Drivers, teams, cars, circuits and more – Everything you need to know about Formula 1
If you’re new to Formula 1, you may have a few questions about the sport and how our action-packed tour of the world is staged year in, year out. Well, we’ve got you covered. In an all-in-one explainer, we take you through the basics from how the championship was formed to the circuits visited, the drivers behind the wheel and the teams involved up and down the pit lane…
Where does F1 race?
As mentioned, Formula 1’s inaugural season featured seven rounds, spread out from May to September and predominantly staged in Europe (the exception being the Indianapolis 500 in the United States, which most F1 drivers sat out).
New European events arrived as F1 developed, with the following decades bringing adventures to South America, North America, Africa, Asia, Australia and, most recently, the Middle East – well and truly putting the ‘world’ in world championship.
Silverstone, Monaco, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza are the four circuits that still feature on the F1 calendar from that very first campaign, although plenty of safety-based changes and track layout modifications have been made since then.
When did Formula 1 start?
Formula 1 was formed as a world championship competition back in 1950, with the first-ever race held at the Silverstone Circuit – a former Royal Air Force station – in the United Kingdom on May 13 of that year.
While motorsport had been taking place since the late-1800s, with Grand Prix events arriving and growing in popularity across the following decades, 1950 marked the start of the official F1 championship that remains to this day.
Why is it called Formula 1?
As for why Formula 1 is called Formula 1, this can be broken up into two parts.
First up, the ‘Formula’ is a set of rules – covering car design, engine size, component usage and much, much more – that all competitors must abide by. Secondly, the ‘One’ or ‘1’ simply denotes that it is the premier formula.
How can I watch F1?
Formula 1 is watched by huge numbers of fans around the world. This includes the hundreds of thousands who flock through the gates at each Grand Prix to catch the action in-person and the millions more who follow it from afar.
Alongside this, our F1 TV subscriptions give you access to live coverage of every session at every Grand Prix weekend (in selected territories), along with a comprehensive back catalogue of historic races, documentaries and shows.
How does the F1 weekend work?
Formula 1’s standard weekend format takes place across three days: Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Friday features two 60-minute practice sessions for teams to set up their cars and carry out a variety of runs on different fuel loads and tyre compounds, with a third practice hour following on Saturday for last-minute tweaks and learnings.
After final practice, drivers head into a three-stage qualifying session, with the slowest five drivers eliminated in an 18-minute Q1 phase, and five more in a 15-minute Q2 segment, which sets positions 20-11 on the grid prior to any penalties. A final 12-minute long Q3 settles the top 10 grid slots, along with the coveted pole position.
Sunday brings the race itself, where drivers battle it out to score points and grab a spot on the podium.
How long do F1 races last?
Formula 1 races generally last between an hour-and-a-half and two hours, though this can be impacted by Safety Car periods that slow the field down or red flags that halt the action – see the 2023 Australian Grand Prix as a prime example.
Each race on the calendar has a set number of laps based on the length of their respective circuit. The distance of each race is almost always equal to the fewest number of laps that exceed 305 kilometres. Monaco is an exception to the rule, where the race length is equal to the fewest number of laps that exceed a distance of 260km, given its street circuit nature and lower speeds.
What’s the F1 Sprint?
While we have covered the standard weekend format above, the F1 Sprint will feature at six events this season and adds another layer of excitement to proceedings.
F1 Sprint made its debut during the 2021 campaign, appearing at the British, Italian and Sao Paulo rounds, with the usual qualifying session shifted to Friday to set the grid for a new 100km dash on Saturday, which in turn set the grid for the main Grand Prix on Sunday.
In 2023, the Sprints will be held in Azerbaijan (Baku City Circuit), Austria (Red Bull Ring), Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps), Qatar (Lusail Circuit), the United States (Circuit of The Americas) and Sao Paulo (Interlagos).
But there has also been a format change for this season – tweaks mean the Sprint will effectively become a standalone feature of race weekends when the format is used, with the outcome bearing no impact on the grid for the Grand Prix itself.
