Officially known as the pinnacle of motor racing, it is the dream of every racing driver to get the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of the most powerful and demanding form of motor racing – Formula One. Known as the FIA Formula One World Championships, the standard of racing is acknowledged the world over as the topmost level of racing.
The word “Formula”, in the name is a reference to the rules and regulations that the teams and drivers must comply to, and “One” refers to the fact that these are the toughest regulations and rules requiring the highest degree of skill in not only building the car, but also in driving it.
Formula One was born out of the European Grand Prix racing circuit that was prevalent in the 1920s and 30s. After the Second World War, Formula One was unanimously chosen as the foremost racing level. In 1950, the first Formula One championships were held and Argentine Juan Manual Fangio won it in the first year, along with 5 more titles between 1951 and 1958. Alberto Ascari of Scuderia Ferrari came in the middle to spoil Fangio and Alfa Romeo’s title runs. Along with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Mercedes Benz ruled the tracks in these years.
The period between 1959 and 1980 was known as the “Garagistes”. This period saw the introduction of a number of technological advances such as the Brabham cars that introduced mid-engine models on the tracks. The period saw many greats such as Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill and Denny Hulme who ruled the middle period.
In 1981, Bernie Ecclestone took over the reins in Formula One and restructured the entire organization. Renault, Lotus and Williams had come into their own between 1981 and 2000 as drivers such as Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet blazed away in their wonderful machines. In 1994, Three-time World Champion Ayrton Senna, arguably the greatest driver to step behind the wheel of a Formula One car, died in a crash while leading the San Marino Grand Prix. The death was the second of the weekend as Roland Ratzenberger had died in qualifying for the same race.
Since Senna’s death, safety has been taken to a whole new level on the Formula One tracks and cars and tracks are designed with safety at the forefront. No driver has had a fatal accident during a Formula One race since Senna’s death.
The later part of the century saw a domination by Scuderia Ferrari and Michael Schumacher like nothing the sport had seen before. Schumacher won 6-straight championship titles in a row, beating Fangio’s 5 in a row.
The Formula One season consists of a number of Grands Prix or races. All participating teams can put upto 2 racing drivers on the field, in two cars. Each driver fights for points based on the finishing position of each race and at the end of the season, the Driver’s and the Constructor’s title are decided on the points allocated to the driver and the team for each race result.
Each race, known as a Grand Prix, is run on circuits built specially for the purpose. In some cases, there are public roads that are also used for the races but they too need to adhere to the same track requirements as a racing track. The tracks are lined with tyre walls or with gravel pits to slow down cars going off the tracks. The latest addition of Singapore to the circuit list has, for the first time, introduced a night-race where the cars zoom about at mind-blowing speeds under artificial lighting.
The cars in Formula One are state-of-the-art in all senses of the term. Mid-engined with an open cockpit, these marvels of engineering take technology to the cutting edge in terms of engine technology, electronics, aerodynamics and even tyre technology. Each car weighs a minimum of 605 kg, including the driver. The actual weight of the car is much less than the minimum limit and manufacturers add in ballast weights under the driver to add weight and comply to the minimum limits.
The cars can reach upto 20,000 rpm although over the years, this has been reduced to 19,000 rpm. The engines notched up a massive 780 bhp that can take the cars to speeds of 350 kmph or 220 mph on straights in certain circuits.
The Race Weekend
The race weekend is a fantastic party that begins with a practice session on Friday. Friday afternoon brings about another session of free practice with another session being held on Saturday morning. Teams are only allowed two cars that can be used during these practice sessions. This is followed by a qualifying session divided into three sessions and depending on the results, the final standing for the race is decided.
Qualifying is divided into three sessions – a 20-minute session followed by a 15-minute session and the final 10-minute session. The first session is a free run where all the cars take to the track. The cars are allowed to lap as many times as they want and their fastest times are picked. At the end of the session, the bottom-5 cars are eliminated from the qualifying and are deemed to the last 5 places on the grid. The next 15 minutes see the remaining 15 cars running in the same format. Again the slowest 5 cars are placed between 11-15 on the grid.
The final 10-minute session involves the remaining 10 cars who begin with a clean slate. The battle for the pole position is tougher than the other sessions in terms of the configuration. The 10 cars are not allowed to refuel once their session is over and must keep that in mind when running for those 10 minutes. Their fastest times determine their position on the starting grid.
The race begins with a warm up lap following which the cars come back to the starting grid in their qualification order. Any car stalling on the lap or the grid is forced to lose its starting position and has to start at the back of the grid. Cars may also choose to start from the pit lane, a practice followed if there are some last minute issues with the car.
The race lasts a minimum of 305 km except at Monaco where the race length is 260 km. Drivers are allowed to make pit stops for refueling, tyre changes and any fixes that they want to carry out to stay in the race and strategies are often devised by the fuel load and tyre changes.
Lewis Hamilton is the defending world champion for the 2009 season of Formula One, a title he won in just his second year at Formula One. After narrowly losing the title on the last day of his debut season to Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis ran the 2008 season down to the wire again, with Raikkonen on his back. However, this time, he held his nerve and took the title to become the youngest man to win the FIA Formula One World Championships.