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F-1? What the?

This section of my F-1 page is dedicated to people who are new to Formula 1 Racing; people who are seasoned veterans, but want to learn the more detailed facts; or anyone in-between.

In this page, I will explain what Formula 1 is all about, and how it works. I hope that you will get a better understanding of the sport, from what flags mean, to how a pit stop works. If you have any suggestions or input, please send it to me at:

A Formula One car.

(A Stewart car to be precise)


The start of it all....

What happens during the race weekend?

What happens on race day?

How do the points work?

Some general F-1 facts

What are they waving those flags for?

Some technical facts

What's the difference between CART/Indy cars and F-1?

How do drivers get their numbers?

What's A Safety Car?

In The Beginning:

Formula One racing started in 1950 when Italian Giuseppe Farina won the very first World Championship driving an Alfa Romeo. Today the FIA Formula One World Championship is a truly international event attracting millions of spectators and even more television viewers. This season the championship will be held over 17 rounds.

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Race Weekend

A short summary of what happens during a race weekend:


First and second practice sessions are held. The first is usually in the morning, with the second in the afternoon. These times are not important, but are instead used to get rid of last-minute problems, and to perfect the race setup. It also helps the driver to learn the track better.


Qualifying session is held. This is a 60 minute session, where the drivers try to get the fastest time possible. Drivers are only allowed to make 10 laps of the track in the 60 minutes, so strategy is important. The driver with the fastest time at the end of the 60 minutes gets to start first on the grid in the race. Second fastest gets second on the grid, and so on....


Sunday is race day! There is a 30 warm-up before the race, in which the drivers can freely get a last chance to hone their skills. Next is the race! (See below)

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Race Day:

A short summary of what happens on race day (Sunday), and at what times:

30 minutes before the start:

The pit exit is opened to allow cars out onto the grid, and then closed again 15 minutes later, any car remaining in the pits can start only after the entire field has passed the exit on the first racing lap.

Ten minutes:

Everybody except drivers, officials and team members must leave the grid.

One minute
Engines start - team technical staff leave grid.

0 seconds
Green lights
Cars advance on formation lap (A single lap around the track to warm up tires and brakes) (Cars must remain in starting order. Overtaking is forbidden.)
When all the cars have taken up their correct positions the starter will initiate the start sequence. A row of red lights above, and in front of, the drivers heads turn on in a one to five sequence (light one on, light two on, etc..). Then there is a short pause. Then all five red lights are extinguished and race is under way!

Stopping the Race

The race may be stopped as a result of accidents or rain: if less than two laps have been completed, the cars return to their original grid positions and the race is restarted.

If more than two laps have been completed, but less than 75% of the race has been completed, a re-start takes place with the cars taking the position at the time the race was stopped. The drivers time from each race will be added together for the overall total race time.

The distance of the re-started race is that distance required to make up the race distance, less three laps. If more than 75% of the race had been run, it is deemed to have been completed.

Race Distance

The smallest number of laps which exceed a distance of 305km (190 miles). If the race takes longer than the two hour limit - the checkered flag is shown to the leader at the end of the lap in which two hours elapse, even if the scheduled distance has not beam covered.

After the Race

At the end of the race, all cars proceed to the Parc Ferme for scrutineering. The drivers of the top three cars must go immediately to the winner's podium (trophies, national anthems), and media press conference.

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       World Championship Points

       Points for Drivers and Constructors (teams) are awarded according to the following scale:

1st place: 10 points
2nd place: 6 points
3rd place: 4 points
4th place: 3 points
5th place: 2 points
6th place: 1 point

Points are totaled throughout the year. The driver with the highest amount of points at the end of the season is crowned (not literally) World Champion. The Constructor (or team) with the highest amount of points is awarded the Constructors Championship.

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General F-1 Facts

Each F-1 team has two drivers, with two different pit crews, but only one pit stall in a race. (One driver comes in for a stop, then the other)

It takes a year and a half for over 220 people to build a Rothmans Ltd. Williams Renault Formula One Car.

Each Goodyear tire cost around $600. At the moment there are two tire suppliers: Goodyear and Bridgestone. Michelin plans to join F-1 in the near future.

A Formula One car travels approximately two kilometers on one liter of fuel.

When Damon Hill won the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1995 driving the Rothmans Ltd. Williams Renault, he averaged 40 gear changes on each lap, which meant around 2000 gear changes for the British driver during the race.

A Formula One car can travel from 0-95 km/h in under two seconds and from 0-160 km/h in under four seconds with a top speed of around 330 km/h.

Twenty team members can be involved in a pit stop, which usually requires changing four tires and refueling the car. A straightforward pit stop would not take more than nine seconds, but the driver usually loses about 30 seconds on their in lap, because they have to slow down to get into the pits, and to get out of them. Each driver *should* have to make a pit-stop in each race.

