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The Beginner’s Guide To F1

Formula 1, often just called F1, is a type of motor racing that arose in 1950 but has its roots even further back than then. For beginners, the sport may seem intimidating as there are many rules to follow and a lot of technical details. So, what do you need to know about F1?

To understand Formula 1, you should know:

  1. The history of Formula 1
  2. F1 teams and constructors
  3. F1 drivers and cars
  4. Formula 1 tracks and events
  5. What F1 races involve
  6. F1 rules and regulations

The sport of F1 is a complicated one, and each of the above topics deserves its own article. This article will go into some detail about each one and should give you all the information you need to understand what is going on when you watch the next race.

The 6 Things To Know About Formula 1

1. The History Of Formula 1

Formula One has a deep history, going back to the early 1920s and 1930s. There was a competition known as the European Grand Prix Championships, and although the cars were very different to what they are today, this was where the roots of modern F1 began. It is debated when the first real F1 race took place, but many put it around the year 1950.

The FIA

In 1946, just four years prior to this, the FIA (Fédération International de l’Automobile) standardized the rules, and it is still the governing body of the motorsport to this day. These rules have changed over the years, but the main structure has remained intact and is where the word Formula came from, referring to the formula of rules that govern the sport.

Most of the rules that have changed over the years have been to do with specific mechanical components of the cars, and what is allowed or deemed to be race legal. The engine sizes and types have been one of the main components that have changed drastically, while there are various other parts of the car that have sparked controversy as well.

Safety & Aerodynamics

Many of these features are to do with the safety and aerodynamics of the cars, two concepts that were only taken seriously in the 1960s and 70s, when there was a rapid advancement in technology, along with several tragic – and some fatal – accidents that would change the sport forever. Even today, various measures are continuously revised that help to improve the safety of motor racing’s fastest sport.

These decades also brought in the first real sponsors of the F1 teams, and these are a mainstay of modern teams, with liveries and big sponsor deals being some of the most prevalent and controversial in the world of sport. We will discuss more about the sponsorships and money involved in F1 soon, but first let’s go into a bit more detail about the teams behind the cars.

2. F1 Teams And Constructors

There are usually around 10 teams, each with two drivers taking part in each race. This is not always the case, as for example in 2010 there were 12 teams with a total of 25 drivers. Thus, each season can be different, and this is one of the many things about Formula 1 that fluctuates year after year.

Regular Change

The actual teams that are competing also change regularly, as teams decide to rebrand themselves or be replaced by another team entirely. Teams and constructors used to be distinct entities, but now the words are used almost interchangeably. There are a lot of technical details that surround the subtle differences between them.

Put simply, teams may have parts of the car, notably the engine, produced by another constructor, while the team retains the intellectual property rights to the chassis that they use. In the modern era, teams must produce their own chassis, but this was not always the case, as in the past some teams used to sell their chassis to others.

Confusing Names

Therefore, you might see teams being referred to as Red Bull – Honda, or Racing Point – BWT Mercedes. The first part of the name is the team, while the second is the engine manufacturer. It can get quite confusing but making this quick distinction can make it much easier to understand who is being referred to when you read the standings.

The teams compete in the Constructor’s Championship for points, like the way in which the drivers compete in the Driver’s Championship which we will discuss below. The teams gain points through the drivers’ performances, and the scores from both drivers are combined to give the team’s total. We will talk about the scoring below.

As we have said, the teams fluctuate, and so there is no hard and fast, definitive guide to the teams in F1 as they change year on year. However, there are some that have been around for a long time, such as Ferrari. They are the only team that have competed in every single World Championship since the very first one way back in 1950.

3. F1 Drivers And Cars

Changing Teams

As we have already said about the teams, the drivers fluctuate each year and some move from team to team, with drivers rarely staying with the same team for long periods of time unless they find success there. This is because the cars are changed each year as technology advances, and therefore different cars start to suit different drivers.

So, the formation of the teams and drivers is very dynamic, and each year there is usually a vastly different lineup from the year before. This is of course not exclusive to F1, as it is similar with soccer teams and basketball teams as well. The drivers compete against each other to become the World Champion, and they do this by scoring points throughout the year.

The Points System

The winner of each race gets 25 points, and then from there those who place 2nd through to 10th also get points on a downward scale, with the 10th place finisher getting 1 point. These points are added up throughout the year to crown the World Drivers’ Champion, and the Constructors’ Champion is the team with the most points from their combined drivers’ scores.

Over the years there have been many drivers who have won multiple championships, with names like Michael Schumacher (7 World Championships), and Lewis Hamilton being perhaps the most famous multiple World Champion at the moment.

Teammate Battles

Teammates will drive the same car as each other, and this is often the best measure of a drivers’ skill. If you can beat your teammate who has the same car, and the same advantages and disadvantages as you, you can prove yourself to be the better driver. Because the cars vary so much, some teams consistently win and some consistently lose.

There are many rules and regulations that need to be followed with the cars’ designs, and these rules change as often as the teams and drivers do. The sets of regulations are often divided into different “eras”, with each era bringing with it substantial changes that tend to end up favoring some teams much more than others.

