Formula 1: What is it all about

By Unni M. Kakanadan

Everyone loves to drive, don’t you? Even if you don’t know how to drive, there are moments when you play a computer game such as Road Rash or NFS, where you feel the adrenaline pumping in your blood vessels and you just want to win the race. Same goes when you’re watching a flick and when there’s a car chase, you just feel like if you were driving/chasing and you could save the day. When the protagonist’s car breaks down, you feel the heaviness in your heart.

That’s how racing is, it awakens the beast in you!

There are different types of cars for formula racing:

  • F1: Fastest cars on the track (of which we’ll talk below)
  • F2: Have half the horsepower of F1 cars
  • F3: Slowest fuel-based Formula racing cars have a top speed that tops at 270 kmph.
  • FE: Electric cars with a top speed of 220 kmph

Formula 1, or F1, is the most popular international auto racing sport. It’s an excitement on wheel when one watches the race. Each deadly turn is like falling off a rollercoaster ride. It is the extreme level of mid-engined, hybrid, single-seat, open-wheel, and semi-open-cockpit motor racing competition the world has ever seen with a simple objective—VICTORY!

F1 logo from 2018

F1 is governed by FIA − Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or the International Automobile Federation. 

The beginning 

In 1946, the first F1 race was the 1946 Turin Grand Prix. It was called ‘Formula’ because of the rules all the participants and their cars must meet. The championship came into existence only in 1947 due to World War II. The first championship took place at Silverstone in the UK in 1950. With his Alfa Romeo, Guiseppe Farina won the first World Championship.

The first Formula One series originated with the European Championship of Grand Prix motor racing.

National championships took place in South Africa and the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, while non-championship Formula One events were held by promoters for many years, with the last one being held in 1983. 

The increasing cost of competition, bought an end to non-championship F1 races.

During this period, the teams were managed by manufacturers like Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Maserati.

There are a maximum of four drivers for every team per season. Support staff too play a vital part in the team.

The Cars & tracks

Aforesaid, you must be aware of the car’s design. It is nothing like ordinary cars, they are mean, slick and make too much noise. It has two wings in front and rear, and the engine is located just behind the driver’s head. (Not at all a dangerous place for the engine to be placed!). These cars can accelerate from 0-100 mph and power down within 5 seconds. But, apart from the F1 standards issued, they can zoom at a speed of 374-400+ kmph.

Their gears and aerodynamic configurations play a vital part in managing their speed and drifts. These cars race on a specially built racing track called a “circuit”, though some races are conducted on closed public roads.

Taming the Classified

An F1 Grand Prix event spans a weekend, starting with two-free practice events on Friday and one on Saturday. The third drivers are allowed on Fridays, but only two drivers could participate in the event. The starting order for the race on Sunday is decided in a qualifying session that takes place after the final practice event.

A driver is termed “Not Classified” after they fail to finish a race, be it mechanical, accidental, or any other reason. They are said to be retired from the race. But, if the driver has finished 90+% of the distance, they are termed as classified.

Rolling into the Beyond

In the early days, there used to be many accidents in which the drivers and even the spectators had casualties. But in changing times, the use of modern technology has helped in manufacturing safer cars and gears for drivers, thus reducing the number of mishaps. The main parts of their gear are:

Helmet: Yeah, they require helmets because of the speed they travel and the deadly turns they take. A helmet is very compulsory. They are built very strongly but, at the same time, are very light. They are fire resistant and meet the FIA standards. Before the racer owns it, it undergoes a series of severe tests. It weighs around 1.2 kg. The designs on the helmets are custom-made by the hands of an expert artist who makes them.

HANS: Head and Neck Support protects the racer’s vertebrae and prevents the head from colliding with the steering wheel during a collision. It is made using carbon fiber material and is attached to the seatbelt with elastic straps.

Clothing: The racers wear clothing that protects them from fire during a crash. It is multi-layered, and light-weighted, matching the specifications of NASA. Nomex is the fiber material used to build these suits. They can survive temperatures up to 700-800°. The suit undergoes thermal testing. The suit has two handles on the shoulders to strap it to the seat.

These sleek lean machines have multifunctional wheels unlike any other of their cousins; from the engine to the wheels, every part is designed for high-intensity performance, in another word, VICTORY!

The Steering Wheel: The steering wheel of an F1 car is every driver’s love. It is equipped for multifunctional activities like shifting gears, changing brake pressure, calling the radio, fuel adjustment, etc., etc. Not every F1’s steering wheel is the same, just like a human fingerprint, each has its specific unique features. Each team has full freedom to design the shape and parts as they see fit.

  • An F1 constructor is an entity who designs the chassis and the engine. 
  • One company will have the sole credit if it designs the chassis as well as the engine of the F1 car. E.g.: Ferrari.
  • If the chassis and the engine are designed by two different companies, then the chassis designer is credited followed by the engine designer. E.g.: McLaren-Mercedes.
  • All constructors score individually, even if they share a chassis or engine with another constructor. E.g.: Williams-Ford

Fuel: This is a tightly controlled form of ordinary gasoline containing commercial gasoline compounds instead of alcohol ones.

