Ready or not, Formula 1 has arrived.
As Austin readies for an onslaught of some 100,000 visitors, we’ve heard lots about traffic plans, helicopter permits, and even counter-terrorism measures. But what about the actual race: the cars, the drivers and the sport itself? Confused? KUT News has assembled a primer on this weekend’s Formula 1 race.
- What Sort of Cars Are These?
The "formula" in Formula 1 refers to a set of guidelines that each racing car must adhere to. The results are state-of-the-art.
“They barely resemble cars,” says Mac Morrison, who writes for Autoweek. “The principles that are applied to them in an engineering sense are more akin to fighter planes than actual cars.” You can read more about the cars’ exacting standards on Wikipedia, and more from F1 itself.
- Why is the Race Returning to the U.S. Now?
A race, or Grand Prix, is held each year on specially-built circuits or public roads around the world. The sport is immensely popular throughout the world, but it’s been a while since F1 has been in the United States.
The last race was in 2007, at the Indianapolis Speedway. F1 enthusiasts believe that race has failed to capture the American public because past U.S. races haven't been at facilities capable of showing what the sport can offer. Racing legend Mario Andretti recently endorsed Austin’s new Circuit of the Americas track (COTA), host of the United States’ F1 race, telling London’s The Observer “this can be the fixed home of the U.S. Grand Prix.”
- What Exactly is the Circuit of the Americas?
COTA is a multi-purpose, "Grade 1" rated facility that is the first of its kind built in the United States. The 3.4 mile circuit sits on 1,000 acres in southeast Austin and boasts a multitude of facilities. The circuit was designed by initial COTA backer Tavo Hellmund (who has since broke with the COTA crew) , motorcycle racer Kevin Schwantz and F1 architect Hermann Tilke, who has designed high-profile circuits across the world. (Watch a video tour of the then under-construction track.)
The track also features substantial elevation changes, such as 40-meter climb to the first corner, a steep drop and a hairpin turn.
- How Is an F1 Winner Decided?
There are two annual World Champions: one driver and one team (car maker). The winners are determined through a point system.
“The guy who finishes first gets 25,” Morrison says. “Guy who finishes second gets 18, third place gets 15, and then it goes down from there: to 12, to 10, to 8, to 6, 4, 2, and 1. So, in the top 10 you score a point; end of the year, all the points add up; whoever has the most, you’re the world champion, it’s that simple.”
Austin is the second to last stop of the 2012 season, followed by the grand finale in São Paulo, Brazil.
- So Who Are the Drivers and Their Teams?
While there's 12 teams featuring two racers each, basically, it’s a contest between Sebastian Vettel of Germany, who drives for Red Bull Racing, and Fernando Alonso of Spain, who drives for Ferrari. (“Ferrari is, you can imagine, bigger than God in some parts of Italy,” Morrison says.)
Vettel currently leads Alonso by 10 points. Vettel can wrap up the drivers' championship this weekend if he scores 15 points more than Alonso. According to racing website The Checkered Flag, Vettel can win it all if:
- Vettel wins the race and Alonso finishes fifth or lower
- Vettel comes in second, and Alonso finishes ninth or lower, or
- Vettel takes third, and Alonso scores no points.
- What Can Race Watchers Expect This Weekend?
Events are running Friday, Nov. 16 through Sunday, Nov. 18 at the COTA track. Friday is mainly devoted to practice sessions. “They start out with a day of testing, which is really important for this track because nobody’s ever run on it,” says Tom Yemington, a local F1 fan and COTA volunteer.
Saturday has several qualifying sessions, which will determine drivers’ positions for the Grand Prix on Sunday. That race lasts 56 laps or 120 minutes. “It’s about getting the most laps in that particular time or being in front when the last lap comes around,” Yemington says.
“It’s not as much on-track action as you might think,” Morrison adds. “It’s not going to be six hours a day for three days.” But with speeds in vicinity of 200 mph, its not surprising the races speed by that quickly.
To learn more you can visit the Formula 1 or Circuit of the Americas websites. The city also has plans ready for public safety and transportation. Get ready to race, Austin. We’ve got an exciting, crowded weekend ahead.