The top teams operate a separate test and race team. The race team consists of a total of 40 personnel who travel to the 17 World Championship races. The total weight of the equipment needed to be transported to each Grand Prix is approximately 13,000kgs.

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The Flags Of Formula One


Indicates the race must be stopped.

Signifies the presence of an official vehicle on the track or very slow moving race car on the track.

Shown with white number. The driver, whose number appears on the flag, must come into the pits within three laps and stop for a penalty. (usually 10 seconds)

Once only warning for un-sportsmanlike behaviour - followed by black flag if the driver continues in un-sportsmanlike manner.

Stationary: Car closely following
Waved: Car behind is trying to overtake. (Usually shown to slower cars being lapped) a.k.a GET OUT OF THE WAY!!

Stationary: Oil or water on track
Waved: Slippery surface imminent

Stationary: Danger ahead, driver should slow down.
Waved: Danger ahead, driver should slow and prepare to stop

When shown at the end of danger area previously controlled by yellow flags and indicates all clear. Can also be used to signal start of warm-up lap.

The race is finished.

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Technical Facts

(A bit old but there's nothing new out there)

       The capacity of the Formula One engine was reduced from three and a half liters to three liters for the 1995 season.

       Each driver may use a maximum of 28 tires during the entire event except for the unrestricted use of treaded tires for use on a wet track. Scrutineers mark each tire with the race number of the driver and a letter characterizing the event. Use of tires without appropriate marking is forbidden.

       There is no limit on the quantity of fuel used. Mid-race fueling is standard. The fuel used in Formula One now is standard pump fuel; minimum fuel tank capacity is 200 liters.

Pit Lane
       A speed limit is applied in the pit lane at all times (to protect pit crew workers). This varies between 80 and 120 km/h, depending on the nature of the circuit.

       In an effort to reduce downforce a skid block was fitted to the underside of the cars half-way through the 1994 season. It measured 10 mm in depth and was 300 mm in width. In 1995 the block or step was increased from 10 mm to 60 mm and reduced the available downforce by as much as 50 per cent. Two years ago the dimensions of the rear underwing diffusers were reduced. All parts of the front wing behind the leading edge of the front wheel were removed and front wing end plates were raised by an extra 10 mm.

Driver Aids
       Electronic aids such as traction control and active suspension are outlawed. Driver and team may converse on two-way radio and the driver can download electronic data but no changes can be made to the car from the pits. Since the 1994 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, no disabled software relating to previous electronic aids may be present in the teams' computer systems.

Engine Airbox
       The opening at the rear of the engine airbox, introduced at the 1994 Canadian Grand Prix, must measure one and a half times the size of the opening at the front.

Driver Protection
       The size of the cockpit was increased in 1995; the power front suspension wishbone strengthened, and the minimum weight of the cars increased.

Gear Shifting

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Cart/Indy cars vs. F-1

CART cars F1 cars
2.65 liter 3.0 liter turbocharged

Normally aspirated V8 (mandated)

3.0 Liter


about 14,500 rpm max about 17,000 rpm max
Methanol Gasoline
about 900 HP about 750 HP
Manual lever shift Electronic paddle shift
Venturi bottoms Flat bottoms
Weight ~ 1550 lbs. Weight ~1108 lbs.
steel brakes Carbon fiber brakes
35 gallon fuel tank No mandated tank size

It is believed that CART cars have a higher speed, although F1 cars haven't been run on the highest speed CART tracks, so we don't know for sure. F1 cars accelerate quicker, and brake quicker.

CART cars are longer, and appear to have sturdier nose cones. They usually have bigger rear wings. F1 chassis have to be built by the team, CART chassis can be (and usually are, except for Penske) purchased.

Which are faster: F1 or Indy Cars ?

This very much depends on the racetrack and the race distance. For a qualifying lap on a road course or short oval, an F1 car would be much quicker. However F1 cars are designed to race for 190 miles and are not designed to cope with racing conditions found on a super-speedway. Stefan Johansson was the most recent driver to try an F1 car on a super-speedway, in a 1986 McLaren-Porsche. The car was relatively quick even running with a lot of downforce and drag, but probably would have not been able to run for 500 miles without breaking down. F1 engines are usually only run for 400-500 miles between rebuilds and the clutches rarely have to take more than three standing starts per race.

Both F1 and Indy Cars have about 750-800 hp on tap. However, the minimum weight for an F1 car is 1108 lbs. The minimum weight for an Indy Car is 1550 lbs. Generally, F1 cars are more sophisticated and expensive than Indy Cars. Carbon fiber brakes used in F1 are less likely to fade and are much lighter than the steel brakes used in Indy Cars. However they are also much more expensive.

