Perspective: A Viewers Guide to Formula 1 Racing

F1-by-Jennifer-Stamps-4

Photos: Jennifer Stamps

So, you’re a fan of motorsports.  You know all the ins and outs of many of the racing series.  You know the drivers, you know the tracks, and you know the sport like the back of your hand.  You know a more about IndyCar than the average fan.  You even know a little about the American Le Mans Series and learning GRAND-AM in the meantime.  You’ve heard about Formula 1 and their ’styled by technology’ cars.  You’ve probably also heard about all the formalities, politics, and bureaucratic nonsense that is sometimes associated with F1.  If you can get past that nonsense, you’ve got some of the best racing on the planet.

The Formula 1 season kicked off last weekend with the Rolex Australian Grand Prix, and Americans can now watch F1 live and in person at the beautiful Circuit of the Americas in Austin. With more access to the sport than ever before, there has never been a better time to add Formula 1 to your cache of motorsport knowledge.  If you caught this commercial sometime over the past few weeks, then you’re likely intrigued.

Formula 1, if you give it the time, is something that you can easily fall in love with.  My love for F1 is a deeply rooted one.  My first (live) F1 experience was in 2006 in Indianapolis.  I knew nothing of the sport; only watched part of a few races leading up to the weekend, just so I wasn’t completely lost. That weekend, I fell hard for a crazy sport filled with drama, excitement, mystery, glamour, and really fast cars.  I was hooked – no turning back.  Since then, I’ve watched just about every race and attended two more races (Belgium Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in 2011 and of course the US Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in 2012).  It’s exciting and unlike any other sport I’ve ever watched. But how does it work?  I’ve compiled a few pointers about what makes Formula 1, well…Formula 1.

Not all cars are created equal: Unlike some other racing series, each F1 car is different.  It’s up to the team to develop a car.  Each team is a constructor and builds its own car.  There are ground rules that all teams must follow, but ultimately it’s up to each team to develop the fastest, most aerodynamic machine for their drivers.  The teams spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make sure they have shaved every 100th of a second off their machine as humanly possible.  So, ultimately, each driver is racing in a different car.  Winning races and championships comes down to how fast the car is, what the race conditions are like, and the talent of the driver.  Which brings me to my next point…

The great debate:  There are some who can (and will) argue this point until they are blue in the face.  But this is my belief, and I stand by it.  There is a difference between the fastest driver, the best driver, and the driver in the fastest car.  This can make for very exciting and dramatic racing each week.

Qualifying: After Friday’s practice, Saturday is qualifying.  Known as “knock out” qualifying and is broken down into 3 rounds.  After each round, six cars with the slowest laps drop out and take the appropriate spot on Grid for the start of Sunday’s race. The last round (Q3) is driven for spots 1-10.  And if that weren’t enough, if a driver’s fastest lap isn’t within 107% of the top time in Q1, then they are not allowed to race.  This helps make sure all drivers are safe and you don’t have anyone who is too slow on race day.

Race circuit: The F1 races are in circuits all over the world (19 countries in 5 continents). Since each circuit is a different length, the race lasts the least number of laps it takes to exceed 305 kilometers (189.5 mi)…as long as it lasts less than 2 hours.  Very rarely does it ever get to that point, but if a race exceeds 2 hours, whichever driver is in the lead wins.  The only race where the 305km rule does not apply is Monaco, which is 260km.

Fueling: There is no refueling during the race.  A team can fill it up after Qualifying, but once the race starts – no refueling.

Key Players – You’ll hear their names a lot

There are a total of 22 drivers in the 2013 Season.

Sebastian Vettel: He races for Red Bull in the number 1 car.  He won the World Championship last year and the two years prior, making him the youngest ever F1 driver to win 3 championships in a row.

Fernando Alonso: He races for Ferrari in the number 3 car.  He came in second place in 2012 and 2010.  He was World Champion in 2006 and 2007 – the youngest World Champion until Lewis Hamilton won in 2008.

Lewis Hamilton: He made the switch from McLaren to Mercedes during the off-season.  He won the Inaugural Formula 1 Race at Circuit of the Americas in 2012.  He is the 2008 World Champion. His switch from McLaren to Mercedes came as a surprise to many. He had been racing with McLaren since he was 13 and made the switch to a slower team. However, during testing in Barcelona in February, he had the fastest lap in his new (slower) Mercedes.

Kimi Räikkönen: Also races for Lotus-Renault.  He raced for F1 from 2001-2009.  After his first retirement, he took a break and raced Rally Cars and NASCAR for a few years before coming back to F1 in 2012. He’s arguably the most entertaining driver in F1. He’s famously known for his nonchalant attitude and most recently for coming on the radio after his team made a suggestion during the race with, “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing.”

Jenson Button: He’s a Brit who races for McLaren.  Now that Lewis Hamilton is no longer his teammate, Button is the number 1 driver with McLaren. He won the championship in 2009 and is one of the most respected F1 veterans in the field.

Roman Grosjean: You may hear the commentators joking about Grosjean.  He races for Lotus-Renault and crashes – a lot.  He had at least ten crashes in 2012 alone – one of which was during Qualifying.  It has become a joke within the F1 Community.  In Grosjean’s words, “I want to win too badly.” We’ll see what 2013 yields.

Other notable drivers include:

Mark Webber for Red Bull, Felipe Massa for Ferrari, and Sergio Perez new to McLaren.

Lingo Key

KERS: Yes, Formula 1 cars are hybrids.  This stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System. Basically, it recovers energy when the driver puts on the brakes. This extra energy is available in restricted periods during a lap via a “boost button” on the steering wheel. Does this remind anyone of Fast in the Furious?

DRS: This stands for Drag Reduction System. This is the process in which the wing in the back of car moves to make it more aerodynamic, and ultimately – faster. When used with KERS, it can be effectively used to overtake (pass).  DRS can only be used in specific parts of the lap.  Starting in 2013, almost all circuits have two DRS Zones.

Honestly, the best part about Formula 1 is how unpredictable it is.  Because every car is different, every driver is different, the race day weather is unpredictable, you really never know how the race is going to end.  It is always exciting and dramatic and is always a really fun race to watch!  To view the F1 2013 TV schedule, visit the NBC website.

 

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Jennifer Stamps

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