Driving a Formula 1 car might look easy from the outside, but that’s because the 20 best drivers in the world make it look that way. The reality is that modern Formula 1 cars are very difficult to drive, and the average person would struggle.
There are several factors that make F1 cars challenging to drive. The first is the handling of the cars, including the lack of traction control and ABS. Second, there are G-forces that need to be factored in, which the average person would not be able to withstand.
Formula 1 drivers are highly skilled and have been preparing their entire lives to compete at the highest level. Not only does this make for tough competition on the grid, but it also means that these drivers have spent years perfecting their abilities.
Are F1 Cars Difficult To Drive?
F1 cars are difficult to drive. It might look easy while we watch the drivers on TV, but these drivers are truly some of the best in the world, and they have spent years perfecting their driving skills. There are several factors that make F1 cars some of the most difficult cars to drive.
We’ve seen drivers, even those known to be skilled and experienced when driving fast around a track, struggle to keep Formula 1 cars under control. This alone is proof enough that it’s not just a Sunday drive in your luxury Mercedes-Benz.
Several years ago, Top Gear’s Richard Hammond drove Fernando Alonso’s championship-winning Renault R25. Despite a crash course in single seaters with some junior cars, Hammond struggled to keep the Renault on track, never mind pulling out of the garage without the anti-stall kicking in.
Even when Hammond got the car going, he was driving too slowly, so he was unable to keep the car’s tires warm enough to get enough grip on the track. He was also struggling physically, as his body was unable to cope with the G-forces. What’s even more startling is that Hammond’s telemetry revealed that he had only gone full throttle for 0.2 seconds.
The first aspect of these cars that makes them so difficult to drive is the sheer speed that they are capable of. Formula 1 cars can hit speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, but it’s not the speed on the straights that are the problem. The cornering speeds are the real concern.
Formula 1 cars have so much downforce that they corner at incredibly high speeds, sometimes even at 190 miles per hour, at circuits like Suzuka and Spa. Formula 1 cars are faster through corners than any other car in the world, which makes them incredibly difficult to drive.
At these speeds, drivers often don’t have time to think and drive purely on instinct and skills. Kimi Raikkonen once said that drivers do not think about how to drive their cars, but rather just instinctively drive them. This is a skill that drivers develop early in their careers.
The power of the cars is another factor that makes them so difficult to drive. Formula 1 cars have 1,000 horsepower that is fully controlled by the driver’s right foot. There’s no traction control, so the slightest mistake could cause the wheels to spin and send the car off the track.
The handling of these cars is an aspect that is strange to many people. Formula 1 cars do not handle like the average road car. Road cars use mostly mechanical grip rather than aerodynamics, which means that even if they are travelling at slower speeds, they can still handle well. This is perfect for public roads.
Formula 1 cars, however, get most of their grip from aerodynamics from their floors and wings, such as the Venturi tunnels. This very same element is what makes them incredibly fast in faster corners. In order for the aerodynamics to work properly, the driver needs to drive their car fast.
The higher their speed, the better their car will corner, which is something that doesn’t apply in road cars. This makes F1 cars inherently difficult to drive, as the driver must be confident enough to push the car fast enough to allow it to keep the tires warm and have enough grip in the corners. Without going fast, it’s even harder to drive an F1 car!
Lack Of Driver Aids
For many years, Formula 1 had driver aids such as traction control and anti-lock brakes. These aids, however, have now been removed in order to make the cars more difficult to drive and to create more of a challenge for the drivers.
The anti-lock braking system, or ABS for short, is a system that monitors the brake pressure that is applied by the driver. If the driver applies too much brake pressure, the system will automatically control it and prevent the brakes from locking up and losing grip. Drivers now need to control their brake pressure by themselves, and so we see many more lock-ups.
Traction control is also missing from these cars. This system works much the same as the ABS, but it monitors the throttle instead. If the driver applies too much throttle, the traction control will modulate the power going to the wheels and prevent them from spinning.
