Did you grow up seeing your family (mostly the men) waking up early to see cars competing on a track, found it amazing, but thought girls could not like the sport? If it is your case and you wanna start watching Formula 1 but don’t know where to start, here is the perfect guide to help you with it!
Don’t worry, it’s not too late to learn! Here’s everything you need to know about the highest category in motor sport, from which teams are racing to how the scoring works and what each color on the tires means!
Teams & Drivers
There are ten teams on the grid and each of them has two competitors, meaning there are 20 drivers. These teams aren’t necessarily and exactly the same every year, ranging from teams who’ve been in F1 since the first years, like Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, and newcomers such as Haas, which entered in 2016. They earn an income mainly through investments from the manufacturers, sponsorship deals, and the Formula One Management Payments, besides the “pay to play” drivers.
A Formula 1 team can have up to a few more than 1000 people on it (with smaller teams having less staff), and each one has a different role, but all with huge importance. From the media team and catering staff to engineers, drivers, and the team principal, the one responsible for coordinating operations and relationships in the factory and at the track, everyone is crucial for the team’s success.
To become an F1 driver, besides being talented and having the money to run (whether through sponsors or from family money), you gotta have a “Super license”, a qualification given by the FIA (Federation Internationale d’Automobile), the organization responsible for overseeing and coordinating motorsport, recognizing that you’re skilled enough and allowed to drive an F1 car. There are various factors that a person needs to follow to obtain one, but, usually, F1 drivers are people who began racing in karting at a young age and went up the ladder through national championships, then Formula 3, Formula 2, and, finally, Formula 1.
In 2023, this is the grid:
The race weekend
The race weekend starts on Thursday, which is press day. Friday is a day for free practices on the track and on Saturday there’s the last practice session and the qualifying session, which is divided into three subsessions: each of the qualifying sessions (Q1, Q2 and Q3) eliminates the slowest five cars after they’re over, determining in which position each car will start the race, which occurs on Sunday.
In 2021, F1 introduced the Sprint Race format: before the usual race on Sunday, there’s a 100 km race on Saturday, also worth some points, to happen three times a year and that has the power to decide the starting order for Sunday. In 2023, the F1 Sprint went through changes in its regulations, happening in 6 places (Azerbaijan, Austria, Belgium, Qatar, USA and Brazil) and changing the weekend format: Fridays are for free practice; On Saturday, there’s the qualifying for the sprint and the sprint race, and on Sunday, the actual race.
There are two championships going on simultaneously: the driver’s and the constructor’s, and they work based on the sum of points acquired per race throughout the year. The constructor’s points are the result of adding up both of the driver’s points acquired through the season. At the end of the year, whoever has the most points, wins.
In every race, only the first ten drivers who see the chequered flag score. From the first to the tenth position, this is how many points they get, respectively: 25, 18, 15, 12, ten, eight, six, four, two, and one. In addition to that, if a driver does the fastest lap of the race and is among the first ten positions, he gets one point. The sprint race gives the first eight drivers points, in with the winner gets eight points and the eighth gets only one.
Calendar and circuits
A Formula 1 season doesn’t last the same every year and the circuits where they race also change. In 2023, there were 23 races planned, (As it can sometimes happen, one GP was already cancelled: The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, in Italy, due to floodings and weather conditions) with the season running from March until the last week of November and a summer break in August.
The decision as to where GPs will take place is based on negotiations amongst the FIA and the motorsport confederations from each country, as well as the governments and even sponsors.
F1 circuits can be street circuits(ex.: Baku and Monaco), meaning the cars race through the actual streets of a city, or inside racetracks(ex.: Suzuka and Interlagos). Silverstone, Monaco, Spa-Francorchamps, and Monza are classics and have been a part of the calendar since the first F1 season, in 1950 (different layouts have been used throughout the years).
Formula 1 cars are among the fastest ones in the world, being able to reach 350km/h. A high level of expertise in different kinds of engineering and mechanics is needed to make that possible. Current F1 cars are powered by turbocharged V6 and 15.000 RPM engines, featuring kinetic and thermal energy recovery systems. They also contain turbo-hybrid (it uses electricity and fuel) power units and eight-speed paddle-shift gearboxes.
There are rules that need to be followed by all the teams when manufacturing their cars, but they (the cars) aren’t equal. Some design choices, such as the floor and the sidepods, as well as what colors will be used on the car can be different, making every car team distinct from one another.
Since 2011, Pirelli has been the sole supplier in F1.18-inch tires are being used since last year, following changes in technical regulations. In 2023, Pirelli offers six slick compounds (tires to be used in dry weather conditions), C0, C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5, from hardest to softest, respectively, as well as intermediates and full wets, to be used in rainy conditions.
Out of the C0-C5 tires, Pirelli picks out the three best compounds for each GP, based on track characteristics and weather predictions. The hardest one will be marked white, the medium, yellow, and the softest, red. Intermediates are marked green and full wets, blue.
Soft compounds are usually the fastest ones but don’t last as long as the hard ones, which aren’t as quick. However, the “useful life” of a tire will depend on track, weather and car conditions. Given the track is dry, it’s mandatory for all the drivers to make at least one pit stop and to use two different slick compounds.
Flags and penalties
During a race, flags can be used as a way to communicate something to the drivers. The most famous and important ones are: the yellow flag, meaning there’s some sort of danger and drivers need to slow down (frequently used alongside safety cars); the red flag, saying the race is interrupted and all drivers should go back to their garages; the blue flag, signals “traffic” or is shown to a driver who’s about to be lapped and must let the faster car pass and the green flag, indicating clear track.
Penalties in F1 can be given due to errors and/or mistakes made during qualifying or the race, and they can result in a loss of position on the starting grid, time being added during the race (usually, 5 or 10 seconds), a fine that has to be paid, loss of points, among other issues. A driver (or a team) can be penalized due to technical issues (e.x.: changing one of the engine parts when it’s no longer allowed), unsportsmanlike behavior on track (e.x.: disobeying flag warnings) and going over the cost cap. The decision of whether or not to apply the penalty can sometimes be made after the race has ended and trophies have already been given out.
Aiming at a more competitive grid, the cost cap was implemented in 2021. It dictates the maximum amount of money a team can spend during a season. In 2023, the base value for that is US$135mi, with some additions: 1.8 million dollars per race after 21 races, 150 thousand dollars per sprint, and the inflation of G7. Some things aren’t taken into consideration for that calculation, like the salary of the drivers and of the three best-paid employees.
Teams have to hand in a report until March of the next year, which is revised by the FIA. Penalties can vary depending on the mistake and can go from a fine to exclusion from the championship.
Women in F1
Until now, we only talked about the male drivers, and I’ve been asked more than once if there’s any type of prohibition for women to race and why there are no women competing in F1. No, there isn’t any and, as a matter of fact, there have been women who’ve run GPs in the past, but due to a lack of opportunity, girls haven’t had the same space as boys in motorsport.
As a way of trying to remedy that, F1 has started F1 Academy, a girls-only category aiming to seek talents for the future, but up until now, unfortunately, it’s been hard to see it succeed. But, of course, I do hope it works out!
Formula 1 is a captivating and passionate sport and everybody can join in, even if sexist men on the internet say “it’s not a girl’s thing”. It’s for everyone who’s looking for a thrilling and exciting sport to watch and isn’t afraid to see people (sometimes) go over human limits in a search for speed.
If after reading this article you’re feeling like knowing more about F1, here are some cool pages for you to check out on social media: @myf1life, @grandepremio and @autosport on Instagram and @anapcerveira and @pitstopnic on TikTok.