Tires: The slick tires have been in use since 2009. Their dimensions are:

  • Front tyre: 245mm (width)
  • Rear tyre: 355mm and 380 mm (width)

Size: The width of the F1car must be maximum of 180 cm and a height of 96 cm. There is no specific length, but all tend to be almost the same.

Engine: This is situated behind the head, as said before, and all F1 cars deploy 1.6L turbocharged V6 engines, as per the regulation changes in 2014.
A BMW Sauber P86 V8 engine, the one that powered their 2006 F1.06

Distance: The distance of a GP race will be a minimum of 300 km (190 m), but the Monaco GP is 260 km (160 m).

Warming Up & Flags

The race starts with a warm-up lap, also called the formation lap, with the pit lanes open for this. The drivers are free to take as many laps as they want. The race starts as all the red lights are extinguished at once.

As we know, flags have a meaning everywhere. Well, this race is no different; here too, there are three categories of flags:

  • Status flags
  • Instruction flags
  • The chequered flag
Status flags

There are five status flags:

  • Green Flag − It indicates the start of a race or restart of a race.
  • Yellow Flag − It warns the drivers to slow down.
  • Red Flag − It indicates danger, mostly during bad weather, signalling the drivers to return to the pit or to stop.
  • Red & Yellow Striped Flag − It indicates modification on race tracks which can cause accidents.
  • White Flag − It indicates the drivers that others are practising on the pit straight.
Instruction Flags

There are five types of these flags, and they are used to signal one driver at a time:

  • Black Flag − It imposes a penalty on the driver who broke a rule and instructs them to return to the pit
  • Black Flag with Orange Circle – It indicates that the car is facing a grave technical fault and must return to the pit
  • Per-bend black/white flag – It indicates penalty on the driver owing to lack of sportsmanship etiquette
  • Black flag with white cross – It instructs the driver that the person’s car is lacking behind.
  • Blue Flag − It indicates to the driver that another car is approaching fast and must make way for it.

The Chequered flag

This is at the finish line, marking the end of the race, officially.

A Game of Points

The point system determines the two-annual championship; driver and constructor each.


To determine points:

  • Finishing within the top 10 is awarded a point for setting the fastest lap of the race. The point for the fastest lap won’t be awarded for a race where the driver who finished outside the top 10 was the driver who set the fastest lap.
  • Since 1950, various systems have been used for awarding championship points. As per the current system since 2010, the top 10 cars points in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, with 25 points to the winner. All winning points are added to it and thus determining the driver and constructor world championship awards regardless of the driver stays or switches team throughout the season. 
  • To receive points, a driver must be termed “classified.” From 2022, a driver has completed at least 90% of the race will receive points, thus making them worthwhile even if they retired before the race ended or not.

Off to the Race (as per 2015)

There are drivers from 42 nations taking part in the F1 races:

1. Argentina2. Australia3. Austria4. Bahrain
5.Belgium6.Brazil7.Canada8. Chile
9. Colombia10.The Czech Republic11.Denmark12.East Germany
25.Morocco26.Netherlands27.New Zealand28.Poland
29.Portugal30.Rhodesia31.Rhodesia and Nyasaland32.Russia
33.South Africa34.Spain35.Sweden36.Switzerland
37.Thailand38.United Arab Emirates39.United Kingdom40.The United States
41.Uruguay42. Venezuela

There are 17 countries sending their constructors to take part in the F1 races:

1. Brazil2. Canada3. East Germany4.France
5.Germany6.Hong Kong7.Italy8.Japan
9. Malaysia10.Netherlands11.New Zealand12.Rhodesia
13.South Africa14.Spain15.Switzerland16.United Kingdom
17. United States

The following are the countries that hosted F1 races:

1. Argentina2. Australia3. Austria4. Bahrain
21.Russia22.Singapore23.South Africa24.Republic of Korea
29.United Arab Emirates30.United Kingdom31. The United States

As per the rules set in 2015, only 10 teams can participate with two cars in F1 World Championship. FIA regulation allows a limit of 26 cars. 


Also, for the future Grands Prix:

RaceYearsCircuitTarget calendar entryCurrent status
Qatar Qatar Grand Prix2021, 2023–Losail International Circuit2023Confirmed; hosted in 2021, due to return in 2023 so Qatar can focus on hosting 2022 World Cup
United States Las Vegas Grand Prix2023Las Vegas Street Circuit2023Confirmed [109]

Now, the number of Grands Prix in a season varies. 

YearNo: of GPs
Late 197016-17
6/7 original races ———+ 1—————-EuropeIndiana, United States1950
South American Grand PrixArgentina1953
African World ChampionshipMorocco1958
F1 World ChampionshipJapan1976
L Mitsubishi Australian Grand PrixAustralia1985
Bahrain Grand PrixBahrain2004
The 19 races were held in every populated continent except Africa with 10 out of Europe2014

There are Grands Prix that pre-dates even the World Championship,

French Grand Prix 
The races were incorporated into the Formula One championship in 1950.
Monaco Grand Prix 
MGP is considered to be one of the most important and prestigious automobile races in the world.

