WATCH: Button vs. the Brownlees at the GSK HPL

As a Formula One driver, Jenson Button has survived a 185-mph crash, fractured ribs, engine failure, wet tracks, and even hostile teammates. But how did he fare in a performance lab when pitted against a pair of Olympic triathletes eight and ten years his junior?

The 2009 F1 World Champion, Button has since established himself as an accomplished triathlete; he’s been on the IRONMAN® 70.3 podium for his age group (he’s now 34), and he hosts his own charitable triathlon. So the GlaxoSmithKline Human Performance Lab (GSK HPL) invited him in for a battery of physiological and cognitive tests that put him head-to-head against Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, the 20-something triathletes with 22 gold medals between them.

GSK HPL is a world-class research facility. For their swim testing, they chose the Endless Pool Elite®. With its industry-best current for in-place swimming, the Elite makes an ideal tool for researchers; it allows them to challenge top athletes while measuring their oxygen uptake and other vital stats with equipment that’s safely and conveniently stationary. With the Endless Pool and other state-of-the-art training and biometric technology, the GSK HPL team has dedicated themselves to exploring “six core pillars of human performance: strength, stamina, cognition, hydration, metabolism, and recovery.”

The lab’s goal is to improve real-world performance. For instance, Button and the Brownless underwent skin and core temperature tests that should ultimately “help Jenson understand where he can improve in triathlon and help the Brownlees acclimatise [it’s a UK lab] to the heat and humidity they are likely to experience in Rio 2016.”

According to the GSK HPL’s release (which includes the infographic below) the Brownlees mostly had the edge. Cycling in the heat and humidity of the lab’s Enviro Chamber, Jonny maintained a lower heart rate and a lower maximum core temperature. And while Button could swim as fast as Alistair, the senior Brownlee used fewer and more efficient strokes to achieve that speed. (We’d like to think his Endless Pool training had a little something to do with that.)

Notably though, Button “has one of the quickest and most accurate reaction times” on cognitive testing that GSK HPL ever recorded. Good thing, too: those lighting-fast reflexes could literally be a lifesaver in Formula One racing!

an infographic of the Button vs. Brownlees challenge at the GSK HPL
This infographic, from the GSK Human Performance Lab’s website, compares the results of tests on three elite athletes’ physiological and cognitive performance. Button, a professional Formula One driver and amateur triathlete, excelled on cognitive testing, while professional triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee (who are eight and ten years his junior) took the lead in most physiological categories. The “swimming flume” for test #2 was actually the HPL’s Endless Pool Elite, which offers the fastest, smoothest swim current available in any swimming machine.

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