Mastering the Basics: Formula One

Putting the formula in Formula One

photo of two F1 cars behind one another on the track turning the corner.
PHOTO: Todd Jiang / Unsplash

By: Kaja Antic, Sports Writer

Formula One, or F1, is the highest class of open-wheel single-seater formula racing. While the inaugural season was in 1950, the sport has been gaining momentum in North America only recently, partially due to the success of Netflix’s documentary series, Formula 1: Drive to Survive

Formula One Origins and Vehicles 
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) is the governing body for many motorsport events, including the Formula One World Championship. The competition is the highest class of racing for formula racing cars — or open-wheel, single-seater racing cars. For those who remember the 2011 Pixar movie Cars 2, fictional Italian racer Francesco Bernoulli is an example of this style of vehicle. 

The first Formula One World Championship was held in 1950, though the term was first coined by the FIA in 1946, and was used to describe some of the races prior to the first official World Championship.

The vehicles used in these races are the fastest racing cars in the world, regulated for the road courses used in the Grand Prix races. These specialty cars rely heavily on aerodynamics, especially the downforce generated from the front and rear wings on the car’s lightweight body. The success of these vehicles also depends on their tires, suspension, and the electronics within them.

The word “formula” in the sports’ title is a nod to the very specific requirements for the cars, as well as those driving them in these high-level competitions.

Grand Prix Races
Each F1 season contains multiple Grand Prix races, which are races held on circuits around the world, from Montréal to Melbourne and Monaco. The amount of Grand Prix races changes per season, though the number has increased in recent years. The 2023 season is continuing this trend with 23 races in 21 different countries, though the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix held in Imola, Italy, was cancelled due to flooding in the region, shortening the schedule to 22 races. 

The racing series is typically held over the course of three days, with separate events taking place each day. The first day and half of the second day are taken up by three free-practice sessions for the racing teams. The remainder of the second day is dedicated to a qualifying session, which determines the order of cars at the start of the actual race — with the slowest car in this session being placed at the back and the fastest car at the front. 

The main event occurs on the final day, with each Grand Prix having a different circuit and number of laps. The number of laps per circuit is determined by the lowest possible number of laps completed in 305 kilometres, with the only exception being the Monaco Grand Prix, which is determined by the lowest number of laps after a distance of 260 kilometres.

The Points System
For every Grand Prix, each driver and their team are awarded points based on the position they place in the race. The first driver to cross the checkered flag gets 25 points, the second gets 18 points, and third gets 15 points, with drivers four through nine earning 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 points, respectively, while the 10th driver picks up one. There is an extra point gained for achieving the fastest lap in the race, though only if the driver is within the top ten spots. 

At the end of each F1 season, the driver with the most points wins the FIA Formula One World Drivers’ Championship, and the team with the most points wins the FIA Formula One Constructors’ Championship.

The Teams
In each F1 season, there are teams owned by personal or corporate sponsors that are labelled “constructors,” who design key pieces for their team’s vehicles. Every team has two drivers in each race and is awarded the points gained by both participants.

For the 2023 F1 season, the teams are as follows: 

Red Bull RacingMax Verstappen & Sergio Perez
MercedesLewis Hamilton & George Russell
FerrariCharles Leclerc & Carlos Sainz Jr.
McLarenLando Norris & Oscar Piastri
Aston MartinFernando Alonso & Lance Stroll
AlpinePierre Gasly & Esteban Ocon
WilliamsAlexander Albon & Logan Sargeant
AlphaTauriYuki Tsunoda & Daniel Ricciardo
Alfa RomeoValtteri Bottas & Zhou Guanyu
Haas F1 TeamKevin Magnussen & Nico Hulkenberg

The Champions
Verstappen was crowned the 2023 Champion after winning the Qatar Grand Prix. Although the season isn’t officially over until the last race in Abu Dhabi on November 26, after his victory in Qatar, none of the other 19 drivers could mathematically contend for the running.

Verstappen has won 17 of the 20 races this season for Red Bull. Perez, the team’s second driver, won the Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan Grand Prix races, with Verstappen placing second during both. The Singapore Grand Prix was the only race where a non-Red Bull won, as Ferrari’s Sainz took first.

Mercedes’ Hamilton is tied with retired driver Michael Schumacher for the most World Drivers’ Championships won with seven each. Verstappen has won the trophy every year since 2021. 

Ferrari has won the most World Constructors’ Championships, with 16 wins spanning from 1961 until the most recent win in 2008. Red Bull Racing has won the last two seasons, beginning with 2022, disrupting Mercedes’ eight-year consecutive run of winning the Championship. 

The 2023 Formula One season concludes soon, with the first-ever Las Vegas Grand Prix to be held on November 18, followed by the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale on November 26. 

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