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  • Writer's pictureRhonan Colquhoun

Formula One: A guide for a beginner

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

This isn't as long or as detailed to like something you'd find on Wikipedia, but if you follow and read this, then you'll understand a little bit about Formula One and what happens during the weekend.

1st July 2020

A brief history of the sport

The inaugural season of Formula One took place in 1950 which means the sport celebrates it's 70th Anniversary this year. F1 is the highest class of single-seater racing

sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and owned by the Formula One Group. To compete in the sport, drivers must have Super Licences which are issued by the FIA.

Using a points system, this is used to determine two annual championships, one for the Drivers and one for the Constructors (the teams competing in the sport.) Each teams runs two cars. The races must run on tracks graded "1", the highest grade-rating issued by the FIA. Most races occur on purpose built race tracks but some take place on city streets. F1 cars are the fastest regulated road-course racing cars in the world, owing to very high cornering speeds achieved through the generation of large amounts of aerodynamic downforce. The sport travels to different parts of the world racing at different circuits. In 2019, 11 out of the 21 races took place outside Europe.

F1 Facts and Records

  • The first ever Formula One race took place in 1950 at Silverstone, UK, and was won by Giuseppe Farina driving for Alfa Romeo.

  • Ferrari is the oldest Formula One team, the only still-active team which competed in 1950 Season.

  • There have been 33 World Champions with 19 still alive to this date.

  • 108 different drivers have won an F1 race, the most recent being Charles Leclerc at the 2019 Belgian GP.

  • Michael Schumacher holds the record for the most Driver Championships with seven, Lewis Hamilton currently has six to his name while Juan Manuel Fangio has five.

  • Ferrari are the most successful team with 15 Constructor Titles to their name, McLaren have 12 while Mercedes have 8.

  • The UK is the most successful country producing 19 titles between 10 drivers. Germany have 12 by three drivers and Brazil has eight by also three drivers.

  • Rubens Barrichello holds the record for most F1 starts with 322, Kimi Raikkonen has 312 while Fernando Alonso has 311.

  • Max Verstappen is the youngest driver to ever start a F1 race being just 17 years and 166 days old at the 2015 Australian GP.

  • Michael Schumacher holds the record for the most F1 wins with 91, Lewis Hamilton has 84 while Sebastian Vettel has 53.

Breaking down the F1 weekend

Formula One is set over a four, primarily three, day weekend. On Thursday, the drivers will be at the track but not in the car. This is where the drivers conduct interviews and take part in conferences, basically, they talk to the media but they also have time with their teams to review some data and do track-walks with race engineers if the weather is dry.

On Friday, there are two practice sessions. Both are an hour and a half long with the drivers mainly getting back into the groove of being on track. They perform a range of practice programs and this is all to aid the race strategy come Sunday. They will set timed laps but the aim is to perfect the set-up of the car. You might see a different driver in one of the cars as teams are allowed to use their Development and Test Drivers. This normally occurs with teams in the mid-field and not necessarily the teams at the front of the grid.

It's important to the drivers and teams that they have a trouble-free weekend but this far from guaranteed. Drivers will on occasion make mistakes therefore damaging the parts of the car like the front wing, or it can be the whole car depending on the severity of the crash. Mechanical parts of the car might fail for example the engine or gearbox and this takes time to replace which limits the data the driver and team can gain.

On Saturday there is one final practice session that is only half an hour long and then it's qualifying. The practice sessions are called "FP" meaning Free Practice so that one happens on Saturday is called FP3. The drivers and their teams fine-tune their set-ups and put in some accurate timed laps to give an indication to where they will qualify.

Now it's qualifying. This is a three part system which determines where on the grid the driver will start the race from. After 18 minutes, the five slowest out of the 20 drivers will be eliminated in Q1 with the fastest 15 making it through to Q2. This session last for 15 minutes with the five slowest being knocked-out and will make up grid positions 15th to 11th. The fastest 10 drivers progress to Q3 where the session is 12 minutes long to decide who will qualify on Pole Position and who will line-up behind that driver. There is quite a bit of strategy that goes on in this session due to the tyre rules which mean that whatever tyre you qualify on, albeit starting inside the top 10, that's the tyre you start the race on. Everyone else, 11th to 20th, can start on any tyre they like.

It's Sunday and that means it's race time. Since the end of Qualifying, the teams are not allowed to make any changes to the car. The grid opens and the drivers and teams make their way to the grid. Once on the grid, there is time to get out of the car, look at the data one last time, give media interviews or even talk to famous celebs! The driver make their way to the front of the grid for the countries national anthem and then the drivers get into their cars. The drivers set-off on the Formation Lap to warm the tyres as the teams disperse from the starting grid. The drivers make their way back round to stop on the starting grid in the positions they qualified in, it's time for the lights. The Medical car is always at the back of the grid, a good few metres from the last driver, in case of a start-line crash.

The drivers wait, the teams wait, the viewers wait, the crowd goes silent in the anticipation for the famous five red lights. Once they go out, the race starts. The winner of the race is the driver who finishes the allotted amount of laps first.

During the race, drivers must obey flags. Here are the most common.

  • Blue Flag means: This indicates that the driver in front must let faster cars behind him pass because he is being lapped. The driver could be penalised if he doesn't follow this.

  • Yellow Flag means: Indicates a hazard on or near the track (waved yellows indicate a hazard on the track, frozen yellows indicate a hazard near the track). Double waved yellows inform drivers that they must slow down as marshals are working on or near to the track and drivers should be prepared to stop.

  • Red Flag means: This flag immediately halts a race or session when conditions become too dangerous to continue.

Over the course of the race, drivers will make pit-stops to either change tyres or to fix any damage on the car. Right now, Formula One has three types of dry-weather tyres which have different levels of performance.

In the event of a crash or where weather conditions make it too dangerous to drive at the maximum speed possible, the Safety Car will be deployed. The safety car circulates until the danger is cleared; after it comes in, the race restarts with a "rolling start" with the driver leading the driver effectively becoming the Safety Car. After crossing the line, drivers are allowed to start racing for track position once more.

In Formula One, the top ten drivers who finish the race are awarded points based on where they finish. There is a point awarded for whoever sets the fastest lap during the race although they have to finish inside the top ten to get the point. This was introduced in 2019.

1st - 25pts, 2nd - 18pts, 3rd - 15pts, 4th - 12pts, 5th - 10pts, 6th - 8pts, 7th - 6pts, 8th - 4pts, 9th - 2pts, 10th - 1pt

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