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Formula One 101: Intro to the Sport

Jim Yu November 7, 2012 Featured, Formula 1 13 Comments

With Formula One returning to the United States next week, it might be helpful for those not familiar with the sport to read this primer. Neophytes: If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section. F1 nuts: If I missed something, please feel free to chime in.


The cars have 2.4 liter V8s and rev up to 18,000 rpm. They accelerate, brake, and corner like nothing else.

The cars do not need to be refueled during the race. Pit stops are made during the race to change tires. Pirelli, the supplier, provides tires with different compositions. Some last longer but are not as grippy. Tire strategy has become integral.

To address complaints that there is not enough passing, F1 introduced KERS and DRS to the mix. KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) captures braking energy and stores it. It provides an extra 80 horsepower but can only be used for 6.67 seconds per lap. DRS (drag reduction system) adjusts the car’s rear wing to reduce drag during long straightaways, thus increasing top speed. Once a car is within a second of the car in front at designated zones on the track, the driver can activate DRS to try to pass.


Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull, Germany): The man of the hour. He won the championship in 2010 and 2011. His first half of the 2012 season was unremarkable, but he has since put together a string of victories. He is favored to win it all again this year.

Fernando Alonso (Ferrari, Spain): Arguably the strongest driver of the field. His Ferrari is slow but he has been able to overperform on many occasions. Due to the high g-forces around corners, Alonso, like all F1 drivers, has a strong neck.

Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus, Finland): He is the most interesting personality. He mumbles in a monotone and doesn’t give a hoot about anything or anybody. During rain delays, he enjoys ice cream.

Mark Webber (Red Bull, Australia): The most genuine and honest driver. He has been reluctantly playing second fiddle to his younger teammate, Vettel.

Lewis Hamilton (McLaren, Britain): This extremely talented driver still has a bit of growing up to do. Known for temper tantrums and letting outside influences affect his driving. His star-studded lifestyle is clearly hurting his driving career.

Jenson Button (McLaren, Britain): A nice guy who got lucky and won the championship in 2009. His car was supposed to be a dog, but due to a unique and innovative design that other teams ignored, it beat all the other cars.

Felipe Massa (Ferrari, Brazil): He has not been the same since being hit in the head by a metal spring in 2009. Everyone was surprised that Ferrari renewed his contract for 2013.

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes, Germany): Son of a world champion. AKA Britney, for his golden locks and pop star looks.

Romain Grosjean (Lotus, France): Known for his first lap crashes.

Sergio Perez (Sauber, Mexico): A rising star. Will be driving for McLaren next year (a promotion) and is champion material.

Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber, Japan): Aggressive driver and a breath of fresh air. Loved by all.

Nico Hulkenberg (Force India, Germany): Decent driver for average team.

Paul di Resta (Force India, Britain): See Nico Hulkenberg.

Pastor Maldonado (Williams, Venezuela): Though he has won a race this season, he is more (in)famous for crashing into others and being supported by Hugo Chavez, who paid Williams tens of millions for Maldonado’s seat.

Michael Schumacher (Mercedes, Germany): Why do sports legends come back from retirement? His return has been disappointing, and he will retire again at the end of this season.

Bruno Senna (Williams, Brazil): The only reason he is in F1 is because of his uncle, the late and great Ayrton.

Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham, Finland): Talented guy in an uncompetitive car.

Pedro de la Rosa (HRT, Spain): Old hand in an abysmal car. Has strong support in Spain. I made the mistake of criticizing him once online and felt the wrath of his fervent fans. If only they would put that much energy into revitalizing their economy.

Jean-Eric Vergne, Daniel Ricciardo, Timo Glock, Vitaly Petrov, Jerome d’Ambrosio, Charles Pic, Narain Karthikeyan: Only their mothers think these drivers are special.


Each team has two drivers. Which team do you want to root for? Here’s a breakdown.

Red Bull Racing: The dominant team, thanks to designer/god Adrian Newey. 75% of Vettel’s success can be attributed to the car.

Ferrari: The most storied team and the team every driver wants to work for. Kind of like the New York Yankees.

McLaren: Ferrari’s nemesis. A very British team with two British drivers.

Mercedes: Since returning to F1 in 2010, Mercedes has not impressed.

Lotus: An above average team with two very unique drivers/personalities.

Force India: A midfield team known more for its financial difficulties.

Sauber: An exceptional midfield Swiss team with two exciting and young drivers.

Toro Rosso: Red Bull’s B-team.

Williams: This fabled team is now almost solely supported by Hugo Chavez and Venezuela oil money.

Caterham: The best of the back-of-the-pack teams.

Marussia: Nothing is known about this team, other than that it exists for some reason.

HRT: Your 1989 300ZX is faster than the HRTs.


There will be two practice sessions on Friday and one practice session on Saturday. Qualifying is on Saturday. The race is on Sunday. There will be support races all weekend.


