Do F1 Teams Use The Same Cars For Each Race?

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Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, and the teams that participate in F1 spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year on their cars. This high cost of racing leaves many new and existing fans wondering if F1 teams use the same cars for each race.

Formula 1 teams use the same car in every race. This is mainly done to save money. Teams will often bring upgraded parts for their cars to some races, and may need to replace damaged parts. However, the chassis and the major integral parts of the cars remain the same throughout the entire season.

In order to comply with the budget cap, teams have to use the same car for multiple races in the season. With a stricter budget cap affecting the 2022 and 2023 F1 seasons, the teams will need to be even more frugal with their spending. Below, we discuss the teams’ use of cars in more detail.

Do F1 Teams Use The Same Cars For Every Race?

F1 teams need to use the same car for every race. The cars may have different parts depending on the wear and tear on each part, but for the most part, the cars are the same throughout the entire season. Teams may also bring upgrades to certain components throughout the year.

The only changes that are made to the cars between races, aside from spare parts to replace damage and general wear and tear, are upgrades. However, upgrades are usually applied to very specific parts, and they’re based on the upcoming circuits.

For example, if they are racing in Monaco, the team may upgrade their front and rear wings to provide the car with more downforce. On the other hand, if they’re heading to Monza you’ll see more ‘skinny’ rear wings to give the car less drag and a higher top speed. While these changes may be in the form of upgrades, the teams can also simply adjust the car’s setup without changing parts.

The Importance Of Pre-Season Development

This is one of the reasons pre-season development is so crucial in Formula 1. If you build a poor car, you’ll be stuck with it for the whole year, and you’ll need to rely on upgraded parts to improve your car’s performance. Even then, the regulations ensure that upgrades and changes throughout the season can only affect relatively minor parts of the car’s performance.

Because the car remains primarily the same throughout the entire season, setups become crucial in Formula 1. Each racetrack has its own unique characteristics, and having the right setup on your car can help you to gain crucial lap time. These setups, as mentioned, can usually be adjusted without bringing major upgrades to the car.

The Importance Of Setup

However, in the majority of cases, a sacrifice needs to be made when it comes to the setup of the car. You can either set the car up to be quick over a single lap, which will allow you to be faster in qualifying, or you can set the car up have better race pace and be easier on tire wear, to make your race strategy more flexible.

This makes the relatively minor changes teams can make more important on a race-by-race basis, even if they don’t have the power to change the overall performance of the car during a season. So, while F1 teams use the same car for each race, they may appear in slightly altered forms at each circuit. But what if the team needs to make changes to their car because of a crash?

What Happens If An F1 Car Crashes Before The Race?

If an F1 car crashes before the race, it usually means they won’t be able to start the race. If a car crashes in qualifying, and the teams can repair the car overnight, the car may start the race, but it may incur grid penalties depending on the specific components damaged in the crash.

Before the start of a race on a Sunday afternoon, the cars head out onto the track to warm up. This will normally happen about 45 minutes before the start of the race. This is usually a routine out lap around the circuit to get the car warmed up and to ensure that all the systems are working properly.

Max Verstappen At Hungary In 2020

However, there has been the odd occasion where a driver has crashed during this warmup session. At the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2020, Max Verstappen was caught out by the tricky track conditions caused by the adverse weather on the Sunday afternoon.

The Red Bull pit crew had to rush to the grid to repair Verstappen’s car before the start of the race. When this happens, an FIA official needs to be present to ensure that all the rules are being followed. This is because, after qualifying, the cars enter what is known as parc fermé conditions. This means that no major set up changes can be made between qualifying and the race.

Miraculously, the Red Bull pit crew managed to repair the damage to Verstappen’s car in just 18 minutes, and he went on to finish 2nd in the race. It was a huge risk and a race against time. The incredible skill of the Red Bull crew got Verstappen back in the race, and in a condition that put him on the podium.

Not The Usual Scenario

This was an incredible achievement, as usually pre-race crashes mean that a car can’t start the race. This is because a crash may cause damage to components on the car that will take too long to repair before the start of the race. If they do have time to repair the car, such as if a car crashes in qualifying rather than right before the race, damage to certain components may incur grid penalties.

