Looking to be an F1 fan? Here are some key points about the high-speed motorsport of Formula 1 that you should know!

F1: The World’s Most Popular Motorsport

2021 U.S. Grand Prix - washingtonpost.com
2021 U.S. Grand Prix - washingtonpost.com

While a majority of the US population may consider other motorsports like NASCAR, NHRA drag racing, or the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series to be the most popular racing events on four wheels, the rest of the world hardly recognizes them. The true king of motorsports is Formula 1, otherwise known as F1. Curving circuits, speeds in excess of 200 mph, great driving, and plenty of drama make F1 one of the most exciting motorsports in the world. You might be looking to take the plunge and join the fandom of this sensational racing series, so we’ve compiled some of the top things to know about F1.

What is Formula 1?

F1 cars during preseason - formula1.com
F1 cars during preseason - formula1.com

Formula 1 is an international racing series that takes place on various winding circuits and focuses on fast, single-seater, open-wheel race cars that have to meet stringent guidelines – a formula of sorts. The distinction of formula race cars points back to the early years of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) that sanctioned the first official F1 race all the way back in 1946. The cars had to be open-wheeled, seat only the driver, and utilize either a 1,500-cc supercharged motor or a naturally aspirated 4,500-cc one. FIA continues to be the motorsport’s governing body providing updates to the F1 “formula”. Chassis dimensions, engine limitations, weight restrictions, and nearly every little component of the modern F1 car has to meet criteria set by FIA. They also provide the circuit schedule, race rules, institute and track a points system, as well as crown the champions in the end.

Questions About F1 Cars

The F1 cars themselves are a modern engineering marvel. Thousands of man hours into research and development, ridiculous weight to power ratios, and enough downforce in the turns to experience 6 g’s of force. A lot of the findings used in F1 to craft a winning racecar have slowly made their way into the new cars driving on public roads today too. Paddle shifters, the introduction of carbon fiber components, and turbocharged hybrid advancements all point towards F1 racing developments. Here’s some answers to common questions people have about F1 cars to further explain these ridiculously impressive racecars.

How Fast Do Formula 1 Cars Go?

The Honda team celebrating record - formula1.com
The Honda team celebrating record - formula1.com

F1 cars have always been at the forefront when it comes to speed and acceleration, although they don’t always reach their full potential on the track. Today’s F1 cars are capable of reaching a top speed of 235 mph, but they hardly ever near that limit. The highest recorded speed during a race was closer to 231.5 mph by Juan Pablo Montoya back in 2005 and the highest recorded F1 car speed was 246.9 mph set by Honda back in 2006 with a modified model out on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

What Kind of Engines are in F1 Cars?

Formula 1 Power Units - f1chronicle.com
Formula 1 Power Units - f1chronicle.com

The engines found in F1 cars over the years have gone from increasingly larger big block beasts, to spooling turbo monsters, and now into hybridized “power units”. Since 2014 the term power unit has been used in place of engine when referring to the motor inside F1 cars. That’s because they are a highly technical hybrid setup that utilizes a turbocharged 1.6L V6 gas engine paired to electric motors powered by an Energy recovery system (ERS).

There’s the Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic (MGU-K) that takes kinetic energy generated when the car is braking, and there’s a Motor Generator Unit-Heat (MGU-H) that gathers heat from the exhaust through the process of the turbocharger. Both of these ERS motors translate the generated energy into power to the wheels of the F1 car. The F1 power unit makes a combined 1,000 hp, 850 hp from the gas engine and 150 hp from the ERS motors.

Circling back to that 1.6L V6 engine, it can spin up to 18,000 rpms since the 2021 season. Those intense rpm numbers combined with the unrestricted exhausts are what generates that iconic F1 sound as the cars speed by. It’s a little quieter nowadays in comparison to the deafening V10s and V12s of yore, but the noise is still there just with a more noticeable spooling sound.

