of team dynamics. This really struck me when I first came on board.
“In a way, it is similar to a game of cricket, but on a larger scale. The team is made up of many world-class individuals, each having such a significantly different and important role to play that has a direct impact on the team’s outcome.
“I have played in many team sports where you tend to rely on one or two key members but in motorsport, every member has to be firing at the top of their game, every day, every weekend or literally the wheels will fall off.
“The intensity of motorsports in terms of ‘load’ – both mental and physical – for the drivers across a race weekend and across a season is far greater than I had experienced in any other sport.
“Olympic sports have periodised programmes over a season where they may peak once or twice for key events, but F1 requires ultimate performance, 21 times a year! It’s incredibly demanding.
“Insane travel commitments, coupled with a barrage of media demands adds more load on top of the obvious physical and mental demands on the body from driving at such great speeds.
“It is for these reasons that a strong focus on wellbeing is critical to sustaining performance throughout the entire F1 season,” concluded Cullen.
So there you have it, straight from Angela herself! Voice your thoughts and opinions about Angela and her partnership with Lewis in the comments below!