Although semi-automatic gearboxes are banned in Indy Cars, some say that after the initial development cost, they actually save money for F1 teams by reducing the amount of engine damage when drivers miss downshifts with a manual gear change.

F1 cars have to have a flat-bottomed chassis which means that an Indy Car, which is allowed ground effect tunnels, can generate a lot of downforce for a given amount of drag.

The May 1994 issue of Automobile magazine listed these performance figures for 1993 cars.

Williams Renault FW15C 1993 Lola T93/00-Ford
0-60mph 2.9 sec 3.0 sec
1/4 mile 7.3 sec @188 mph 7.7 sec @177mph
Top speed at

fastest track

205 mph (Monza) 240mph (Michigan)
Pounds per hp 1.9 2.3
Miles between

engine rebuilds

311 550
Race fuel consumption 5.5 mpg 1.8 mpg
Maximum lateral acc. 4.5 g 4.0 g
Max power 760 hp @14,700 rpm 780 hp @13,000 rmp

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How are F1 race numbers allocated ?

Before 1973, F1 drivers raced with different numbers at each race. Teams in the world championship had to submit their entries to each individual race organization and were then given their race numbers by the organizer. Number 1 (#1) was used by either the defending champion of that race, the world champion, the first team to submit their race application, or the favourite of the organizers.

By mid-1973, FOCA (the Formula One Constructors Association) united the teams who now entered the races with one joint application. FOCA now took over the assignment of race numbers. At first, each team was given a random number, which it kept until the end of the year. The numbers were given to the team, but not drivers, so Jackie Stewart drove as both #5 and #6 in the latter half of 1973.

In 1974, the modern system took hold. At the start of the 1974 season, the teams were given the numbers according to the final positions in the 1973 Constructors Championship. Hence Lotus got 1 & 2, Tyrrell got 3 & 4, McLaren 5 & 6, Brabham 7 & 8 etc. If a team had more than two cars, the extra car was given a high number like 33.

These numbers are only changed when a new driver wins the Driver's World Championship. In this case, champion and his teammate are given 1&2, while the previous champion gets the old number of the new champion. If a driver changes teams after winning the Championship, he takes the #1 to his new team.

For example in 1977, Ferrari (#11 & #12) won, but Niki Lauda moved to Brabham. So in 1978, Brabham raced as 1 & 2, McLaren (champions in 1976, who held #1 & 2 in 1977) got 7 & 8 (Brabham's 1977 numbers), while Ferrari kept the 11 & 12. Tyrrell have kept numbers 3 & 4 for 20 years because they had not won the championship since 1973.

Before Nigel's Mansell's retirement, some non-champions did drive as #1. Ronnie Peterson got the #1 in 1974 because this was the first year. In 1985, Watson drove #1 because he was Lauda's replacement. However, after Mansell's retirement and possible return, which made the numbering system unclear, #1 was declared being 'personal' and only for the world champion, so Damon Hill got #0 for 1993 in the Williams.

The numbers have been personalized for the past few years. Hence when FIA gave out a number, it is both for the team and the specific driver. Nowadays the numbers are given alphabetically, with the driver whose last name is first in the alphabet receives the lowest number. Of course, you can always request a change.

Occasionally, if a team expires, a team with a high number will move to occupy the old team's numbers. When Renault left F1, March took over the 15 & 16 slot. Same rule applies to Brabham, but in this case it was unusual involving a three teams switch: Larrouse > Benetton > McLaren > Brabham. This had never happened before.

Careful study of the race numbers shows some of the relationships between the teams. Take 19 & 20. These were the old Williams numbers in the 70s. When Walter Wolf took over, Team Wolf got #20, while Williams, who re-started his new race team, got a new number of #27. By 1980 when Wolf had merged with Fittipaldi, Fittipaldi got rid of its old #s and got 20 & 21. Some numbers have special significance for some of the fans and drivers. Thirteen is considered to be an unlucky number and is missing from the F1 lineup. Gilles Villeneuve raced as #27 during his finest years which makes it a special number for Ferrari fans. Nigel Mansell drove as Red Five for Williams, although this number has since been taken over by Michael Schumacher's Benetton.

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What's A Safety Car?

A safety car is much like the Pace Car in Indy car racing, except it doesn't come out as often/for as long as the pace car does. The safety car comes out of the pits whenever there is a major accident, that leaves a car and/or car parts on the track, causing a dangerous situation. The safety car drives at a highly reduced rate, with the line-up of cars behind it. The safety car drives around until the mess has been cleaned up. Then it retreats back into the pits, and the race resumes. The safety car does not always come out when there is an accident, only when the accident is harmful to other drivers.

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