Engine Sizes

The original engines used back in the 1950s had a capacity of 4.5L, with the modern engines being limited to 1.6L. The number of cylinders has also changed, halving from up to 12 to the now standard V6 turbocharged engines, which now include many different energy recovery systems and have certain fuel limits on them as well. Still, the cars can reach max speeds of more than 200mph.

One of the energy recovery systems is known as KERS, or Kinetic Energy Recovery System, and it allows for energy to be stored either as mechanical or electrical energy, helping to boost the power of the car by up to 160 BHP. This is not to be confused with DRS, which is a Drag Reduction System that we will discuss in more detail in the Rules and Regulations section.

A Lot Of Money

All the advanced technology and lightweight materials that go into making an F1 car mean that they are far from cheap to build. Many teams will spend half a billion dollars each year developing their cars and engines, with the actual cars costing upwards of $10 million to manufacture. This makes them a logistical masterpiece, along with the events themselves.

4. Formula 1 Tracks And Events

The Racing Calendar

With the speed and size of the F1 cars themselves, the tracks need to be designed specifically for this kind of high-speed racing. There are many strict rules in place regarding layouts and track lengths, and this means it is very difficult for new tracks to make their way onto the racing calendar. Usually, this calendar consists of 21 races taking place across 5 continents.

Most of the tracks are purpose-built, with the exceptions of the famous Monaco Grand Prix, which takes place in the streets of Monte Carlo, and the Singapore Grand Prix which takes place at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. The former is the only race on the calendar that does not adhere to one of the track rules regarding total race length.

Exceptions To The Rules

While the Monaco GP runs a total length of 260.286 km (161.734 mi), with each lap being 3.337 km (2.074 mi) long, the FIA states that a race must be at least 305km long, with each lap recommended to be between 3.5km and 7km in length. Along with Monaco being the exception at the short end, the Circuit de Spa Francorchamps, the host of the Belgian GP, comes in over the recommended length by 0.004km.

Another feature of the races is that most take place in daylight, in order to coincide with a starting time of around lunch time GMT for European audiences. Most races take place at 14:10, while some take place earlier, and the American GP takes place much later at around 7PM. There are a few races that take place under floodlights for at least part of the race, namely the Singapore, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi GPs.

Each of the races over the course of the F1 season, which usually runs from March through to November, allow for the drivers and teams to gain points in order to win the respective championships as we have already discussed. Most seasons end up going right to the end, however, there have been occasions where the championship is won with several races to go.

5. What F1 Races Involve

The Three Stages

There are effectively three parts to each F1 race, with the first being known as Free Practice. This takes place over three sessions, usually across two days, and it allows the drivers to get to grips with the circuit without the pressure of a racing atmosphere. The next stage is qualifying, and this takes place on a Saturday, the day before the actual race itself.

Qualifying

This again is split into three sessions, but all over the one day. It uses and elimination format, with all 20 drivers taking place in the first session, Q1, and then only the top 15 drivers going through to Q2. The next stage is Q3 and is made up of the top ten drivers from Q2. Q1 and Q2 allow for positions 11 through 20 on the starting grid to be determined.

Q3 determines the positions 1 through 10. Essentially, the drivers have 10 minutes to record as fast a lap as possible. The driver with the fastest lap after 10 minutes of driving goes onto pole position, i.e. first on the starting grid or P1, and then the second fastest goes into second place and so on. Where the driver starts on the grid is vital for their chances of winning the race.

For each race, there are three slick tire compounds available (hard, medium and soft), as well as wet-weather and intermediate tires. Drivers will have to use two compounds during the racing, which forces each driver to make at least one pit stop, (explained below).

However, for drivers that make it to Q3, there is the added requirement that they begin the race with whichever tire compound they used during Q2. Typically, drivers who expect to make it into Q3 will use the medium compound during Q2, and the soft compound during Q3.

This is because the soft-compound tire is usually the fastest (allowing for the best qualifying position), while the harder compounds are more durable (and so will typically be used to complete more laps during the race).

The Race Start

On race day, drivers do a warmup lap and then a formation lap (both are used to test out the cars and allow the tires to warm up) before regaining their position on the grid. Then, lights in a set of five will light up every second, before they then go out after a random time period to test the drivers’ reaction times and to allow for a fair start.

From there, the drivers battle it out over the course of the shortest number of laps that exceeds a total distance of 305km, besides the exceptions noted above. The race can last no longer than 2 hours, and the driver across the line first after the set number of laps is crowned the winner, with second and third place also taking a step on the podium, where champagne is traditionally sprayed.

Pit Stops

Throughout the race, drivers and teams will employ various strategies in order to hopefully give them the edge over other teams. The most notable strategies tend to involve pitting. The pit lane is like that in other motorsports, as it is where the cars go midrace (or prerace) in order to change their tires or in some cases to perform repairs on the car.