Since modern Formula 1 cars do not have traction control, they need to be more meticulous in how they use their throttle to prevent wheelspin. You mostly see this at the start of the race when the cars pull away, but it’s also necessary during corners. Simply hitting the accelerator without traction control will send you into a spin.
The G-forces that drivers need to endure are one of the elements that makes Formula 1 one of the most physically draining sports on the planet. Formula 1 drivers sometimes pull just over 5 G, which is close to what fighter pilots experience on a regular basis.
Pulling 5 G’s is essentially like having five times your body weight pushing against you. Drivers need to be able to withstand these forces throughout an entire lap, and a Grand Prix can be more than 50 laps long.
This is the main reason drivers constantly train their neck muscles. The average person’s head weighs 11 lbs, and a helmet weighs around three lbs. This means when cornering at 5 G’s, the driver’s head will technically weigh 70 lbs, pulling their head to the opposite side.
Drivers need to be able to withstand the G-forces that they experience in the car for the entire duration of the race. In the past, we have seen drivers struggle with this aspect, and you can sometimes see drivers leaning their heads against the headrest when driving on a straight to rest their neck muscles.
Something Unique To Formula 1
There’s one aspect of Formula 1 cars that makes them unique in how they operate, and this creates an added challenge when it comes to driving the cars. Formula 1 cars are extremely sensitive machines, and they all have a perfect operating temperature.
Whether it’s the engine, the tires, or the brakes, all parts of the car must be in the perfect operating window just for them to be able to work. In order to get them into that functioning window, you need to drive faster.
The tires, for example, won’t have any grip until they are up to temperature. Cold tires will provide no grip, and in a Formula 1 car, driving on cold tires is like driving on ice. The cars depend on tire temperatures, and if they are too cold, the car will simply slide off the track.
The same goes for the brakes. Formula 1 cars use high-performance brakes that need to have temperature in them before they work. Cold brakes will simply lock the wheels and the car will not slow down in time for the upcoming corner.
Can A Regular Person Drive An F1 Car?
A regular person can drive an F1 car. There are various places a regular person can go to learn how to drive a Formula 1 car, and drive some laps in one on a real racetrack. However, it’s not an easy thing to do, and it can be expensive to drive an F1 car as well.
However, it’s unlikely that the average person would be able to compete in Formula 1. Even if they get the basics down and manage to turn some laps in a Formula 1 car with a lot of practice, there’s a lot more to competing in Formula 1.
If an average person has been practicing in a Formula 1 car, they might manage to drive it properly. But it’s a whole different ball game when it comes to racing. Setting a fast lap in qualifying takes precision and speed.
During a race, drivers often have to go wheel to wheel, which is where the average person would struggle. Formula 1 drivers have been perfecting their racecraft from a young age, and that is the factor that drivers need to be competitive.
What Does Driving An F1 Car Feel Like?
Driving an F1 car feels very different from driving your average road car. Firstly, you sit much lower to the ground. You sit so low to the ground that you can feel every little bump in the tarmac. You also feel strain on your body and especially your neck as you experience high G-forces.
Also, drivers don’t “sit” in these cars as you would in the average road car. The driver’s position more resembles lying down in the cockpit, with their legs raised higher up than their hips. Their feet and the car’s pedals are at the front of the nose, more or less where the driver numbers are placed.
The drivers have their seats molded to their body shape, and they are secured with a six-point harness so that they practically can’t move while they are in the car. This prevents their body from moving too much under the G-forces, and it prevents them from moving around at all during a crash.
The driving aspect is completely unique. The visor cam that is often used in modern Grands Prix gives us a good sense of what it’s like. The visibility is poor, and the speed at which the cars drive is incredible. The cars also have a lot of grip and can corner at high speeds, so high that the camera often can’t stay in focus.
