F1 is one of the most intense sports in the world, both for the spectators and the drivers. This means that the racers and the cars are pushed to their limits, and you will usually find that drivers are quite small and skinny, but why is that?
F1 drivers are so skinny because in order to go as fast as possible, the weight of the car and the driver needs to be as low as possible. There are minimum weight limits in place, but the teams try to stick as close to that minimum as they can, and so the drivers are usually small and slim.
The regulations surrounding the weight of the car and the driver are very strict, and so teams will always find ways to cut weight where they can. I’ll take a closer look at why weight is so important in Formula 1 below.
Why Does Weight Matter So Much in F1?
When people talk about weight and how much they weigh, they are usually referring to their mass. This is what is measured in kilograms, pounds, or stone, whereas weight is the force of gravity on that mass. But for the sake of this article, we will refer to the car and drivers’ masses as their weights. Although not technically correct, it removes any unnecessary confusion.
So, the car’s weight and that of the driver in any motorsport matters a lot, but why? Well, there are lots of variables that affect how fast an F1 car can make its way around a track, but there are a few key ones that stand out above the rest. These include tire grip, the downforce and aerodynamics of the car, and the weight of the car.
The most important in terms of lap time is the grip of the tires. This is what helps keep the car stuck to the road around corners, but downforce plays a key role here too, and it’s directly related to how much grip the driver has. Aerodynamics are important on the straights, allowing the car to experience less drag. But the weight matters at every part of the race.
The heavier a car is, the more weight the engine needs to push around the track. A car weighing 500 kg (1100 lbs) will be much easier for an engine to push than one weighing 1000 kg (2200 lbs). This is why larger, heavier cars, like SUVs tend to have much bigger engines than small hatchbacks. All F1 cars have the same size of engine, and so there is more of an advantage to be gained when it comes to weight elsewhere on the car.
10 kg Difference
For every 10 kg of weight added to an F1 car (22 lbs), it is estimated to cost around 3 tenths of a second per lap. This might not sound like much, but over the course of a 50-lap race this is equivalent to losing 15 seconds to a lighter car. Teams can adapt other areas, such as the aerodynamics and driving style to combat this, but the car’s weight’s impact on the car is very clear.
The heavier the car is, the harder it becomes to accelerate and reach top speed, and the harder it can be to maneuver around corners (and slow down too). In Formula One, every millisecond counts, and so teams will always try to keep the weight down where they can. This means keeping the driver as light as possible as well.
Note: Weight can improve grip in some cases, as you need weight over the tires to push them into the track and give you traction. However, as with everything in motorsport, it’s a fine balance between too little weight and too much!
What Do F1 Cars & Drivers Weigh?
There are rules and regulations surrounding the weights of both the drivers and the cars in F1. The driver is a fairly simple piece of the puzzle, as their weight is simply themselves plus their racing suit and helmet (along with their gloves and HANS device). However, an F1 car has so many different parts that it becomes quite a challenge for teams trying to design both a light and powerful car each season.
The bulk of the car’s weight comes from the engine, which comes in at a minimum of 145 kg (320 lbs). Then there are other heavy components, such as the motor generator units (MGU-H and MGU-K), along with the car’s energy storage system. Aside from these more complex internal components, there is the entire body of the car to consider as well, and things like the tires too.
Minimum Car Weight
This all adds up, and the FIA’s current regulations state that the car must weigh a minimum of 798 kg including the driver but not fuel (1760 lbs). Cars can use 110 kg of fuel over the course of a race (240 lbs), and so the weight comes in at around 900 kg at the start of the race (2000 lbs). But it is the fact that the minimum weight includes the driver that is important.
The driver, with their racing suit, seat and helmet, must weigh at least 80 kg (180 lbs). This is to prevent heavier drivers from being penalized, with drivers that come in under this number using ballast to bring their weight up. There is not really a maximum weight of the driver, but instead a minimum weight. This is why it is key that drivers stay as slim as they can.
Drivers therefore tend to be quite short and fairly skinny, as their helmet and seat can weigh a few vital kilograms themselves. As the car is built to be light as well, there is not much room for the driver either. This is another reason they tend to be small and skinny, as they need to get into the seat and stay there (semi-comfortably) for the duration of the race.
This means the drivers are very fit, as they don’t just need to be skinny, but they also need to be able to handle the harsh conditions of the car during the race. The cockpit can reach more than 50°C (120°F), and they need to withstand upwards of 5 G’s through the corners. So, they tend to be very fit anyway, and so they are usually quite trim regardless of their weight.
KEY POINTS• Weight is incredibly important in all motorsports, especially in F1
• The car’s weight plays a key role in how fast the car will be around the track
• There are minimum weight limits enforced both for the drivers and the cars
Weight Fluctuation In The Race
During the race, the car’s weight will fluctuate. This is mainly due to the fuel being used up, with the cars using almost all of their 110 kg of their allowance. The car will also shed weight from the tires as they use up rubber, but if they pit towards the end of the race this effect will be minimal (and drivers will pick up rubber to counteract this after the race). They may also suffer damage, but this is weight loss that the teams will be hoping to prevent!
But the driver too will also lose weight throughout the race. The hot conditions of an F1 car and the fast-paced nature of the race means that they will lose a lot of water through sweat. In some races, they may lose several kilograms of weight due to this factor. This is why the drivers are told to hydrate before the race and also during it, through their special drinks tube connected to their helmet.
These weight fluctuations must be taken into account when the cars are built and set up for the race weekend. Cars are weighed prior to the race, and they must all meet the minimum requirements to avoid being disqualified. But they may also be randomly weighed during a qualifying session, which acts as a measure to prevent teams from trying to cheat.
In the past, teams have used sly tactics to outwit the weighing regulations, such as in the 1980s when teams would use water tanks to make sure they were at the minimum weight before the race. They said these tanks were used to cool the brakes, but in reality, the water would simply evaporate early on, giving the teams an edge over their opponents in heavier cars.
Then, they would simply refill the tanks during pitstops, under the guise of refilling “cooling fluids.” This meant they were running underweight throughout the race, and therefore going faster, but meeting the minimum weight requirements before and after the race. Ploys like this one were put into play in later years, but the FIA soon picked up on them and implemented the random weigh-ins.
After every race, the drivers are weighed once more in order to ensure they made the minimum weight throughout the race. The cars will also be weighed, and this ensures that it is nearly impossible for the teams to get around the minimum weight requirements.
A heavier car will not go as fast or accelerate as fast as a lighter car with the same engine, aerodynamics and grip. That is why F1 teams try to keep their weight and the weight of their drivers as low as possible. There are regulations surrounding the exact numbers, and as drivers try to stay as close to the minimum weight as possible, it often means they are very skinny.
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