Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. For drivers looking to get into F1, F2 is usually the dedicated pathway. However, F1 and F2 are very different racing series in many ways, and understanding these differences can be confusing for new fans of the sport.
F1 and F2 racing differ in many ways, most notably in the cars used and the season structures. F1 cars are designed and manufactured individually by each team, but in F2, every driver uses the same engine, chassis and tires. F2 seasons also have fewer, differently structured race weekends than F1.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at these key differences, along with some others, to illustrate just how different F1 and F2 are as racing series. First, let’s discuss how the cars differ in F1 and F2, and discuss a few of their similarities as well.
F2 was started by Flavio Briatore and Bruno Michel as GP2 in 2005 to create a defined series for drivers looking to race F1. In 2017, the series’ name was changed to FIA Formula 2 (F2 for short) to better define the international motorsport ladder system from F4 through to F1.
This system allows up and coming drivers to prove themselves in different open wheel racing series. However, throughout this journey from F4 all the way to F1, the biggest difference between each series by far is in the machinery they use.
F2 Is A Spec Series
There are many differences between F1 and F2 cars specifically. Probably the biggest difference is that F1 cars are prototypes designed and built by each team and F2 is a spec series, where each team runs the same components.
Each F1 car is built in-house by the teams and uses a hybrid power unit manufactured by either Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda (Red Bull Powertrains from 2022) or Renault. The factory teams construct engines for themselves, while the others will lease power units from their preferred manufacturer. For example, McLaren and Williams both use Mercedes engines.
F2 teams each purchase chassis manufactured by Dallara, V6 engines by Mechachrome, gearboxes by Hewland, and fuel and lubricant by Elf. The teams can change their car setups for optimum performance for their drivers, but essentially they all have the same equipment.
F1 Is Not A Spec Series
The turbo-charged, V6 hybrid power units used in F1 cars are highly technical with many electronic devices contained within. F1 cars can also regenerate battery power through braking with a system known as KERS, or the Kinetic Energy Recovery System. These systems are absent in the F2 cars.
Even the fuel used in F1 varies from team to team. Each F1 team and its chosen fuel supplier will have specialists at every Grand Prix blending the fuel for them. The F2 engines are a far more conventional internal combustion engine – albeit a larger 3.4-liter turbocharged V6 – running on the same Elf fuel.
Both Have DRS
The drag reduction system (DRS) that was introduced into F1 in 2011 to increase overtaking opportunities was adopted by F2 in 2015. During a race and on certain parts of the track, if a driver is within a second of the car in front, the driver behind can use DRS to open the rear wing, reduce the drag on the car and gain a speed advantage for overtaking.
DRS activation zones for F2 are the same as for F1 at each track. As in F1, if the race director deems it unsafe for DRS to be used, such as in wet conditions, drivers will be unable to use it.
One of the closest similarities between F1 and F2 is the tires they use, all being manufactured by Pirelli. However, the F2 tires, while close, don’t offer the same levels of grip the F1 tires do.
Each race weekend, an F1 team is allocated 13 sets of dry tires in varying compounds, while an F2 team is allocated six sets of dry tires. Wet weather tires – and, in the case of F1, intermediate tires – are used as they are needed in both series.
The F2 tires use rims of 18” in diameter. Under the 2022 F1 regulations, F1 tires move from the old 13” rim diameter to 18”, meaning both series use even more similar tires than they used to, still differing in their specific makeup of course.
F1 vs F2 Car Sizes
|Minimum Weight (including driver)
F1 is about 10-15 mph faster than F2, thanks to the advanced aerodynamics, components and power available to the drivers. However, this differs from the absolute top speed of each car, and instead just factors in how fast the two cars usually go under racing conditions.
The top speed of an F2 car is listed at 199 mph (320 kph). Only F1 and IndyCar are faster in single seater racing, with F1 usually hitting around 210 mph at most on longer straights. However, the fastest ever Formula 1 speed recorded was Valtteri Bottas in 2016, topping out at 231.4 mph (372.5 kph) in Mexico.
By analyzing the qualifying lap times from a full season of F1 and F2, we get the best indication of how much faster F1 is than F2. During qualifying is when the cars are performing with their lightest fuel load and best tires, which means they can go much faster than they ever will in the race.
In 2021, of the eight F2 events that supported F1 on the same weekends, the difference in the pole position time was, on average, 14%.
This calculation removed the outlier, which was Russia, where F1 qualifying was held in wet conditions (note that F1 was still 5.2% faster). So, when we consider lap times rather than top speeds, it can be concluded that F1 is considerably faster than F2.
F1 vs F2 Pole Position Times In 2021
F2 is the official steppingstone to F1 with the F1 field regularly featuring several past F2 champions. Although officially recognized as the steppingstone to F1, it doesn’t necessarily mean a driver has to come through F2 to get to F1. 10 of the 21 drivers that started an F1 race in 2021 hadn’t competed in F2.
While you might think that would be the older drivers, that isn’t the case. World Champion Max Verstappen, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon did not race in F2. Five drivers on the 2021 F1 grid in 2021 have been F2 Champions –Lewis Hamilton (GP2), Mick Schumacher, George Russell, Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly (GP2).
An F2 driver will typically rely on sponsors to pay the team for their F1 drive. A pathway from F2 to F1 is definitely there, but racing F2 is not the only way a driver can make it into Formula 1.
Can An F1 Driver Go Back To F2?
F1 drivers can go back to F2, but it doesn’t normally happen. In the current era, it would be unusual for an F1 driver to go back to F2, however it has happened several times in the past. The most famous F1 driver to drop back to F2 was Romain Grosjean.