The Hardest Part Of Driving An F1 Car
There are a lot of challenging aspects of driving a Formula 1 car, from the handling to the incredible power and speed that these cars are capable of. However, the most difficult aspect is probably the G-forces that the drivers pull while they are in the cars.
Unlike driving in your average road car, Formula 1 cars make it difficult just to be in the car while it’s moving. Many drivers have described the G-forces as trying to pull them out of the car. Some drivers have even said that there are some corners where they just need to hang on to try and keep the car on the track.
The G-forces are even extreme during the braking phase. As a driver pulls up to 5 G during heavy braking zones, their face deforms and their head feels like it’s being pulled off from their neck. The average person would not be able to keep their head upright when the car decelerates from 200 miles per hour down to 60 miles per hour for a corner.
Keeping these cars under control while experiencing so much strain on your body is an extreme challenge. In addition to this, the cars are difficult to control with no traction control and ABS, which makes it even more challenging to keep the car on the track and make it go where you want it to go.
Do You Have To Be Fit To Drive An F1 Car?
You do have to be fit to drive an F1 car. Driving a Formula 1 car is a very physically demanding experience. The conditions in the cockpit can become quite uncomfortable, and the G-forces you feel require a lot of core and neck strength to withstand.
Formula 1 drivers are extremely fit. If they’re not at the track, they’re often spending time in the gym or doing some form of physical activity to keep fit. Many drivers have completed marathons and Ironman events in their spare time, which shows just how in shape they are.
The cockpit of a Formula 1 car can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit on an average day. Drivers are also wearing fireproof race suits. The result of this is that drivers can lose between four and eight pounds of body weight during the course of a two-hour Grand Prix.
The physical effort required to drive a Formula 1 car is extreme, and it often shows when the drivers get out of the car. We often see drivers physically exhausted after a race, despite all the training that they go through.
Are F1 Cars Like Go-Karts?
Formula 1 cars are like go-karts in a sense. However, sitting practically on the tarmac and having only one seat are just about the only two factors that link these vehicles together. F1 cars go many times faster than go-karts, exposing the driver to more extreme conditions and G-forces.
Go-karts can be driven aggressively, and their handling is very simplistic. They mostly slide through corners rather than drive through them. Older Formula 1 cars, such as the ones used in the 1980s and 1990s, had a handling model much closer to go-karts than modern Formula 1 cars do.
This aggressive driving style does not work in modern Formula 1. Even more aggressive drivers such as Max Verstappen have had to adapt their driving styles to get the best out of a Formula 1 car.
The fastest way to get a go-kart around a track is to slide it through corners. However, with a Formula 1 car, sliding is slower, and it loses a lot of lap time. Driving in a smoother and more controlled manner is the best way to drive a modern Formula 1 car.
How Young Do F1 Drivers Start?
Formula 1 drivers start their careers from a very young age. Each driver has a different journey, but the average age for a driver to start their racing career is between 4 and 6 years old. There are some drivers who start their careers at a later stage, but this is rare.
Many drivers, such as Sebastian Vettel, started at the young age of three years old. There are go-karts specifically designed for kids under the age of six, and as they get older and progress through the categories, they move onto bigger, faster karts.
Drivers will move onto cars (single seaters such as Formula 4) when they reach their teens. Many current drivers didn’t reach this stage until they were around 16 or 17. However, modern-day drivers head to Formula 4 as early as 14 years old.
There are now karting championships and events around the world for younger drivers, even those as young as five years old. Starting earlier is better, as the driver has more time to develop their skills before jumping onto the motorsport ladder.
Is It Too Late To Become An F1 Driver?
It is likely too late to become an F1 driver if you have no motorsport experience by your early teens. Most F1 drivers start their motorsport career when they are less than 10 years old. The high level of competition within motorsport means that, if you are starting later, you’re at a disadvantage.
For aspiring Formula 1 drivers, there’s a fine line between making it to the top or moving on to pursue another category of racing. The earlier you start your racing career, the better. It’s extremely rare for a driver to make it to Formula 1 if they start their motorsport career after the age of 14.
