Pouring some alcohol into your shoe and drinking it is very much an Aussie celebration. It’s been popularised in recent years by Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Riccardo, who has celebrated wins and podiums over the last couple of years with the shoey, even sharing a swig with other drivers and celebrities on the podium. In fact, it’s become such a cult thing that Formula 1 itself has actually trademarked it.
Part of the appeal of watching Ricciardo chug down a load of champagne from his boot is the knowledge that it must taste pretty disgusting. We’ve all peeled our footwear off after a long day and recoiled at the odour that pours out, yet Ricciardo happily drinks from his shoes having spent the last two hours in 50-degree plus cockpit temperatures, sweating profusely into them.
But aside from the sensory assault it must present, does doing a shoey pose any actual risks to the human body?
According to the Western Sydney University’s School of Medicine, it just might.
To see what kind of bacteria were present, scientists studied the effects of adding alcohol to sweaty shoes. Initially, you might think that alcohol would have disinfectant properties and therefore kill off any harmful nasties - and you’d be right. Vodka, beer and red wine all helped to reduce the number of bacteria. But they aren’t beverages that are readily available on a Formula 1 podium.
In most cases, drivers are presented with champagne. And that - when added to a well-worn shoe - is not good. Not only does it not suppress any germs, it actually helps them to thrive, thanks to the secondary fermentation process that champagne and sparkling wines undergo.
Dr Vincent Ho was the chief examiner of the experiment and revealed that doing a shoey could leave you in desperate need of a bathroom. He said:
“Based upon the data we’ve been able to obtain, certainly you can get some bacteria that can survive into the stomach - alive - after being immersed for one minute in sparkling wine. We found a degree of Staph aureus [and] it can cause food poisoning in individuals through its toxins.”
“Because the Staph aureus can cause toxins, and these toxins are quite resistant to heat, they’re quite resistant to an acidic environment and they can survive protein-breaking enzymes. When they hit the small bowel, they can cause inflammation of the small bowel and cause gastroenteritis. In theory, if you drink from that shoe containing Staph and its toxins, yes it can give you an acute gastroenteritis.”
That doesn’t sound especially glamorous, does it?
Dr Ho also said that he “wouldn’t recommend” drinking alcohol out of a shoe, but did stipulate some conditions in which it might be OK:
“If I was advising Daniel about this, then yes, you need to take special precautions when drinking from a shoe. Less contact time with the feet would be preferable, use a clean shoe and possibly not use sparkling wine.”
So, the exact opposite of Ricciardo’s current setup for doing a shoey, then…
You can read more about the science of shoeys by clicking here.