If you love racing, or if you’ve always been interested in cars, you might fall in love with Formula One (F1) racing. But to an outsider, the sport may seem hard to “get into.” It’s markedly different than other types of auto racing, and while anyone can appreciate the sight of cars navigating tight turns at high speed, if you have a deeper understanding of the culture surrounding F1 racing, you’re bound to have a better experience.
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How Is F1 Racing Different?
First, you should know how F1 racing is different from other types of auto racing. For starters, the term “Formula One” refers to a series of regulations enforced by the FIA and FISA. All cars and racetracks in F1 must adhere to these regulations.
These can get pretty technical, but let’s highlight the basics:
- Vehicle and engine specs. The chassis of an F1 car is restricted to being no more than 200 cm wide and 95 cm tall. Each car is designed to be as aerodynamic and maneuverable as possible, so the variations between car chassis are very small; almost every car looks the same from the outside. There are also tight restrictions on the type of engine used, with most cars using the 1.6 liter V6 turbocharged hybrid engine. The fuel limit for the 2019 season was 110 kg, and there are numerous restrictions on how the car can be assembled.
- The tracks for F1 tend to be challenging for drivers, rather than guiding cars down a straight, single strip or around a gentle oval. They’re often narrow, with tight turns, and elevation changes, which makes for exciting viewing.
- Races are held at a series of “Grand Prix” events, and racers earn points at each Grand Prix based on their performance; for example, 1st place is worth 25 points, 2nd place is worth 18 points, 3rd place is worth 15 points, and so on.
The Grand Prixes
There are many different Grand Prixes events, held all over the world. One of the oldest and most notable is the Monaco Grand Prix, arguably the most prestigious race in all of Formula One. It’s been in operation for almost 100 years, and has some of the most challenging terrain in the sport. Every year, F1 fans aspire to make the trip to the Monaco Grand Prix.
In addition to Monaco, Belgium’s Spa Francorchamps circuit is known for being one of the fastest tracks in the sport, with cars reaching up to 200 mph. And in Italy, the Monza circuit has been involved in every year of F1’s existence (except one). Relatively new tracks in Austria, the United States, and Mexico City have also made headlines, bringing new countries into the fold.
Grand Prix events are typically hosted over a three-day weekend. On Friday, there are typically two practice sessions. Teams and drivers spend time making adjustments to their vehicles, learning how the track runs, trying out new parts, and fine-tuning everything to run as smoothly as possible. On Saturday, drivers are allowed one more round of practice. After that, all drivers are guided in a series of elimination-style sessions in a qualifying round. Each session is timed, and the slowest driver is eliminated every 90 seconds. The fastest times make it forward. When two drivers remain, they enter a head-to-head shootout to determine the first starting position for the proper race—otherwise known as “pole position.”
Sunday is the final race day. Occasionally, there are penalties to shake up the race order, but generally, drivers line up how they qualified and run a finite number of laps (usually with pit stops) to see who’s fastest.
Televised vs. Live Events
Most new F1 fans are content to watch the televised version of the races. And for millions of people, this is highly entertaining. However, televised events are nowhere near as thrilling or as true to the spirit of F1 as the live version. Attending a Grand Prix in person, you’ll hear the roar of engines, feel the rumble of cars as they reach incredible speeds on the track, and be surrounded with fans who are just as passionate, if not more passionate than you. It’s an exhilarating experience that everyone should enjoy at least once.
If you’re new to the world of F1, there are lots of nuances you’ll need to learn to get the full experience of an event, including the flags used for different purposes, the personalities and approaches of different drivers, and the subtleties of each track in the series lineup. But for now, just try to enjoy the event for what it is—a fast, competitive event that pits the best cars and the best teams against each other.