It is still entirely possible of course, but there are various factors that the driver needs in order to make it to Formula 1, and it depends on how quickly they can work their way through the junior motorsport ladder.
It helps even more if the driver can secure an academy seat with a Formula 1 team, as they will have some support and guidance on their journey. Even if you start late, it’s entirely possible to make it to Formula 1 if you have the dedication for it.
That said, it’s never too late to become a professional car racer elsewhere. There are many other categories, such as WEC and sports cars, where drivers have started racing as late as 28 years old and have been successful in their careers.
The first key ingredient that a driver needs is talent. Any driver that makes it to Formula 1, pay driver or not, is talented, and they have had some form of success throughout their career in motorsport.
Luckily, talent is not necessarily a thing that a driver has to be born with. A driver’s ability can be shaped and molded throughout their career, and this is the important thing that you need to focus on. As long as you are constantly improving and getting results, then you’ve got a bright future in motorsport.
If you want to make it to Formula 1, you will most likely need a coach. Modern motorsport is so competitive that it’s almost impossible to get ahead of the competition on your own, even if you are a naturally talented driver.
The reality is that a coach has spent years gaining experience and knowledge, and it will most likely take you years to get to the same level. Having a coach gives you the opportunity to constantly improve and quickly learn from decades of experience.
Motorsport is all about money. It has always been considered the “playground of the rich,” and it still is. In spite of all the cost-cutting being brought in, this title will remain in the sport for many years to come.
Even starting out in karting, the simplest and cheapest form of motorsport, can cost up to $10,000. It’s estimated that if you want to make it to Formula 1, you will need to spend a minimum of $10 million.
Don’t let this scare you off though. Many drivers have come from fairly average families and have been successful. In fact, the two most successful drivers on the current grid, Vettel and Hamilton (11 world championships between them), have come from working class families.
This shows that you can make it to Formula 1 even if you don’t have $10 million to spend. The only way to make it happen is to find sponsors that will back you. Modern Formula 1 is all about marketing and public relations, so this is something you need to be good at if you want to make it to Formula 1.
Where Can You Drive A Real Formula 1 Car?
You can drive a real Formula 1 car in various places, including:
- Dubai Autodrome – Dream Racing Dubai
- Paul Ricard, France – Winfield Racing School
- France And Spain – LRS Formula
Driving a Formula 1 car is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These multi-million-dollar machines seem far out of reach when we see them on TV being driven by superstars. However, there are some places where you can drive a real Formula 1 car.
There are some requirements in place before you’ll be allowed to drive a Formula 1 car, but this is simply because the average person does not have experience in single seaters. At minimum, you need to be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license.
It’s not just about jumping into a Formula 1 car and driving it though. These machines are extremely expensive and difficult to drive, so there is a process that needs to be followed. You will be properly briefed before you get into the car, and you will likely have to drive some other racing cars first. It can also be quite an expensive experience!
Dubai Autodrome – Dream Racing Dubai
In Dubai, you can choose between driving a 2000 Jaguar or 2002 Arrows Formula 1 car. These cars still have the older engines in them and sound fantastic. It will give you a good idea of what it’s like to drive an F1 car.
Paul Ricard, France – Winfield Racing School
If you’re looking for something a bit more modern, the Winfield Racing School has a 2012 Renault Formula 1 car (now painted in Alpine colors) with a mighty V8 engine that produces 800 horsepower.
France And Spain – LRS Formula
There are three cars available at LRS Formula including the F1 Prost with a V8, the Jaguar with a V10, and the Williams FW33 with a V8. You can choose from a range of circuits in France and Spain, including Magny-Cours, Barcelona, and more.
It is very hard to drive an F1 car. The cars’ handling is so unique, and without driver aids, there is no room for error. The G-forces that drivers experience in them creates even more of a challenge. The average person can drive a Formula 1 car, but it’s not easy.