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F1 vs. Kart Racing: The 6 Main Differences

Karting is the first step into racing for many drivers. Every Formula 1 driver has started their career in karting in some form. Karting has quickly become an incredibly popular sport for both professional drivers and amateurs who race as a hobby.

The 6 main differences between Formula 1 and karting are:

  1. Cars
  2. Competition
  3. Driving Mechanics
  4. Testing
  5. Budget
  6. Exposure

Karting is considered by many to be the purest form of racing and many Formula 1 drivers still use karting during the offseason in order to keep themselves sharp for the upcoming Formula 1 season. This shows that even at Formula 1 level, karting is still relevant.

The 6 Main Differences Between Formula 1 and Karting

1. Cars

The biggest difference between karting and Formula 1 is of course the cars. Formula 1 cars are the pinnacle of motorsport, featuring 1000 horsepower V6 hybrid monsters which can produce an immense amount of downforce.

Karting features a measly 30 horsepowerin comparison, however weighing in at less than 150kg with fuel and driver onboard makes them pretty fast. It gives the driver an idea from the start of the kind of power to weight ratio they would be expecting to deal with in the future.

Formula 1 cars are extremely complex, with insanely complicated computer systems and various set up changes available to make, there is almost no other car that comes close to this level of engineering.

Karting on the other hand is the simplest and purest form of racing. It’s just the driver, the chassis and the engine. This means that it’s a fantastic way to learn how a racing car handles and how set up changes affect your car.

Another huge difference between Formula 1 cars and karting is the fact that Formula 1 cars feature huge wings that produce an insane amounts of downforce at high speeds. This gives Formula 1 gives immense cornering speeds.

Wings don’t feature in karting, but they are designed to take some aerodynamics into account, especially the more modern models. It does give drivers an idea of how high-speed cornering feels compared to normal road cars, however, the switch over to wings makes a huge difference.

Formula 1 also requires a huge team behind them just to keep the cars running on track. There are so many components on a Formula 1 car that need to be looked after and prepared in order for a Formula 1 car to run properly.

Karting on the other hand requires only 1 person to maintain and keep the kart running smoothly on track. As long as they know what to do and you have the time, the driver can even maintain the kart all by themselves.

The simplicity and ease of access to this sport is why it is the perfect start for many drivers in motorsport. Some drivers even start karting at the young ages of 3 or 4 years old. It even has drivers who participate just for the fun of racing.

Despite the big differences between Formula 1 cars and karts, there are still some similarities. For one, both are single seater race cars. In karts, the driver is the heaviest weight in on the vehicle. This teaches drivers how weight balance works and how it can be used to your benefit.

Shifter karts are closer to compare to Formula 1 cars since they take on a 6-speed sequential gearbox, and their speeds can reach much higher than normal karts. These karts can also run on car circuits unlike their slower single gear counterparts.

The real comparison when it comes to karting and Formula 1, is that they are both extremely fast and you are essentially sitting on the ground, separated only millimetres from the tarmac. This is what brings karts so close to Formula 1 level in terms of driving feel.

In addition, Formula 1 cars actually handle similarly to karts when cornering. They tend to ‘slide’ through corners, even though it does not look like it. The rear of the car is rotating faster than the front which causes more of a ‘sliding’ effect rather than a turning effect.

2. Competition

The level of competition in Formula 1 is intense. The grid consists of the 20 best drivers in the world, who have all proven themselves in various junior level single seater series. If any driver underperforms, there are hundreds of other drivers lined up and ready to take that Formula 1 seat away from them.

The level of competition in karting varies greatly. At your local circuit you will find a local amateur championship. The competition here will most likely be amateurs racing just for the fun of it as a hobby. But you will find your aspiring racing drivers here as well who are aiming to build their careers.

Depending on where you are in the world, the competition may be tougher or easier based on how seriously karting is taken. If you are in Europe for example, the competition will be tough, as everyone loves motorsport and will take their racing seriously. However, if you are in Asia, it might be a bit easier as access to motorsport isn’t as common as it is in Europe.

The next step in karting is national level. This is where the competition starts to ramp up. At national level you will mostly find all the serious contenders in your country. This level can still feature some drivers who race as a hobby, but more likely than not, the drivers are looking to win championships and move into a career as a racing driver.

The top step of competition in karting is international level. Although there are a few international competitions to choose from, they are much more exclusive than the local and national competitions. This creates a sort of bottle neck effect, where the best of the best in karting are all put up against each other.

At this level, you will be traveling between different countries in a series which features hundreds of drivers from different countries with all different levels of experience. Winning at this level of competition is definitely a big deal and will give you a huge benefit in searching for a future drive. The field is extremely close at this level, and you will see multiple drivers separated by less than a tenth of a second.

The competition in karting can be extremely tough. All karts are equal, and the only differences are in chassis and personal set ups as to how the driver prefers their karts to handle. This means that it is more based on driver performance as opposed to the team effort required in Formula 1.

Formula 1 still has an emphasis on driver skill, however there is a huge focus on the team as a whole. As we all know, if your team can’t provide you with a competitive car, you won’t be competing for wins. This makes the competition even more difficult, as a driver could perform to the best of their abilities and still end up in 18th place.

As we have seen in the past, the competition in Formula 1 can be quite ruthless. If a driver underperforms, they run the risk of losing their seat to someone else. In karting however, performances are not all too important when it comes to teams.