When he was out of a Formula 1 drive at the start of 2010, Grosjean drove various categories and mid-year raced F2 again, before competing in the full 2011 season. He was able to get an F1 seat in 2012 and stayed there until the end of the 2020 season, when he moved to IndyCar.
The only thing precluding a driver stepping back from F1 to F2 is if they are the reigning F2 Champion. In 2019, the F2 Sporting Regulations were changed to read: “No winner of a GP2 Series or FIA Formula 2 Championship may participate in the two successive Championships.”
All F2 events are at Formula 1 races, racing on the same tracks on the same weekends. However, unlike F1, F2 doesn’t travel to Australia, Asia or North America. From its inaugural season in 2005 until 2007, F2 (then GP2) had an annual event not supporting F1, which was repeated in 2009, 2012 and 2015. However, all other years have seen the series join only at Formula 1 Grands Prix.
Organizers also ran the GP2 Asia Series between 2008 and 2011. It took place in the European winter, which was central to the establishment of motorsport in many Middle Eastern locations.
F2 does race at the same tracks as F1. F2 races run in support of F1 Grands Prix at many key events worldwide and supports premier events such as the Monaco, British and Italian Grands Prix. It also races at the season opener in Bahrain and the final Grand Prix of the year in Abu Dhabi.
The circuits F2 races on include a combination of traditional tracks and five of them are street circuits: Saudi Arabia, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Russia and Abu Dhabi. The fastest circuits on the calendar – Spa, Monza and Saudi Arabia – feature on the F2 calendar, providing a strong mix for the young drivers.
Do F1 And F2 Share Garages At The Races?
F1 and F2 teams have separate garages to hold their equipment, but the F1 pitlane is used for F2 sessions and races. F1 teams have their cars and equipment in each of the primary pitlane garages. F2 teams transport their pit stop equipment from the F2 paddock into the F1 pitlane ahead of sessions.
Teams that have an association with a specific team – for example, Prema Racing with Ferrari and HWA with Mercedes – will more than likely see organizers align those teams’ pit boxes for pit stops.
You will also see the F2 teams utilizing the F1 pit wall to track data and television coverage of the sessions.
F1 and F2 don’t use the same pits. The F1 teams, cars and equipment only have access to the main paddock and pit area, with F2 having its own dedicated pit area. F2 teams will be transported to pitlane ahead of the sessions, with cars joining the circuit at a separate entry point.
From here, the F2 cars will come to pitlane for practice and qualifying sessions and line up on the main straight grid for the races. In the case of Monaco, F2 cars will be situated in a parking garage away from the circuit and will be led by officials to the track.
Abu Dhabi has a separate pit facility where the F2 cars and teams will be positioned for the weekend, however they will use the F1 pit lane for stops during sessions and races.
The F2 race format is different from F1. F2 has two races each weekend, with one practice and one qualifying session on Friday. F1 usually has qualifying on a Saturday (with the exception of Sprint weekends, when it’s held on Friday) and one race on Sunday.
In F2, the qualifying session determines the grid for Sunday’s Feature Race. For Saturday’s Sprint Race, the top 10 from qualifying are inverted – the pole sitter starts from 10th on the grid, 2nd fastest from 9th and so on.
Saturday’s Sprint Race is over 120 km or a time certainty of 45 minutes (whichever comes first). Sunday’s Feature Race is 170 km or a 60 minute time certainty.
F2 Points System
The F2 Championship points allocation for the Sprint Race awards the top eight Championship points in the respective order of 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. For the Feature Race, the top 10 finishers are awarded points in the following order: 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1.
Most F1 Grand Prix race weekends consist of three practice sessions, a three stage qualifying session and a 305 km (189.5 mile) race, although the Monaco Grand Prix is a 260 km (161.6 mile) race.
The F1 knockout qualifying session sees the slowest five drivers eliminated after Q1’s 20 minute session. All times are reset for the 15 minute Q2 session, which eliminates the next five slowest drivers. The fastest 10 drivers in Q2 have 10 minutes in Q3 to set the Grand Prix’s pole position time, and the grid positions 2 through 10.
In 2021, F1 introduced the Sprint at three Grands Prix, which expands to more events in future seasons. The grid for the Sprint is set in qualifying on Friday. The F1 Sprint is a 100 km (62 mile) event on Saturday that establishes the grid for the Grand Prix.
F1 Points System
F1 points are allocated to the top 10 classified drivers 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1. The driver that sets the fastest lap of the race receives an extra World Championship point.
At events where the Sprint format is being used, the Sprint winner earns 3 points, second place earns 2 points, and third place gets 1. Constructors’ Championship points are earned by their respective drivers, with the overall constructor points being a combination of the total points of their two drivers.
F1 vs F2: The Teams
Another main way that F1 and F2 differ is in the teams within the championships. There are ten F1 teams, and all are owned or funded by vehicle manufacturers, private investors or investment firms that have purchased existing teams.
In F2, two teams have well known relationships direct to F1 – Prema Racing (Ferrari) and HWA AG (Mercedes). Many of the F2 teams supplement their racing through competing in other open wheel and sports car categories. For example, Carlin Racing operates in the IndyCar and Indy Lights Series in the US.
ART Grand Prix is co-owned by Nicolas Todt, the son of former FIA President, Jean, and Campos Racing was founded by ex-F1 driver Adrian Campos. No current F2 team has a direct ownership relationship with a current F1 team.
There are major differences between F1 and F2, mainly being that F2 uses spec cars while F1 cars are designed and manufactured by each constructor. F2 race weekends are also different from F1 race weekends, with the F1 season being much longer than F2 as well.
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