So I have become newly obsessed with Formula 1, and having overlooked it for so long, I am eager to catch up on all I’ve missed out on over the years. Over the last few weeks I’ve poured through news articles, pictures, race recaps from last year’s season… you name it, I’ve read/watched it. And all of this made me realize something quite profound: why the hell wasn’t I paying attention?
Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. It is where the world’s greatest drivers, mechanics, engineers, designers, and racing fans focus their attention, and more importantly their passion. Cars with over 700 horsepower and more sophisticated aerodynamics than fighter jets scream through city streets and race circuits of some of the most exotic and desirable destinations in the world, so what exactly is not to love?
Personally, I had always written it off as no more than a glorified NASCAR with more money injected in, but now that I have so profoundly realized just how much of an oversight I had made, I am eager to share my newfound excitement with my fellow common gearheads.
If you are already a fan of F1, you’ll find all of this to be common knowledge, but for those of you that I have (hopefully) sparked an interest with, I present to you a Beginner’s Guide to Formula 1 and what to watch for this upcoming season.
A Beginner’s Guide to F1
In total, there are 24 drivers and 12 teams in Formula 1, and for all you math enthusiasts out there, yes, that means two drivers per team. They all take part in 20 different races over the course of 9 months, and at the end, based on points, a Drivers’ Champion and a Constructors’ Champion are named. As with any sport, there are favorites and underdogs, and they are based on the caliber of engineering and driving prowess that they exhibit throughout the season… and also money. Money is important.
The races each span an entire weekend, from Friday to Sunday, and occur in cities and racetracks all over the world. Friday consists of two practice sessions, Saturday is an hour of practice and an hour of qualifying (split into 3 sessions), and Sunday is race day.
In the first qualifying session, all 24 cars take part in trying to set the fastest lap time possible in 20 minutes. At the end of session 1, the 7 slowest cars are knocked out and start the race in the order that they finished. However, if a driver (or drivers) do not set a time within 107% of the fastest time in session 1, they may not be able to participate in the race at all. The 17 cars that remain for session 2 drive out for a 15 minute session with a clean slate, and again, try to stay out of the bottom 7. The final 10 cars go out for session 3, which lasts 10 minutes, and try to set the fastest overall time, or pole position, for the race on Sunday.
Before the start of the race, all of the cars are led by a pace car for a warm up lap, and file back into their starting grid positions. Once all of the cars are set, they rev their high-pitched ear-shattering engines while the race director, Charlie Whiting, turns on the starting lights. When the lights go out, the cars rocket forward, and from then on out they are rarely seen clearly but always heard by everyone in attendance to the race. Points are awarded to the top 10 drivers, and these points go towards their overall scores: 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1, respectively. Points awarded to drivers also contribute to their team’s score, so the higher a team’s drivers place overall, the more total points they get. That’s why it’s important to have two highly qualified drivers, and not one golden boy and one to get in the way of everyone else.
Tires are one of the most important factors in determining performance in an F1 race, so naturally, there are many rules and regulations surrounding them. There are 6 different compounds of tires in Formula 1, indicated by 6 different colors:
- Super-soft (Red)
- Soft (Yellow)
- Medium (White)
- Hard (Silver)
- Intermediate (Green)
- Wet (Blue)
Pirelli is the sole supplier of tires to F1, and determine the two ideal compounds for the race weekend. The optimal (harder) compound is known as the “Prime” tire, and the secondary (softer) compound is called the “Option” tire. At the start of the weekend, each driver gets 18 sets of tires total: 6 Prime, 5 Option, 4 Intermediate, and 3 Wet. One of the Prime sets of tires are used during the practice round and cannot be used again throughout the weekend. Drivers are required to use both Prime and Option compounds during the race, but they are allowed to change tires as many times as they want. Intermediate and Wet tires can only be used if the track is determined to be wet by race officials.
Technical Mumbo Jumbo:
There are two types of technology that are present on most F1 cars to make them go faster, and they are, quite frankly, like something out of a video game. The first is called the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), and it is actually a BOOST system for the car. Basically, kinetic energy from braking is stored and converted to extra power at the push of a button, giving a driver up to an extra 80 horsepower for overtaking or just plain tearing down the track. However, it can only be used a certain amount and is reset each lap, because, well, giving unlimited boost to a group of petrol-heads is never a good idea (i.e. the Fast and Furious movies).
The second system is called the Drag Reduction System (DRS), which is basically the opening of an adjustable flap on the rear wing to reduce drag and give drivers an advantage when attempting to overtake another car. In practice and qualifying it can be used at any time and as much as desired, but during the race, it can only be used when a car is within one second of the car in front, and only in the designated zones marked on the track. It can also only be used after two full laps of the race have been completed.
There are 4 engine manufacturers in F1, and they are Renault, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Cosworth. These 4 engine manufacturers supply all 12 teams, and all generally have similar specifications and performance, although some generally have an advantage over others in any given year.
So there you have it. The worlds fastest and most advanced race cars driven by the best drivers in locations all over the world for 3/4 of the year. And they get to use boost and stuff. And the noise that they make while going around is almost orgasmic to any gearhead (yes, I went there). This is why I am newly in love with Formula 1, and why millions of others are as well.