Fridays will now include a practice session followed by a standard qualifying session to set the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix. Saturdays will see practice replaced by an additional, shorter qualifying session called the Sprint Shootout. This will set the grid for the subsequent 100km Sprint.
What’s the difference between F1 and the FIA?
Formula 1 works closely with governing body the FIA to put on a show each year: hence the official name of ‘FIA Formula One World Championship’.
F1, more specifically Formula One Management (FOM), who are owned by United States-based media company Liberty Media, hold the sport’s commercial rights.
The FIA, founded in 1904, are the governing body for a host of motorsport competitions around the world, including F1. They oversee the technical, sporting and financial regulations, ensuring that competitors are sticking to the rules, and set stringent safety standards.
How do F1 cars work?
Thousands of parts are involved in creating some of the fastest and most advanced racing cars on the planet, spanning detailed bodywork, suspension elements, turbo-hybrid power units, eight-speed paddle shift gearboxes, 18-inch tyres and much more.
When the engine powers it into life, an F1 car essentially acts as an aeroplane flipped upside down, with front and rear wings – and everything in between – pushing the car onto the track and giving it incredible levels of grip through corners.
That said, F1’s current technical regulations are based around a ‘ground effect’ aerodynamic concept, with several carefully designed tunnels under the floor sucking the car to the track surface to generate even more downforce.
This, combined with simpler bodywork than previous years, means less ‘dirty air’ – or disrupted airflow – is created and allows cars to follow each other more closely, opening up additional overtaking opportunities and adding to the on-track spectacle.
What are F1 cars powered by?
As touched on, F1 cars are powered by turbocharged V6, 15,000 RPM engines, featuring kinetic and thermal energy recovery systems.
Today’s F1 power units comprise the following elements: the internal combustion engine (ICE), motor generator unit-heat (MGU-H), motor generator unit-kinetic (MGU-K), turbocharger, energy store (ES), control electronics (CE) and exhaust.
Over the course of the season, a driver may use no more than three ICEs, MGU-Hs, MGU-Ks and turbochargers, two energy stores and control electronics, and eight of each of the four elements that make up a set of exhaust systems – otherwise grid penalties will apply.
How many drivers and teams race in F1?
A total of 20 drivers and 10 teams make up the current F1 grid, with each outfit fielding two cars.
Where are F1 teams based?
Most F1 team factories can be found in the United Kingdom, with seven operations calling England their primary home.
This includes a couple of caveats, such as Haas also having facilities in Italy (thanks to a component supply arrangement with Ferrari) and the United States (where their other motorsport activities are based), and Alpine supplementing their UK headquarters with a dedicated engine division in France.
Who are the most successful F1 drivers of all time?
From F1’s all-time list of world champions, Hamilton shares the overall record of seven titles with Michael Schumacher. Hamilton claimed his first title with McLaren in 2008, before adding six more at Mercedes between 2014 and 2020, while Schumacher won the 1994 and 1995 crowns with Benetton, adding another five (in a row) at Ferrari from 2000 to 2004.
As it stands, Hamilton also holds the record for the most race victories, logging 103 to date, along with the most pole positions, also bagging 103 up to now.
Fellow multiple champions include Fangio, who racked up five titles in the 1950s, Alain Prost, who won four across the 1980s and 1990s, and the recently retired Sebastian Vettel, who collected a quartet of championships on the bounce from 2010 to 2013.
Ayrton Senna was a driver who looked poised to reach those numbers in his legendary F1 career, but a tragic accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix left him with a tally of three, alongside several other famous names.
Who are the most successful F1 teams of all time?
Since then, Ferrari have established themselves as the most successful team in terms of championship wins, collecting 16 constructors’ titles over the decades. Williams are next on the list with nine crowns, followed by McLaren and Mercedes on eight.
As for drivers’ titles, Ferrari lead the way on 15, with McLaren their nearest challengers on 12, ahead of Mercedes (nine), Williams (seven) and Lotus and Red Bull (six).
Ferrari have also racked up the most race victories, claiming 242 to date, followed by McLaren (183), Mercedes (125) and Williams (114), with Red Bull another team nearing a century of wins.