Why are the F1 Tire Compounds Important?

P Zero White tire - pirelli.com
P Zero White tire - pirelli.com

Pirelli is the tire manufacturer of choice for F1. They provide a range of different tire compounds that work better for different surfaces, withstand different temperatures, and can endure varying lengths of road. There are three types of F1 tires that come in five varying compounds.

The first set of tires are the P Zero White hard. As the name implies, these are harder compound tires. Harder tires work better for circuits that feature long fast corners, have a harsher road surface, and experience a ton of heat. Choosing these hard tires means that the driver will experience a longer lasting and durable tire, but it takes longer for them to heat up. Less heat means less grip. So, while there’s less need for a pit stop to change tires, there’s less of a connection to the road meaning a slower accelerating car and less performance in the turns.

P Zero Red tire - pirelli.com
P Zero Red tire - pirelli.com

On the other end of the spectrum is the P Zero Red soft. These tires are made of a much softer compound and heat up a lot faster to create some serious grip. They’re great for tighter circuits with short straights, as they allow the F1 car to keep speed in the tightest of turns and allow it to near higher speeds a lot quicker. However, the trade off with these soft tires is that they degrade a whole lot faster in comparison to the harder tires. So, while an F1 driver may make up a gap between themselves and the pack using a soft tire, they’ll have to go pit a lot sooner. Plus, quicker degradation can lead to an increased chance of tire failure if the F1 driver stays out too long.

Finally, there’s the P Zero Yellow medium tires, the in-betweener of the Pirelli tires. The medium tires don’t really excel in one area, but are instead a good balance between the performance found in soft tires and the durability of hard tires. These P Zero Yellow medium tires are the most commonly used option throughout the year.

Pirelli Wet Blue tire - pirelli.com
Pirelli Wet Blue tire - pirelli.com

In addition to these three varying tires are two wet compounds for those rainy track days. First are Intermediate Green tires that work well for moderately wet surfaces or actively drying surfaces. Rather than having a smooth tire surface like the options above, the green wheels have slight grooves to gain better traction on wet surface. Above those are the Full Wet Blue tires. The grooves on the blue tires are a lot more prominent and provide a lot more traction during inclement weather. They’re specially designed to resist hydroplaning and cause more problems with visibility than sliding.

How Much Does Aerodynamics Come into Play?

Ferrari F1 car - formula1.com
Ferrari F1 car - formula1.com

Aerodynamics is one of the most researched areas of F1 cars, even if it’s just for a minor addition or angle of a part. The less drag experienced by these F1 cars, even at the smallest levels, means the faster they can go on the straightaways. There’s also the matter of turning at high speeds. Making an unbanked turn at over 200 mph comes with the need for a lot of downforce. The use of a large front wing and rear spoiler is evident to achieve these gripping forces, but putting work into the car’s bodylines to create downforce alleviates the excessive angle of those parts that can further produce drag. There’s also the matter of not “taking off”. Lightweight, wings, and speed make for the perfect storm to go airborne, so ample downforce is also a matter of safety.

What is DRS in F1?

You may encounter the mention of the Drag Reduction System, or DRS, while watching F1. This technology allows faster cars to more easily pass slower competition at the push of a button. Activating the DRS lifts a portion of the rear spoiler to reduce the drag generated there on a straight. It can only be activated when the F1 car is within one second of another car and within a DRS activation zone. This doesn’t completely negate the skill or challenge of passing, as the DRS activation zones are carefully scattered throughout the circuit and at varying lengths.

How Much are F1 Cars?

Pricing for a complete F1 car can be over $12 million, but that doesn’t take into account research and development costs. Prior to FIA’s $145 million yearly performance budget cap, manufacturers like Ferrari and McLaren were spending upwards of $300 million a year trying to perfect their cars. The new financial cap allows for smaller F1 teams to stay competitive in the performance update area year to year. By the way, those multiple sets of tires that the F1 cars run through cost $2,700 per set. 13 sets are available to each team every race, which roughly calculates to the same price as a brand new 2022 Toyota Tundra SR.