All the GPs happened during the day, until:

Singapore Grand Prix                            Night2008
Abu Dhabi Grand PrixDay/night2009
Bahrain Grand PrixNight2014

Clash of the Races: Formula One vs. World Championship

Nowadays, Formula One race and World Championship race mean the same. From the early days i.e.  since 1984, the F1 race was counted to WC, and every WC has been run to F1 regulations. But, both the terms are not interchangeable.

Zooming Costs
Estd budget split of F1 team (2006 season)

F1 Racing published the annual estimates of F1 teams on March 2007. A total of US$2.9 billion was assessed for 11 teams in 2006. The avg. annual cost of the team from designing to transporting inclusive of building and maintaining cars and payment was estimated to US$265 million. Liberty Media acquired the Formula One Group from CVC Capital Partners for $8 billion.  

Breakdown of the pending:

Toyota $418.5 millionFerrari $406.5 mMcLaren $402 m
Honda $380.5 mBMW Sauber $355 mRenault $324 m
Red Bull $252 mWilliams $195.5 mMidland F1/Spyker-MF1 $120 m
Toro Rosso $75 mSuper Aguri $57 million* costs vary for each team

Formula One teams pay entry fees—$556,509 + $6,677 per point scored year before and $5.563 per point for all other teams.

FIA Super License fee – €10,000 + €2,000 per point.

It costs less to convert a public road to a circuit in lieu of building a circuit. It can cost hundreds of millions. Permanent circuits can be given on lease for other races.

The Shanghai International Circuit cost $300 million, while the Istanbul Park Circuit cost $150 million to construct.

F1 racers earn the most in auto racing.

Lewis Hamilton earned a $55 million salary from Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 in 2021, setting a record.

The FIA and the Formula One Commission are trying to lower the participation cost.

All 10 teams signed a Concorde Agreement, changing the distribution methods of prize money and TV revenue. This was signed on August 19th, 2020 and became effective from the beginning of the 2021 season.

F1 GP takes place on a weekend i.e. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Different events zoom across the screen and in person on the following days:

  • Friday − Free Practice Sessions
  • Saturday − Free Practice Session + Qualifying Session
  • Sunday − Race Day (Held in the afternoon)

Responsibilities towards …

F1 has initiated a plan to become carbon neutral by 2030. Ensuring the elimination of single-use plastics and seeing that all waste is reused, recycled or composted. In December 2020, FIA claimed to have developed a 100% sustainable fuel to be used from 2025/26 as soon as the new engine regulations come forth.

Apart from this, F1 has launched the #WeRaceAsOne initiative to fight against racism and the creation of the Formula 1 Task Force to create diversity and opportunity across all the F1 levels.

The Mighty Speeding Legends

Well, we talked about F1 so much, but an F1 topic is never complete without a word or two about the legends: 

Michael Schumacher

A winner of 7 world championships for the years of 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004—a living legend and holds the record for the most-fastest laps (77). The Formula One official website quotes him as “statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen”. Unfortunately, on December 29, 2013, he sustained a skiing accident and suffered a major head injury and hasn’t recovered yet.

Ayrton Senna

Winner of 1988, 1990, and 1991 championships. Unfortunately, he lost his life in an accident at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. In terms of race wins, he is regarded as the fifth-most successful driver of all time.

 Lewis Hamilton

Winner of 7 championships so far in the years, 2008, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019, and 2020, equalling Schumacher’s record and holding the record for most wins (103), pole positions (103), and podium finishes (188).

Sebastian Vettel

One of the most successful F1 drivers, and the four-time winner of the F1 world championship for consecutive years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He is Formula One’s youngest world champion. He has announced his retirement from the sport at the end of the 2022 season.

Juan Manuel Fangio

The first legend who reigned in the first decade of the sport. He won the championship five times in 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, and 1957. This record was unbeaten for 47 years. He holds the record for the highest winning percentage in F1 at 46.15%, and he won 24 of the 52 races he zoomed into. He has won the Argentine Grand Prix four times, more than any other racer.


There are many flicks in Bollywood, Hollywood, and every other genre on F1/racing theme. Here are some of the best ones:

5. Days of Thunder (1990)

4. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

3. Cars Trilogy (2006-2017)

2. Ford v Ferrari (2019)

1. Rush (2013)

Well, with this, we have covered all the important things one must know about Formula One. This race has its fun, thrills, excitement, crashes, boos, heys, and a plethora of expressions; each second is excitement zooming at 374+ kmph.

All this has got me excited and made me realize that life is indeed moving in a fast lane, so I am off to enjoy some racing (Need for Speed: Most Wanted on my computer because on the road I am only good with cycles). Anyway, I am going to enjoy some racing! 

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