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 weights 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. There are good reasons for this, and it is useful to first understand why weight matters so much in F1.
Why Does Weight Matter So Much in F1?
An Important Distinction
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. Aerodynamics are important on the straights, allowing the car to experience less drag. You can find out more about aerodynamics and drag by checking out this article here. 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 500kg will be much easier for an engine to push than one weighing 1000kg. 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 thus there is more of an advantage to be gained when it comes to weight.
For every 10kg of weight added to an F1 car, 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. Obviously, teams can adapt other areas, such as the aerodynamics and driving style to combat this, but 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. In Formula One, every millisecond count, 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.
Why Are F1 Drivers Short?
F1 drivers are short because weight is very important for overall performance in motorsport, and it tends to be the smaller, lighter drivers that are fastest at the lower levels of karting. This naturally means the bulk of the F1 grid is made up of smaller drivers, but some are quite tall.
What Do F1 Cars And Drivers Weigh?
There are rules and regulations surrounding the weights of both the drivers and the cars. The driver is a fairly simple piece of the puzzle, as their weight is simply themselves plus their racing suit and helmet. 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 145kg. Then, there are other heavy components, such as the motor generator units (MGU-H and MGU-K), along with the battery of the car and 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 at the moment the FIA’s regulations state that the car must weigh a minimum of 740kgincluding the driver but not fuel. Cars can use 110kg of fuel over the course of a race, and so the weight comes in at around 850kg at the start of the race. 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 80kg. This is to prevent heavier drivers from being penalized, with drivers that come in under this number using ballast to bring their weight up. Thus, 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 thus tend to be quite short, and very 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 50oC, and they need to withstand upwards of 5G through the corners. So, they tend to be very fit anyway, and thus are usuallyquite trim regardless of their weight.
Weight Fluctuation In The Race
Using Up Fuel
During the race, the car’s weight will fluctuate. This is mainly due to the fuel being used up, with the cars using all 100kg of their allowance. The car will also shed weight in the tires as they use up rubber, but if they pit towards the end of the race this effect will be minimal. 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 during through their special drinks tube connected to their helmet.
These weight fluctuations must be taken into account when the cars are constructed 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 penalized or disqualified. But they may also be randomly weighed during the 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 where 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.
Circumventing The Rules
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 thus going faster, but meeting the minimum weight requirements before and after the race. Ploys like this one have been put into play in later years, but the FIA have 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 profiles. 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.