Understanding Formula 1

f1-2014On the surface, Formula 1 or F1 racing is simple in its elegance: a race around a circuit where whoever crosses the finish line first wins. But there is more to it than just a driver and a car. F1 racing has become part science and part hi-tech, yet it still maintains that guts and glory aura of motor racing of the past. The cars have become faster, the drivers more skilled and younger, the tracks more challenging (or less, depending on whom you ask) and the technology simply mind-boggling and expensive. Anyone can enjoy watching a F1 race. It is thrilling, exciting and gets your adrenaline pumping. There is nothing comparable to watching a live F1 race with the crowds roaring and car engines piercing your eardrums! However, deeper understanding of F1 racing and its finer details will enable greater enjoyment of the sport.

There are roughly 19 or 20 races in the annual F1 Championship season, each is called a Grand Prix race (19 races are scheduled for the 2014 season). These races take place all over the world at a range of tracks, some specifically designed for F1 races and others just regular streets that are turned into an F1 racing circuit for one weekend a year – the most famous of these being the Monaco Grand Prix and most recently the Singapore Grand Prix. F1 Grand Prix races normally take place over a weekend, with practice sessions and qualifying races held on Fridays and Saturdays, followed by the actual Grand Prix race on Sunday afternoons. The fastest driver during the qualifying round gets to start in the first or ‘pole position’ at the Grand Prix race. This makes F1 easy to follow and an ideal excuse for a weekend trip to a racing circuit near you.

One of the reasons why Formula 1 is so appealing to spectators around the world is that it is a truly global race. The sport includes drivers from all over the world, including Britain, Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan and Spain just to name a few. Combine this with races that take place on circuits all over the world and you have a sport with truly international appeal. For each race, teams and their entourage have to travel to different circuits in countries as geographically diverse as England, Bahrain, Australia, India, Malaysia and China. There are also new circuits added to the line-up, such as the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (2009), Singapore Grand Prix (2008) and Austrian Grand Prix (2014). Of course, each Grand Prix circuit has its own unique history, challenges and legends that make each race breathtaking.

The F1 championship race is a combination of driver and team, with rankings for both throughout the season. These are called the Drivers’ World Championship and Constructors’ World Championship. It is important to understand the points system to be able to follow the F1 team and its driver’s progress throughout the season. In the end the team and driver with the most number of points wins the Championship Title.

The top ten finishers in each Grand Prix race score points towards both the drivers’ and the constructors’ world championship titles according to the following scale:

1st place: 25 points
2nd place: 18 points
3rd place: 15 points
4th place: 12 points
5th place: 10 points
6th place: 8 points
7th place: 6 points
8th place: 4 points
9th place: 2 points
10th place: 1 point

This point scale was changed in 2010; prior to this only the top eight drivers won points, with a first place finish earning 10 points. One of the reasons for the change is that the new seven-point gap between first and second place (previously the gap was two points) motivates drivers to work harder to win each Grand Prix race. The 25-point scale now means drivers and teams can accumulate more points over the season. However, one big change has been introduced for the 2014 Season – the final race of the season will carry double points. The reasoning behind this is that over the last three seasons the Drivers’ Championship Title was decided in the third or fourth last race in the season – this made the last few races in the season anti-climactic. To avoid this and keep the excitement alive throughout the whole season, drivers and teams will receive double points for the race of the season, which for 2014 will be the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – this is also a change, because historically it has been the Brazilian Grand Prix that is the final race of the season.

This following example can easily illustrate how the points system works. If Sebastian Vettel, who drives for Red Bull, finishes first and his teammate this year, Daniel Ricciardo comes in second, then Vettel gets 25 points towards the Drivers’ World Championship points and Ricciardo 18 points. The Red Bull team would get 25+18, or 43 points, towards the Constructors’ World Championship point total. The rest is simple. The driver with the most points at the end of the season is declared the Drivers’ World Champion and the constructor with the most points is declared the Constructors’ World Champion. If, however, two drivers or teams have the same number of points at the end of the season, the driver or team who had the highest number of superior race results will win the championship title.

There are currently 11 teams competing in the F1 Season and these include some well-known car manufacturer names like Ferrari and Mercedes. There are also teams that new F1 fans would probably not know such as Lotus, McLaren and Williams. They are all big names in racing history. To show just how difficult F1 racing really is, consider that Honda and Toyota were two latecomers to the F1 racing circuit. Honda entered in the late 1980s and Toyota in 2002 and neither team ever won a Grand Prix race, both eventually exiting F1. But new teams such as Force India and Red Bull have joined the F1 racing line-up, adding a new international dimension to F1 racing.

In terms of the teams, each team or constructor runs two cars in each race with basically the same colour scheme or race livery throughout the season. There are many regulations defining the liveries of cars in F1 races. For example, every car must carry its driver’s race number clearly visible from the front of the car, and the driver’s name must appear either on his helmet or the side of the cockpit. The team’s name or emblem must appear on the nose of the car.