Now that you have an idea of how it all works, let me give you a quick summary of which teams and drivers to watch in 2013.
Teams to Watch:
Infiniti-Red Bull (website)
Drivers: Sebastian Vettel (GER), Mark Webber (AUS)
Red Bull racing have won the past 3 Constructors’ and Drivers’ World Championships, have two of the best drivers (one of whom is on pace to be one of the greatest of all time), and have the fastest, and best looking car. They have risen to greatness in only 8 years, and are now the undisputed favorites in every competition they enter. Basically, they are the New England Patriots of the F1 world. And for this reason, they will undoubtedly continue to dominate, amidst the praises of their supporters and the scorn of their rivals. If you love a healthy display of good, old-fashioned, ass-whooping, then Red Bull is the team for you.
Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes (website)
Drivers: Jenson Button (GBR), Sergio Perez (MEX)
McLaren has been a dominant team since their introduction in 1966, and have continued to be a threat in recent years. They have won a total of 8 championships in their history, and have one of the fastest and best-engineered cars out there, powered by Mercedes. However, their superstar Lewis Hamilton just made the jump to the Mercedes-Petronas team, for what we can only assume was a large amount of hugs and/or chocolate, so they have some rebuilding to do in the driver department if they want to compete for the championship. If you like British things, and shiny stuff grabs your attention, McLaren is your team.
Scuderia Ferrari (website)
Drivers: Fernando Alonso (SPA), Felipe Massa (BRA)
This probably comes as no surprise, but Ferrari is the most dominant Formula 1 team in the history of the sport. The prancing ponies have 15 Constructors’ titles, 16 Drivers’ titles, and have won a quarter of the races they’ve been in since their foundation in 1950. They placed second last year, and have been dominant in pretty much every year that they haven’t won. In addition, Alonso is widely regarded by his peers as the best driver in F1 right now in terms of skill, and while they may not have the fastest car, they are always poised to make a run for first place. If you like Italian-made things, and you really really like the color red, look no further than Ferrari.
Drivers: Kimi Räikkönen (FIN), Romain Grosjean (FRA)
Lotus has been widely talked about this year as the dark horse, poised to take down one, or all of the big 3 (see above). Powered by Renault, and with two of the best drivers behind the wheel, they are set up to have a great year in 2013. One of the reasons that I really like Lotus, is solely for the existence of Kimi Räikkönen. He is, quite frankly, a crazy bastard. If you need proof, just watch his interview and lap on Top Gear, or check out quotes from his short stint as a NASCAR driver, where he was heard on the team radio saying “We’re so f***ing s**t it’s unbelievable.” He is by far the biggest oddball in F1, and I love him for it. If you like crazy Finnish people, and black and gold cars, Lotus fits the bill perfectly.
Drivers to Watch:
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
Vettel is only the 3rd driver in history to win 3 consecutive Driver’s Championships, behind Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher, and he’s done it all at only 25 years old. The fact that I only have 4 more years to accomplish something that monumental is a daunting reality, but I digress. Vettel is strong in all conditions, and while there are some drivers that are better than him on certain days, he is at the helm of the fastest car from the best engineer (Adrian Newey), and he is all but unbeatable because of it. If he keeps this pace, he could easily tie or break Schumacher’s record of 7 titles, and he most likely will. And he’ll do it all by the ripe age of 30. Probably.
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Alonso had one of the all time greatest seasons in 2012, and he didn’t even win the championship. The Drivers’ Championship is generally won by the driver in the best car, but Alonso nearly demolished this stigma just by being an incredible driver. He lost by only 3 points in a car that was 1.5 seconds off pace at the start of the season. This season, he’ll be challenged by the crushing disappointment of losing despite what he called a “perfect” season, and, unfortunately, the continuously dominant Red Bull/Vettel combination. But it’ll be real hard to root against the tall, dark, and handsome Spaniard in the Rosso Ferrari.
Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus)
Kimi returned to Formula 1 last year after a brief stint in rallying, and was successful despite his… let’s call it “vacation.” He is Lotus’s driving monkey, meaning he is there to do only one thing: go fast. He cares nothing for sponsorships, or the media, or really much of anything at all other than cars and driving, and he makes that very clear. Kimi is a madman in one of the world’s fastest machines, and he is hungry to win. I imagine the inner monologue in Kimi’s head during a race goes something like this: “Kimi drive fast. Pass car. Drive fast again. Clean loincloth. Mate with Ungla. Kill sabertooth…” and so on.
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Hamilton is by far one of the best drivers in F1, and at his best, he is second to none. But he has had a history of being frustrated with cars that are uncompetitive, so making the switch from McLaren to struggling Mercedes was a bold and questionable move. However, this makes him all the more worth the attention this season. It will be interesting to see whether Hamilton can keep his cool and drive at his best throughout the year despite a slower car, or if he’ll lose it and go all Ricky Bobby on us.
I hope you all find F1 as entertaining as I do, and even if you don’t, it’s hard not to appreciate the sheer engineering and driving prowess that goes into racing these screaming, road-going fighter jets.