As long as you can pay the team their required budget, they will keep on backing you. At the same time, being in the best team will not necessarily mean that you can win the Karting World Championships.

Competition is extremely tough in both cases. However, in karting there is a much wider variety of difficulty levels, whereas in Formula 1, you are racing against the best drivers in the world, all of whom have experience in winning races.

3. Driving Mechanics

Driving mechanics change significantly when it comes to comparing karts to Formula 1 cars. When drivers step up into single seater racing cars, they have to adjust their driving style to match that of driving a high downforce car.

The biggest challenge will be adapting to the speed difference between the cars. Formula 1 cars are much faster, and therefore they require significantly more focus and faster reaction times in order to keep them on track.

In addition, drivers will now also have to focus on shifting gears. Getting the timing right in order to shift gears at the correct stage or being in the right gear for a specific corner. It does not necessarily come naturally, especially if you are used to only using the brakes, throttle and steering wheel.

A huge difference in driving mechanics is driving styles. In karting, a driver would have developed their own driving style which would match the speed of the kart and how it handles. Now they will need to adapt it for higher speeds, harder braking and faster acceleration.

The physical demands of driving a Formula 1 car also hugely outweighs that of driving a kart. Although driving a kart is no easy task, driving a single seater racing car takes that to a whole new level. Drivers will need to be much stronger physically in order to keep a Formula 1 car under control.

For example, when braking for a corner, a Formula 1 driver needs to apply 100kg of weight on the brake pedal in order to get the car slowed down enough, whereas in a kart, it is only around 10kg of pressure or less before the brakes lock up.

The cornering forces are where the Formula 1 car will really make a huge difference to a karting driver. Although karts are extremely agile and can corner quickly, they do not experience nearly as much g-forces as a Formula 1 car does. Formula 1 drivers can experience up to 5 or 6 G’s when going through fast corners.

Most karting drivers tend to be very aggressive with their braking, accelerating and steering. This is because it does work in karting. However, in a Formula 1 car, you need much smoother and more steady movements, or the car will become unsettled and nearly impossible to drive.

Karting drivers would really struggle in a Formula 1 car as the driving style needs to be adapted quite significantly from karts to cars. That being said however, karting does come close to the type of driving style you need for a single seater race car, which is why drivers like to use karting to stay sharp during the off season.

4. Testing

Testing is important in motorsport. The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is relevant to any sport, but it is crucial to motorsport. Testing allows you to learn a new circuit, work on your set ups or even adjust your driving style and learn something new.

Luckily in karting, you have unlimited testing (limited only by your budget that is). This is fantastic because it gives you time to get used to your kart, and really become a ‘professional’ before the season has even started.

You can take your time and learn how your driving style works, try out new driving techniques and see what works for you and what doesn’t. You can also work on your kart’s set up and adjust it to however suits your driving style the best.

However, in Formula 1, there is no unlimited testing. The drivers step foot in their cars for the first time in winter testing just a month before the season starts. And even then, the only get between 3 and 6 days to actually drive their new cars and become used to them.

There’s no working on set ups and learning circuits beforehand. The only way they can do that is through the team’s simulators. In a way, this does create a more even playing field, but it also means that if it’s your first time in a Formula 1 car, you don’t have much practice time before the first race of the season.

This is the reason why drivers resorted to driving karts and Formula 3 cars in preparation for the 2020 season. Being out of a Formula 1 car for so long means that they would need to familiarise themselves with the speed and g-forces before the first race weekend, and with the ban of Formula 1 testing, there is no better way to do so than in a Formula 3 car.

5. Budget

Budget is a huge part of racing. When it comes to karting, it’s the cheapest way to get into motorsport. All in all, starting from scratch you will be looking at a budget of around $11,000. This includes your own kart, safety equipment and tools.

If you compare this to any other motorsport, you’ll get a bit of an idea of just how much Formula 1 costs. If you take Formula 4 for example, which is the next step out of karting, you are looking at around $180,000. This is a huge step up from the $11,000 range you were looking at for karting.

In order for a driver to secure a Formula 1 seat, they will be looking at around $10 million. That is considering they have performed well enough in the junior categories to catch the attention of a Formula 1 team and gained enough Super Licence points in junior racing categories.

Everything in Formula 1 is expensive. A Formula 1 helmet alone is around $4000, and they need at least 15 of those for a complete season. The cost of a single Formula 1 helmet would cover a whole season in karting (considering you already have a kart, tools and safety gear).

6. Exposure

Exposure is a big difference between karting and Formula 1. Most people know about Formula 1, and they would have heard about Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton. But guess what, when they were in karting, only a handful of people knew about them.

Recently there has been a bigger focus on karting, especially at international level. This is because more and more people realise that Formula 1 drivers start with karting. A lot of people now follow international karting events to see who the potential future Formula 1 stars might be.

At local and national level, drivers might feature in the local newspapers or on some TV channels for karting races. However, Formula 1 drivers are likely to feature on every single news station in the world and will be talked about a lot.

The level of exposure to media grows more and more the higher drivers climb up the motorsport ladder. However, some karting drivers are able to draw a lot of media attention. Lewis Hamilton certainly did when he was karting at a young age.

Final Thoughts

There are some big differences between karting and Formula 1. However, karting is the start to every Formula 1 driver’s career. Some drivers even use karting during the off season in order to keep sharp for the season ahead. While the differences are huge, there are some similarities between the two as well.