Start your engines! Get a grip on the basics before race season starts.
With a fan base of over 400 million people, Formula One racing is one of the most popular annual global sporting series worldwide. In 2023, 23 Grand Prix events will be held across multiple countries. Whether you’re planning a trip to the track or simply tuning in on TV, brush up on the basics and take your F1 knowledge from zero to 100.
The obvious answer: cross the finish line first. Getting to that point, however, isn’t exactly straightforward. The layout of a typical race weekend includes three official practice sessions followed by a qualifying session (split into three rounds) that determines each car’s place on the grid. All the drivers are aiming for pole position, which is the first spot on the grid come race day.
Every circuit is unique and races are either conducted on a specially built track or closed public streets, as seen in Monaco. The number of laps it takes to complete a Grand Prix race amount to 190 miles (305 kilometers), save for the Monaco Grand Prix which clocks in at 160 miles (260.5 kilometers). As for the duration, races are usually around 90 minutes and cannot exceed two hours unless they are red-flagged (i.e., stopped) due to an accident or poor track conditions. Whoever is ahead at the two-hour mark wins.
Speaking of flags, there are a lot of them that appear during a race. The key colors you need to know: yellow signals drivers to slow down due to an accident or hazard on the track. Green means drivers can go full speed ahead. Blue lets a backmarker know that a lead car is preparing to lap them. Checkered indicates the end of a race.
In order to maintain an even playing field, certain elements are controlled. For example, during a race, each driver must use at least two of the three tire compounds brought to each Grand Prix weekend. These compounds range from C5 (the softest compound) to C1 (the hardest compound).
Once a car makes it across the finish line, points are awarded to the first ten drivers and their respective constructors (i.e., teams). First place is awarded 25 points, second place receives 18 points, third place receives 15 points, and so on. Tenth place receives one point. The only exception: If less than 75% of the race has been completed, the top ten receive half the normal amount of points. If less than two laps are completed, no points are awarded.
At the end of the season, the team with the most points is named the World Constructors’ Champion, while the driver with the most points is declared the World Drivers’ Champion.
For the 2023 season, 10 teams with two drivers each will compete for the World Constructors’ Championship and the World Drivers’ Championship. While the drivers are often the rock stars of the racing world and are recognized by fans around the globe, there are thousands of people in multiple countries working behind the scenes to get these race cars across the finish line swiftly and safely.
Unlike NASCAR, every chassis (i.e., car) is designed and built from the ground up. Made up of pros specializing in everything from aerodynamics to chemistry, the teams behind these high-tech machines are breaking new ground in science, engineering, and design in order to gain even the slightest edge on the competition. Even during a race, it’s not just the crew on the ground that’s monitoring the vehicle as it whips around the track. The Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team has a Race Support Room in Brackley, England where 30 people analyze every aspect of a race in real time and provide key information from thousands of miles away.
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers, train like any other elite athlete to keep their reflexes razor-sharp and their bodies in peak condition. They often adhere to strict diets, as every ounce counts and can affect the car's speed. Physical preparations are even more intense. For example, drivers have to build up the muscles in their necks because of how quickly they take the turns on the track. In short, rising to the top of the racing world involves much more than getting in a car and driving.
Racing at the front requires resilience, teamwork, and determination. We face up to every challenge, we put the team first, and we will leave no stone unturned in the chase for every millisecond.”
The obvious physical differences: open wheels, an open cockpit, and overall weight. Constructed of hyperlight and high-tech materials like carbon, titanium, and aluminum, a car can't weigh more than 796 kilograms (approximately 1755 pounds), a decrease of two kilos (4 pounds) in comparison to 2022. Every component of a vehicle—from the steering wheel to the six-cylinder engine—is considered, customized, and continually tweaked to maximize performance. Often the only things that are outsourced are the tires (provided exclusively by Pirelli) and possibly the engine (for teams who don’t supply their own). Even the logos on the cars are taken into account. “Even though stickers are thin, teams try to minimize the amount that are used because they can affect aerodynamics,” explains influencer and creative director Tom Claeren who has attended races in Monaco and Germany.
In short, building a race car is complicated, especially when it comes to the steering wheel. This impressive piece of equipment, with all its buttons and switches, allows the drivers to change the settings of the car while on track driving over 180 miles per hour.
While speeds vary throughout a race, cars typically exceed 322 kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour). The fastest lap ever recorded in racing history was at an average speed of 264.363 km/h (164.267 mph)—a record set by none other than Hamilton during the 2020 season. Where these vehicles really shine, however, is in acceleration, as they have the ability to reach 90 km/h (approximately 60 mph) in roughly 2.6 seconds. The physical endurance required to drive a car going at such an intense pace for up to two hours is equally as impressive. In addition to being mentally tough and completely fearless, the combination of extreme G-forces and high temperatures drivers experience in the cockpit makes for a workout like no other. According to ESPN.com, drivers can lose as much as three kilos (about 7 lbs.) of water weight during a hot and humid race like the Singapore Grand Prix.
A lot—in a very limited amount of time. The average pit stop lasts approximately 2.5 seconds and can only be described as perfectly synchronized teamwork. The crew makes adjustments, removes wheels, and does anything else that is required to get the car back on the track. “When you watch on TV it's difficult to appreciate the amount of pressure on every single member of the team,” says artist and influencer Louis-Nicolas Darbon, who attended races in Budapest, Austin, and Mexico City. “One mistake and the race is over.” Just like the drivers, the pit crew has to physically and mentally train prior to a race, as even taking a second too long to change a tire or tweak a wing can mean the difference between first and second place.
“All of the tires are heated before a race, as temperature impacts grip and balance,” says Claeren. “Every millisecond is so important at this level of competition.” Two different dry-weather tire compounds must be used during a race unless the track is declared wet, in which case teams resort to intermediate or full wet tires. The one thing the pit crew isn’t doing when a driver pulls in: refueling. While it’s a highly debated topic in racing circles, refueling a car mid-race was banned in 2009 primarily for safety reasons.
In addition to more races being added to the calendar this season, there have been a few rule changes for 2023. To prevent “porpoising,” an aerodynamic phenomenon that causes a car to bounce up and down, the floor edges and diffuser throat have been raised. A sensor designed to monitor a vehicle’s vertical forces has also been mandated by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (also known as the FIA). Other technical tweaks being made to cars across the board include larger rearview mirrors that allow for more visibility and stronger roll hoops to better protect drivers. The number of Sprint events has doubled from three to six in 2023 while the number of hours team members are allowed to work during race weekends will be reduced over the next two seasons.
Be on the lookout for these—and a myriad of other modifications—as F1 titans, like the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula 1 Team, return to the track. The team recently revealed its new Mercedes-AMG F1 W14 E PERFORMANCE, which features a significantly lighter chassis, revised front suspension geometry, cooling system adjustments, and a refined aerodynamic concept. “With this generation of cars, the performance is all in the detail,” says Mike Elliott, technical director of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team. Hamilton is especially excited about the black livery: “It says, ‘We mean business.’” Team principal and CEO of the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team, Toto Wolff, echoed Hamilton’s sentiments. “Racing at the front requires resilience, teamwork, and determination,” he said. “We face up to every challenge, we put the team first, and we will leave no stone unturned in the chase for every millisecond. This year, we are going all in to get back in front.”