So, in the majority of cases, if a car crashes before the race there is no way for them to start the Grand Prix. While many other racing series have a spare car, also known as a ‘T-car’, Formula 1 dropped this element in 2008.

Why Were Spare Cars Banned In F1?

If you’ve been watching Formula 1 for many years you may remember some drivers jumping into a spare car after they have crashed during the opening laps of a Grand Prix. However, those days are no more. After the 2007 season, Formula 1 banned teams from bringing spare cars to races.

The reasoning was that Formula 1 cars are too complex and expensive. With thousands of parts making up one Formula 1 car, having spare cars put extra strain on the logistical aspect of Formula 1. If each team had to bring a spare car to every race, there would be massive costs involved. The cost of producing a whole extra car was also putting financial strain on Formula 1 teams themselves.

In modern day Formula 1, teams can no longer use a spare car if one is wrecked during a practice or qualifying session. A car that has suffered a crash, no matter how severe, must be rebuilt by the team. Oftentimes team members would stay at the racetrack overnight just to rebuild a wrecked car.

However, teams are allowed to bring spare chassis and engines, as these are the elements that often can’t be repaired overnight at the racetrack.

How Long Does It Take To Repair An F1 Car?

The time it takes to repair a Formula 1 car depends on the severity of the damage that has been done to it. For example, damage to a front wing can be repaired within around 10 seconds by replacing the front wing during a pit stop. A rear wing on the other hand takes a few minutes to replace because there is a more complex process involved.

However, suspension damage can take hours to repair because multiple parts would need to be replaced and, in some cases, a new chassis would need to be used in order to get the car back into working order. In order to repair suspension damage, the entire car needs to be taken apart and rebuilt from the ground up, takes a long time.

Engines and gearboxes can also take multiple hours to replace because of the intricate process involved in disconnecting the old parts and reconnecting the new parts in specific ways. If one of these parts need to be replaced between free practice 3 and qualifying (there are 2 hours between these sessions), a driver would be lucky to get out on track for qualifying.

2021 Crash Damage Per Driver

Reports have emerged of the crash damage that each driver sustained during the 2021 Formula 1 season, and the figures illustrate just how key it is for teams to use the same cars for each race to cut costs. Teams spend a massive amount of money simply to repair the cars that have been damaged during practice, qualifying and the race.

The highest damage costs per driver in the 2021 F1 season were around:

  1. Mick Schumacher – $4.8 million
  2. Charles Leclerc – $4.6 million
  3. Max Verstappen – $4.4 million
  4. Nicholas Latifi – $3.5 million
  5. Valtteri Bottas – $3.3 million

Are Both Cars In An F1 Team The Same?

Both cars in a Formula 1 team are fundamentally the same at the start of the season. However, at certain points throughout the season, they can be different because of the upgrades that are brought in by the teams, and the various setups that each driver chooses to use.

The upgrades can make the cars different in the sense that they do not have the same parts on both cars. Sometimes teams will only bring one upgraded part that can be fitted to one car at a time. However, this does not necessarily give one car an advantage over the other. Upgrades could either make the car faster or slower, and no one will know until the part is tested on the car on the track.

Teams always do extensive research and wind tunnel testing at their headquarters to ensure that their parts do improve the car in one way or another. However, oftentimes the results from these tests are not 100% accurate and they will only get a true indication of the part’s performance once the car is on track.

Chassis Differences

A key part that could be different between the two cars in an F1 team is the chassis. A new chassis might be developed for one driver if they are particularly struggling during a season. New chassis could have different configurations which might suit one driver more than another.

Some teams alternate their chassis between drivers for each race, and others will keep the same chassis for both drivers. In some cases, teams will alternate the chassis halfway through the season to ensure that both drivers equal opportunity.

At the beginning of the season both chassis will be identical. However, if a driver has a crash there is a risk that the chassis could be damaged or cracked. A damaged chassis will have an effect on the drivability of the car and could cost a driver a couple of tenths every lap, so it’s a key component teams must monitor and repair throughout the season.