These pit stops take place at the time of choosing for the drivers and the teams, but some may stop once and some twice or more. Usually, drivers must go to the pits at least once during a race, but this rule is abandoned in the case of wet weather where the drivers can stay on the same set of tires if they prefer, but most still tend to pit at least once.

Pitting costs time, usually around 20-25 seconds, and so drivers can temporarily lose positions. This might make it seem counterintuitive to pit more than once, but as other drivers also need to pit, it tends to balance out over the course of the race as people regain lost positions as other drivers head to the pits.

Contacting The Team

The drivers will be in contact with their team over the radio throughout the race, and this allows them to discuss strategies in real-time, and the team can monitor the car remotely in order to determine when the best time to pit is. Aside from that, it is up to the driver to simply do his best to reach the checkered flag at the end of the race as quickly as possible.

We have already touched on some of the rules surrounding the cars and the tracks, but there are a lot more that first-time watchers of the sport should be aware of.

6. F1 Rules And Regulations

A Non-Contact Sport

The first main rule to follow is that drivers cannot make contact with other drivers. This rule has its tolerances, as you will often see wheel-to-wheel racing resulting in slight touches, but as long as no damage occurs and the FIA stewards see the incident to have had no impact on either drivers’ performance, there is usually no further action taken.

There does not have to be contact for penalties to be given out however, as if drivers are seen to be driving dangerously, or causing unfair obstruction to the other drivers, they may receive a time penalty which will be added on to their time at the end of the race, or to their next pit stop.

Dangerous Driving

A driver must not weave from side to side in order to prevent a car from going past him, as this is deemed to be dangerous driving and unfair blocking. For this, the driver may receive a number of penalties, with the most common being a 5-second penalty added onto their time as described above, or a drive through penalty, where they must drive through the pit lane and then rejoin the race.

This can be costly, as they must slow down to the speed limit of the pit lane before rejoining the race. Other penalties include the stop-go penalty, where they must pit for 10 seconds before rejoining, as well as a black flag penalty, which essentially means the driver is disqualified from the race entirely. This is a rare penalty and is usually the most severe.

Yellow Flags

The black flag is just one of many flags used in F1 racing. One of the most well-known is the yellow flag. This is used to signify danger on the track, such as debris or other obstructions, and drivers must slow down and avoid overtaking. This may also be followed by the implementation of a safety car, which leads the race and causes the cars to slow down drastically.

Red Flags

This is only usually deployed if there has been an accident, and when everything is cleared a green flag signifies that cars may once again speed up and can overtake. A red flag indicates the suspension of the race or practice/qualifying session, and drivers must return to the pit lane. The race may or may not continue after this point.

Blue Flags

Finally, there is a blue flag, which is used in several situations, but most commonly to indicate to slower drivers that they are about to be lapped by a faster car. In this case, the driver must not block any passing maneuvers, and their teams will often instruct them to let the faster car past them. Drivers can receive penalties for ignoring three successive blue flags.

There are various other flags that are used less commonly, and there are some other rules that the drivers must follow, but this guide won’t go into too much detail about the more nuanced rules. In order to gain a basic understanding, we believe that the ones discussed here are enough to be able to watch an F1 race and know what is going on at any point.

Overtaking

Aside from the flags and penalties that can be inflicted on the drivers, there are also some specific rules regarding overtaking. Drivers must always drive safely, and they can be punished for performing exceedingly dangerous maneuvers. There are also various zones on the track for the use of the DRS system, which we touched on before, for overtaking.

DRS

The Drag Reduction System is used to give drivers a speed advantage through the mechanical movement of the rear wing in order to reduce drag, as the name implies. Implementing DRS can give the driver a gain of up to 10-12kmh by the end of the DRS zone. There is at least one of these on each track, with some tracks that have multiple long straights having two.

These DRS zones are defined by the FIA and they limit the use of the system to specific conditions. The first is that the car seeking to perform the overtake must be within the DRS zone, and within a second of the car in front when entering this zone. The car being pursued is not able to use DRS to defend, unless it is also within a second of another car in front.

Only When It Is Safe

The system can also only be used if the FIA deem the conditions to be safe, and it cannot be used within two laps of a race start or restart. This system is designed to give the drivers an advantage only when they deserve one, and so it cannot be abused throughout the race. Aside from using DRS, drivers may overtake as they please, as long as they do so safely.

Aside from the regulations regarding the tracks and the race itself, there are also certain restrictions when it comes to the drivers and the cars. For example, the car must weigh at least 740kg without fuel, and the driver, along with his seat and general driving equipment, must make up at least 80kg of that total weight.

Final Thoughts

Formula 1 is widely regarded as one of the most exciting motorsports on the planet. The cars travel at speeds of over 200mph, and the technology involved can make it a spectacle to watch them cornering at such high speeds without coming off the track. However, it can be confusing to watch for the first time, due to the layout of the competition and the rules surrounding the sport.

Many of these rules govern the cars and tracks that are involved, while there are also strict regulations to follow during the race itself. The number of teams and the drivers on those teams fluctuates every year, but that helps to keep the sport interesting. You don’t need to know everything to enjoy watching the races, but it certainly helps to gain a bit of background information.