Formula 1. What’s it all about?
Well, this is something I’ve spent a lot of (some would say “too much”) time thinking about.
First and foremost, Formula 1 is about passion. Either you have it or you don’t.
Hopefully this article will provoke more people to at least give the sport a try, but we’ll see how things go as we progress.
This is going to be a little lengthy, so stop right here, go to the kitchen, make some coffee and grab a bite to eat. Then, come back and allow me the opportunity to initiate you into the world that is Formula 1.
Back so soon? Okay then ……… let us begin.
If you ask any non-Formula 1 fan what it’s all about, the most common answer is, “A bunch of cars riding around in a circle for 2 hours.”
Well yes, it is a bunch of cars riding around in a circle for 2 hours. The same as how soccer is a bunch of guys kicking a round thing to each other inside a rectangle for 90 minutes.
No, F1 is more than just the obvious. It’s a heck of a lot more complicated and technical than most people imagine.
F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. In fact, until recently it was the one place where you could go to see all the latest technological advances in the automotive industry. I say “until recently” because the FIA (Feration Internationale de I’Automobile) has tightened its grip on the sport in the last two years and many ‘technological advancements’ are rated as being ‘dangerous’ because they increase the speed at which these cars race around in that ‘circle’.
But more on that later…….. Let’s get back to the basics.
I think, to begin, we should start with the cars. A Formula 1 car is not just a car. Actually, it’s probably more appropriate to liken it to sitting in a deck-chair with a rocket strapped to your back. The only thing that sets an F1 car apart from a rocket-propelled sunbathing apparatus is the fact that you’re probably a lot safer in the chair.
No, I’m just kidding. First and foremost, an F1 car is designed for safety. The cockpit is probably the most important aspect of a modern day F1 car. The reason? What good is a car if the person driving it has an expected life-span of less that 1 year? Each and every driver has at least one accident (major or minor) during the course of a single season. While the rest of the car is designed to crumble (to lessen the impact force) the cockpit is designed to enclose the driver in what is effectively a cocoon of safety.
With around 950bhp, revving at over 19,000rpm and drinking about 75 litres of petrol in 100km, the engine of a Formula 1 car is designed for optimum performance and is only expected to last for no more than 2 races (That’s a life cycle of about 700km) after which a new engine is built. A Formula 1 car can launch itself from a stationery position to 100km per hour in under 3 seconds. (Remember that deck-chair we were talking about earlier? Now it’s a little easier to understand the comparison.)
Aerodynamics (without which, you’re once again strapped into that rocket-launcher/deck-chair) also plays an integral role in the design of an F1 car. Aerodynamics allow the car to reach those horrendous speeds while turning corners without becoming an unexpected single-seater jet.
Tyres play an important role as well, for obvious reasons. (Without them, the car is nothing more than a 2 million dollar paperweight.)
Tyre manufacturers strive to have the lightest, yet most reliable tyre. The lifespan of a tyre in F1 is about 200km and each tyre costs in the range of about $60,000.
The three tyre types are ‘dry’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘wet’. The fundamental difference between these is basically the softness/hardness of the tyre and the amount of grooves in said tyre.
But, what good is a car that can go very quickly without the ability to stop it eventually?
In order to lessen the risk, it was decided that adding breaks to the cars made more sense than simply crashing the car into the closest wall.
The breaks on an F1 car are so advanced that they are capable of stopping an F1 car doing 160km/h in just over half the distance that a normal car can stop from 100km/h.
A Formula 1 driver is also considered to be at the forefront of motorsport and he requires a super licence in order to officially race. Gaining a super licence is no small feat either. A driver has to clock at least 1000 hours in a Formula 1 car to obtain his licence and as such, many drivers started their Formula 1 careers as test drivers.
Apart from being highly skilled, an F1 driver also has to be pretty darn small. The cockpit of a Formula 1 car is minute and most normal-sized men would be hard pressed to squeeze themselves into one.
Although only slightly larger than your average 12 year old, an F1 driver has to be incredibly fit in order to race.
As hard as it may seem to believe, F1 drivers are among the most highly conditioned athletes in the world.
“How hard can it be to drive a car?”, I hear you ask?
Well, if you consider that these drivers have to withstand anything up to a sustained 3.5 g while cornering …. and if you consider that most drivers will lose up to 3kg of body fluid during a single race, I think it’s fair to at least give them the benefit of the doubt.
So now that we’ve looked at the cars and the drivers, lets take a gander at that ‘circle’ they ride around in……
A Formula 1 track is not just a twisty, turny stretch of tarmac. No, it is a specifically designed track made to test and utilise all the driving skills required from an F1 driver as well as all the abilities of the Formula 1 car itself. With fast corners, slow corners, hairpins and straights, it’s physically and technically demanding on the driver and car and is designed to punish even a momentary loss of concentration.
Interesting fact: All Formula 1 tracks have to use FIA approved tar on the circuit.
Now that we’ve gotten all that technical stuff out of the way, let me go back to what I was saying about the FIA tightening its grip on F1.
The FIA is the governing body behind Formula 1. They make all the rules and regulations around the sport.
Of late, the FIA has started becoming concerned about two things:
1. Cost: Formula 1 is an expensive sport.
2. Safety: Formula 1 is also a dangerous sport.
In order to control both of these things, they’ve been very tight-fisted about what can and can’t be done on the race track. They’ve inhibited growth and curbed technological advancements to such an extent that some say that F1 is no longer the pinnacle of motorsport but is instead, just another form of track racing.
I for one agree but my passion runs deep and I will forever be a fan.
Unfortunately, Formula 1 (like any sport) can not fully be explained in words. Like the Matrix, you have to see it for yourself.
So, do yourself a favour ………. take the ‘red pill’ and see how far the rabbit hole that is Formula 1 goes.
(Okay, so maybe I took ‘The Matrix’ thing a little too far…………..