Talking about drivers, the history of F1 is filled with larger than life legends of racing. Probably most famous is the Brazilian Ayrton Senna, who died in the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. Other F1 greats include Austria’s Nikki Lauda, England’s Nigel Mansell and France’s Alain Prost. Most people will have at least heard of those names. Perhaps the biggest legend of them all is Juan Manuel Fangio, who collected a record five championships in the 1950s, and of course Michael Schumacher, a living legend. Today, the drivers are even better known thanks to the penetration of media throughout the world. Many casual observers will have heard of Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso. There is also family history in Formula One. Champions Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve are both sons of former racing champions, and Bruno Senna is the nephew of the legendary Ayrton Senna. F1 is dominated by some charismatic and talented drivers, making it fun for the spectator to follow their annual progress in the F1 Championships.

Much of F1 racing has become a science, but it still has enough of a luck factor built in to make it fascinating year in and year out. The recent use of softer compound Pirelli tyres has increased the number of pit-stops for each driver. Each team has its own strategy, and before every race discussions centre around the condition of the circuit, the weather, set-up of cars, suitability of drivers, past winners and last but not least, the tyres. For example, pit stops are an important part of a team’s strategy. In recent years it has been the ability to perform fast pit stops that has changed the story of an F1 race. It used to take minutes for mechanics to perform pit stops. But now most teams can refuel, change tyres and even make minor mechanical adjustments in under 10 seconds! This turnaround time makes a huge amount of difference in an F1 race, where every millisecond counts. Simply watching this teamwork in action during the pit stop is almost as fascinating as the race itself. A chance to spend some time in the pit stop is a must for any F1 enthusiast. Some circuits allow three-day F1 race pass holders to visit the pits or even experience a pit change, so don’t miss out on that if you get the chance.

Today’s teams have an abundance of data, and cars are equipped with the latest hi-tech devices monitoring almost everything in the car. Teams can place emphasis on choosing the right tyre and the right strategy, but there are still elements that cannot be controlled like weather, accidents, mis-judgements and, best of all, luck. For example, a poorly timed pit stop can place the driver behind a slow runner, enabling a rival to gain a significant time lead, or team tactics can result in collusion to ‘shut out’ another driver. For the spectator, technology has been a boon because there are now large screens around the race track allowing fans to follow the entire race from anywhere on the track. For TV viewers, there is live and instant playback with a whole host of statistics and commentary. Race results and standings can now be accessed pretty much anywhere from the internet, making this sport even more accessible to newcomers. F1 is no longer the sport of the rich and affluent, but can be enjoyed by anyone around the globe!

Each year, some of the F1 regulations are changed or tweaked and are discussed ad infinitum by F1 enthusiasts. The following are some of the major technical and regulation changes for the 2014 F1 season:

Engines: the biggest change this season is the engines. F1 racing cars will use a 1.6-litre V6 engine, instead of the bigger 2.4-litre V8 engine. Although power will only change slightly (this decline will be compensated with the Energy Recover System explained below), the engines will be more fuel efficient. For the fans, there will be some change in sound of the engine. Drivers will also be only able to use five engines this season, down from eight in 2013. Drivers will be penalised for exceeding this limit by having to start from the pit lane (previously drivers received a 10 place grid penalty).

Fuel limit: drivers will have a strict fuel limit of 100kg, down from 130kg. This will be strictly monitored and enforced. Drivers will be penalised for using more fuel than permitted.

Energy Recover System (ERS): the controversial Kinetic Energy Recover System (KERS) will be replaced with the ERS this season. The KERS required drivers to press a button to engage it, but the ERS does not require this. This reduces the driver’s involvement.

Minimum weight: the minimum weight of car and driver has been increased from 642kg to 691kg. This is primarily to adjust to the new engines, which weigh more.

Tyres: Pirelli will be the only tyre supplier again this season. However, teams must now set aside testing time to help Pirelli develop new tyres.

Lowering of the nose: for safety reasons, the noses of the racing cars will be lowered. Noses cannot be higher than 185mm off the ground, down from 550mm previously. This is to avoid cars being ‘launched’ when there is a rear-ending or to avoid drivers being hit by the nose when there is a side or T-bone collision.

Central exhaust pipe: racing cars will be required to have one single, upward angled exhaust pipe. This will prohibit teams from using exhaust gases to increase a vehicle’s downward force, also known as ‘exhaust-blown floors’.

Doubling of points: the last race of the season will be worth double the usual points, to keep the racing season exciting until the last race.

Permanent numbers: drivers will now be assigned permanent racing numbers that will be used throughout their career. Drivers can choose numbers ranging from two to 99, with number one reserved for the champion.