The F1 Teams and 2022 F1 Cars

There are currently ten F1 teams racing in the 2022 F1 season. Reaching the podium as an individual is a great accomplishment for these drivers, but these F1 teams need their drivers to all do well. So, while it may be enticing to speed into the lead alone, it can be even more lucrative for the leading car to block drivers and allow their team to catch up to the front for a better position. Here are the different F1 teams, their cars, and their drivers.

Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo C42 - formula1.com
Alfa Romeo C42 - formula1.com

The Alfa Romeo brand has a storied history in F1 that goes all the way back to the very start of the racing series with their lauded Alfa Romeo 158. The Alfa Romeo F1 Team we have today hasn’t been quite as successful as it had been in the past. A shake up of drivers has led to Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou behind the wheel of their new F1 car. The team’s new car, the C42, has yet to be fully revealed as they intend to make a show of it at preseason testing, but they’ve made it known that they’ve inched very close to the budget cap to craft it.

AlphaTauri

AlphaTauri F1 car - formula1.com
AlphaTauri F1 car - formula1.com

Acting as the young guns roster for Red Bull Racing, AlphaTauri has become a rising F1 team ever since Sebastian Vettel’s win back in 2008 before moving up to the parent team. The current drivers on the roster include Pierre Gasly and relative F1 newcomer Yuki Tsunoda. They both have the potential to further climb the ranks this season. AlphaTauri revealed their 2022 F1 car, the AT03, earlier in 2022. It features some sleek curves, some potentially more compact components, and is still running on a Honda produced power unit.

Alpine

Alpine F1 car - formula1.com
Alpine F1 car - formula1.com

The BWT Alpine F1 team has been changing hands since 1986, but is currently poised to help Renault’s revival in F1. The history behind this Alpine team includes 21 first place finishes and two world championship wins, but it’s a new chapter. Currently on the roster is Esteban Ocon, who brought this new Renault backed team their first F1 win, and Fernando Alsonso, one of the best to do it who returned to F1 after trying his hand at other motorsports and gaining back-to-back 24 Hours of Le Mans wins. The Alpine F1 team unveiled their A522 F1 car for the 2022 season that featured an updated suspension at both ends, updated sidepods with cooling louvres, and a bright pink BWT livery design.

Aston Martin

Aston Martin F1 car - formula1.com
Aston Martin F1 car - formula1.com

The British car manufacture had a short stint in F1 some years ago, but they’re making a larger push as the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team. They’ve yet to secure major success, but the addition of the four-time F1 champion Sebatian Vettel may help pad their stat book. Alongside Vettel is the promising addition of Lance Stroll who has a knack for keeping his wits when the weather turns for the worst. For 2022, Aston Martin introduced the AMR22, a sleek new F1 car featuring a new lime green accent in addition to the classic Aston Martin racing green.

Ferrari

Ferrari F1 car - ferrari.com
Ferrari F1 car - ferrari.com

Ferrari and F1 are like peanut butter and jelly, they’re synonymous with each other. The Scuderia Ferrari team has a long history with the motorsport, featuring 239 first place finishes and 16 world championship wins. Historic racers like Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher both wore the Prancing Horse logo during their illustrious careers in F1. As for the roster today, Ferrari has some great young talent in Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari has taken a more radical design approach rather than follow some of the similar additions found in other 2022 F1 cars. The F1-75 took inspiration from the previous model, but fits in line with the updated F1’s aero rules. It has a sharply pointed nose cone, upwards angled cooling louvres, and some harsher angles on the sidepods.