1. Vettel versus Alonso. With two races to go, Vettel has 255 points to Alonso’s 245. Third place Kimi Raikkonen has been mathematically eliminated from winning the driver’s championship. If Vettel wins in Austin, then he will have three-peated, having already been the champion in 2010 and 2011. For those of you keeping score at home, the top ten finishers of each race are awarded points. From first to tenth, the drivers are awarded: 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1 points.

2. International Race of Champions. An amazing six world champions are racing– Vettel, Alonso, Raikonnen, Hamilton, Button, and Schumacher.

3. Aufiderzein, Michael. Formula One’s greatest driver, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, will retire (again) at the end of the season. So this will be your last chance to see him race in America.

For more F1 coverage, go to F1Fanatic and Joe Saward’s blog.

P.S. I will be in Austin for the race. If you see me, please say hi. I’m the Asian guy with glasses and a Hooniverse t-shirt, stuffing my piehole with complimentary shrimp cocktails at the hospitality tent.

Image source: Copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jim Yu

  • MVEilenstein

    HRT are usually top 10 through the speed trap, which tells you the Cosworth is not a terrible engine. Their cars do not make good downforce, so they have no speed through the corners.

  • Manic_King

    I've seen one F1 race, in Malaysia couple of years ago. Tickets we bought weren't bad at all, but God this was crappy experience, huge screen which should have give us info about race standings etc. had just no picture quality whatsoever so we never knew who was leading or what exactly was going on. Should have bought race radio headsets… After front runners reached the last cars and they all just mixed to one endless row there was no way to tell who had stopped already for new tires or who was leading and it all was just…….boring, tiring. Temp. was also of course 30 C as it always is there and I had nice little hangover from all the partying which goes with the F1 race weekend. I had friend there who had been to F1 race before in Europe and he decided not to come to that Malaysian race, preferring to spend time at hotel pool as he had similar experience and we agreed afterwards that only F1 race worth going 2. time is maybe Monaco GP.
    From positive side: that noise! First lap when all cars together will attack your ears, it feels like someone tries to split your head. Great wow experience.

  • joshuman

    One big strategy question at new tracks is the tire degradation curve. Pirelli will be conservative and bring two different harder compounds (hard and medium) to the weekend. This is the same compound pairing used at Spa and Monza. Sometimes one of the compounds can be competitive long enough to allow the driver to only stop once during the race. A long first stint on harder tires with a short second stint on the softs can work for the front-runners. Mid-pack and back might go soft, soft, hard (go ahead and chuckle) to make up ground during the first half of the race. It all depends on managing the degradation. Push a little too hard to catch a rival and the driver might over use his tires which ultimately requires another stop. I'm excited to see how it works out.

  • Tom

    How are the cars and engines built? Does each team have a custom designed chassis and engine? Or are their off-the shelf parts mixed with custom?

    • Mulry

      F1 cars are built mainly with the same parts you could find at the Home Depot. There are a lot of off-the-shelf parts. Pretty much they just raid the GM parts bin and come up with a car from there. Yep, that's it.

    • Ferrari, Renault, Mercedes, and Cosworth supply the engines to the various teams. I believe each team builds their own chassis, although I might be mistaken.

    • Eike

      Each Team is required to build its own chassis. Engines may be bought. There are some parts, that are identical in every car, for example the engine Management blackbox and its software. The way Formula One cars are built means they can turn in both directions, just like real cars.. IndyCars might be quicker on the straights, but F1 cars brake and have cornering speeds like nothing else.

      • BlackIce_GTS

        What about Torro Rosso? Do they use the same stuff as the 'main' team?
        Why are they a different team at all, does this allow Red Bull to field more cars?

        unrelated: why does Red Bull have so much money they make my brain hurt?

        • Pinkerton1

          It's their own unique chassis with a Ferrari engine. The Red Bull main team runs a Renault engine. Red Bull previously ran Ferrari engines, but when they changed to Renault engines a few years back, the contract was switched over to Torro Rosso. Previously known as Minardi, Torro Rosso makes everyone in Italy feel better by having two constructors based there. If Ferrari are the NY Yankees, founding members of F1, Torro Rosso are the NY Mets, only less successful. The UK officially has three teams, but eight teams are headquartered there. The UK is the capitol nation of F1.

        • Torro Rosso is based in Italy while Red Bull Racing is based in England. Both owned by the drink company. TR uses Ferrari engines and have rookie drivers. Red Bull uses Renault engines. I don't know how they have that much money to spend!

  • Very bummed that I can't join my best Hoon friend here in town and his young son for the race – Going to his first F1 race for an 8th birthday present. Maybe next year.

    • JayP2112

      I didn't even try to get tix.
      V8 Supercars… that's another matter. I can hang with that crowd.

  • Van_Sarockin

    This is the first F1 race race at the newly built track in Austin. Texas has never hosted and F1 race.

    This is the return of F1 to the US, following the pissing match over the horrible track layout at Indianapolis that led to massive tire failures, and the unwillingness of almost all the teams to race on it.

    Mercedes bought their team from Brawn, who inherited the wreckage of the Honda team. Button had faith in his teammates.
    Lotus is the reformed, much improved remains of the Renault team.