How Often Are Updates Brought Out For F1 Cars?

F1 teams will bring updated parts for their cars every couple of races. It takes time for teams to develop and test new parts and they also need to build the parts in time for the race they need it for. If the upgrades are rushed there is also the risk of the parts failing and not being up the standards that are required in Formula 1.

On top of that, teams always dedicated some of their resources to the following year’s car, especially if there are big rule changes coming that will drastically affect their current cars. This means it’s a balancing act between focusing resources on the current and the next cars.

Specific Tracks

In the majority of cases, the first set of upgrades will be brought in by teams around the fourth race of the season. Teams will also bring out upgrades for tracks that have unique characteristics. For example, as we touched on earlier, Monaco needs high downforce parts that produce a lot of grip, whereas Spa and Monza need low downforce parts that need to allow for higher top speed.

How Many Cars Do F1 Teams Have?

Formula 1 teams only bring two cars to each race. There are no spare cars unlike in many other motorsport series around the world. Spare cars were banned in 2008 due to the high costs involved in building and transporting them, so teams must now simply repair cars between races.

Teams have to be prepared to build an entire car from scratch if something were to go wrong. Thus, they must bring enough spare parts with them to practically repair the entire car if need be. They even bring some spare chassis with them as the chassis can’t be repaired if it is damaged over the course of the weekend.

When It Takes Too Long To Repair

We have seen many drivers being forced out of sessions due to their cars sustaining too much damage. At the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc crashed his Ferrari after claiming pole position. The Ferrari mechanics spent the entire Saturday night working on the car to get it ready for the race.

However, unfortunately there was terminal damage to the number 16 Ferrari, and Charles Leclerc was not able to start his home Grand Prix even after qualifying in pole position.

We have also seen many drivers crash in the third free practice session which often leads to them being unable to participate in qualifying. FP3 normally takes place two hours before qualifying, and if the team is unable to repair their car in that time the driver cannot partake in qualifying.

This element of Formula 1 makes the sport rather cruel in a sense. If a driver makes a major mistake in the final practice session, it could effectively end their entire weekend if it puts them to the back of the grid for the race. Luckily for us, this doesn’t stop the drivers from pushing their machines to the limit and giving us an incredible spectacle!

How Will The Budget Cap Affect F1 Cars?

The budget cap will put more financial pressure on F1 teams regarding the cars. During the 2021 season, the budget cap for all F1 teams was set at $145 million. In 2022 the budget cap reduces to $140 million, and from 2023 onwards the budget cap will be reduced even further to $135 million.

The budget cap makes it extremely difficult for F1 teams to take care of their cars. Crash damage will be included in the cost cap, and this can become a challenge for many teams as the season progresses.

However, it will not only challenge teams to keep their repair costs to a minimum, but it will also affect their ability to update and upgrade their cars. They will need to carefully budget how much money they want to allocate towards upgrading their cars to make them faster, accounting for the potential repair costs throughout the year.

The other side of this is that money can be wasted if an upgrade were to fail and not make the car faster. Overall, the budget cap is going to make the season much more challenging for all the teams, especially the larger teams who usually spend significantly more than the smaller teams.

Who Should Pay For Crashes?

One element of the budget cap rules that was a focal point of debate in 2021 is crash damage. Teams complained that much of their crash damage came as a result of their competitor’s mistakes. However, at the end of the day they need to pay for their own crash damage which comes out of their budget.

Ferrari suggested that teams who cause crashes should pay for the crash damage that has been caused. No rule changes have been made yet, but we may see something implemented in the future if this continues to be a problem. It is certainly a debatable element of the budget cap to keep an eye on, as it would have major implications for teams with drivers that are deemed to cause many crashes.

Final Thoughts

Formula 1 teams are only allowed to use two cars, and they use the same ones for each race. There are no spare cars in F1, and if one of them is damaged during the race weekend they need to repair the damage as best they can to get the car running again, using heavily regulated spare parts.