Haas F1 Team

Haas F1 car - haasf1team.com
Haas F1 car - haasf1team.com

The Uralkali Haas F1 team is the first completely American led F1 team in three decades. Some NASCAR fans may recognize the Haas name from the Stewart-Haas Racing, and sure enough it’s the same guy. The Haas F1 Team has some interesting prospects in the form of Mick Schumacher, son of the racing great Michael Schumacher, and Nikita Mazepin, the fourth ever Russian F1 racer. Haas has been looking forward to the 2022 F1 car updates and hopes their drivers can swing it into some success. The 2022 F1 car features some significant updates to the rear of the car, cooling louvres set in a carbon fiber sidepod section, and carries a Ferrari based power unit.

McLaren

McLaren F1 car - mclaren.com
McLaren F1 car - mclaren.com

McLaren is another staple team within F1, having won eight world championships and secured 183 wins since joining in 1966. The McLaren F1 Team has had the pleasure of employing some of F1’s best drivers like Mika Hakkinen and modern-day great Lewis Hamilton. Today the roster consists of Australia’s own Daniel Ricciardo and the rising star Lando Norris. For 2022, McLaren debuted their new MCL36 F1 car. It features some overhauled aero and a lot more rounded edges than the previous model.

Mercedes

Mercedes F1 car - fomula1.com
Mercedes F1 car - fomula1.com

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team is looking for vengeance after a heartbreaking and controversial end to the 2021 season. Mercedes has been a player in the F1 series since 1970, but their rise to success didn’t happen until they returned to the sport in 2010. Since then, they’ve won eight world championships. One of the best to ever get behind the wheel, Lewis Hamilton, is getting back with Mercedes and is joined by the up-and-coming George Russell. Mercedes introduced their divergent take on an F1 car for 2022, the W13. Narrower sidepods, wide side channels, and some very wavy body lines make this a unique development.

Red Bull Racing

Red Bull F1 car - redbull.com
Red Bull F1 car - redbull.com

The Red Bull energy drink brand loves to sponsor motorsports of all shapes and sizes, so having their very own F1 team isn’t much of a surprise. The Oracle Red Bull Racing F1 team is relatively young and isn’t the typical automotive backed team, but they’ve shown promise in finding some great young drivers like Sebastian Vettel. Continuing that scouting success is their talented driver Max Verstappen who entered the F1 world at just 17 and went on to win last year’s world championship over Hamilton. The end of the 2021 season is hotly contested, but a win is a win. Alongside him is his wingman Sergio Perez, a vet who can make the moves through the pack. Red Bull recently revealed their RB18 F1 car during preseason testing, and it looks cool. The new black livery with the Red Bull logo is eye catching and the aero updates are looking fresh. And I mean fresh, because that deep cut into the bottom of the sidepods is still unpainted.

Williams

Williams F1 car - formula1.com
Williams F1 car - formula1.com

The Williams Racing F1 team was founded by racing great Sir Frank Williams. The team entered the F1 series back in 1978 and has captured 114 first place finishes as well as nine world championships, but now the Williams family has taken a step back from the team. On the roster is returning Nicholas Latifi and a driver looking at a second chance to make an impact in F1, Alexander Albon. Williams Racing debuted their blue and red livery on the 2022 FW44 F1 car. It has some compact length sidepods and a domed front nose cone.

Ready to Experience F1?

The F1 preseason testing is already underway with the first Grand Prix set for March at the Bahrain International Circuit. Following this motorsport now is actually perfect timing. It’s a new season with a new set of rules, a bunch of new cars, and there is a lot of underlying tension between some of the top teams. So, pick your F1 team and grab a seat, because this season of Formula 1 should pan out to be one of the most intense yet!

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Jesse McGraw

Jesse McGraw brings his life-long car obsession into his writing. A fun childhood that involved growing up around race tracks, working on a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, and collecting Hot Wheels developed into a strong appreciation for automotive history. If there is an old, obscure, or rare car, he wants to know about it. With a bachelor's degree in Web Development & Design from Dakota State University, Jesse can talk shop about car or computer specs, focusing on classic cars, imports, and car culture.

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