What Actually Happens at the F1 Races
Formula One events begin today at the Circuit of the Americas track in Elroy. Of course, locals are worried about the traffic and the impact on the economy from the F1, but what about the race itself? F1 doesn’t have a huge following in the U.S., and a lot of people may not know the first thing about the sport. So here’s everything we learned about F1.
First things first: what is the “formula”?
“It’s a new formula every year,” said Bill Dollahite, owner of Driveway Austin, a racing school east of town. “It’s a whiteboard with nothing on it except for a set of rules, and everyone looks to the rules and they say ‘OK, now how can we get a technical advantage with this set of rules?’”
So everyone builds a car from scratch each season. Each season runs from March to November. Now, who’s everyone?
“There must be 24 cars, so 12 teams right now,” said F1 fan Tom Yemington of Austin. And he says each of the teams has a rabid following.
“Ferrari is the passion and the history,” he said. “It’s sort of the equivalent of rooting for the New York Yankees, I guess.”
Mac Morrison, who writes for Autoweek, agrees. “Ferrari is, you can imagine, bigger than God in some parts of Italy,” he said. “The people in Italy who follow motor racing — it’s Ferrari and that’s all they care about. Everyone else they want to lose, crash, you know, blow up, whatever.”
“There’s McLaren, which is always sort of a second fiddle to Ferrari but wins often, wins lots of championships,” Yemington said.
And so on. So what about the schedule? Friday is mainly a practice day.
“They start out with a day of testing, which is really important for this track because nobody’s ever run on it,” Yemington said. More practice on Saturday and then three qualifying sessions.
At the end of the first and second rounds, the slowest bunch of guys are knocked out. That’s called Q1 and Q2.
“That’s kind of Formula One lingo,” Morrison said. “In Q3, it’s 10 minutes, and the last group of guys go out, and when it’s over, that’s it. Whoever was quickest, you’re starting on the pole position, and it just goes down from there, based on your time.”
On to Sunday!
“Now when it comes to the race, you’ve got 56 laps,” Morrison said. “The circuit is 3.4 miles and change around, so it comes out to … almost 200 miles.”
“It lasts two hours, and they’ll typically say it’s a particular number of laps but if there’s a delay, then it ends up being a certain time as opposed to the original target number of laps,” Yemington said.
It really is all about the show.
“And the show must go on, right?” Yemington said. “So if it’s raining, great, come in and put on rain tires. And they’ll drive in almost all but hurricane conditions.
So a little before 1 p.m. Sunday, the cars will line up according to their qualifying time.
With engines running, the drivers wait. And that, Dollahite says, is when the pressure is on.
“Your highest blood pressure, your highest respiration, your highest heart rate is sitting on the grid,” he said. “You close your eyes and you’re thinking, ‘OK, what am I going to do?’ You’re going to play the scene in your head, what’s going to happen next.
“Once everybody’s in position, everybody’s got the thumbs up, everybody’s ready to go, you’re going to see the light bar. There’s five lights up there. Red. You’re going to see the lights go on. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. And then they’re going to go off. … These things will accelerate from that dead stop to 100 mph in about two seconds.”
So 56 laps or two hours, whichever comes first. Maybe a few pit stops in there.
“You’ll do a four-tire change in about 2 to 3 seconds.” Dollahite said. “One. Two. Three. Gone.”
And then whoever crosses the finish line first wins? “Yep, when you get to the time limit or the set number of laps,” Yemington said. “So it’s about getting the most laps in that particular time or being in front when the last lap comes around.”
And depending where you finish, you get a certain number of points.
“Guy who finishes first gets 25, guy who finishes second gets 18, third place gets 15,” Morrison said. The top 10 guys get points.
So what’s with the points? Each of the season’s 20 races is worth the same number of points.
“End of the year, all the points add up, whoever has the most: you’re the world champion, it’s that simple,” Morrison said.
Actually, it not quite that simple. There’s a team champion and a driver champion. This year the Red Bull team looks to have the team championship in hand. But the driver’s championship could go to one of two guys.
“Sebastian Vettel, is generally regarded as maybe the best driver,” Morrison said. “Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, also looked at by a lot of people in the Formula One world as the best driver in the world.”
And for fans, this makes for an amazing end to the season.
“Oh my gosh, this is like storybook stuff,” Dollahite said. “Because we’ve got, finally, a real battle going for a championship between two great teams and two great drivers.”
Austin is the next-to-last race this season. By Monday morning the teams will be packed up, ready to go, to finish this season — in Brazil.