Formula 1 – A Beginner’s Guide

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Top 5 things you should know about F1


With Lewis Hamilton defending his third drivers’ championship win from 2015 and a few new rule changes, there’s a lot of interest in Formula One in 2016 and I thought perhaps for those of you who don’t know the sport, a bit of background might be useful.

I’ve been watching Formula One for as long as I can remember, certainly from an early age, as I recall who won the 1976 drivers’ championship that year (I won’t mention who, just watch Ron Howard’s ‘Rush’ to find out!). Though some of my early memories of F1 are probably a little hazy, from about the mid eighties onwards things are much more vivid.

A truly global sport, there are some countries across the world where Formula One hasn’t really taken off. With races in the USA, Abu Dhabi, Russia, China and new this year, Azerbaijan, as well as across Europe, if you’ve never watched a Formula One Grand Prix race and would like to know a little more take a quick look at what’s below to learn why millions of people all over the world set alarm clocks and put dates in diaries to make sure they never miss a race.

Truly International

Drivers' parade, Silverstone Photo taken by DreyaB

Drivers’ parade, Silverstone Photo taken by DreyaB

This sport is truly international. Yes, its origins were in Europe and there are still races taking place in Italy, Great Britain, Monaco and Belgium, but being global there are also Grand Prix in places such as Singapore, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Japan, Brazil and the United States, to name a few.

The drivers come from all over the world too. From Mexico to Finland, Australia to Germany, Russia to Brazil, and now even Indonesia, every racing car driver aspires to reaching the top of motor sport by winning the Formula One drivers’ championship. Previous champions have come from countries such as Argentina, Germany, South Africa, Australia, United States, Italy, Brazil, Austria, France, Finland and Great Britain.
The teams and car manufacturers also have bases that are worldwide, and TV audiences across the globe tune in every couple of weeks from the start of the season in March, to the last race in November.

There’s no denying it, F1 is an international sport.

The History of F1

Formula One officially started in 1950 with a seven-race season, which included the Indy 500. Grand Prix racing had been taking place since the 1920s and ’30s but the standardisation of rules didn’t take place until 1946 through the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile or FIA (the governing body), and the World Drivers’ Championship was introduced in 1950.

These early years of F1 were led by Italian car manufacturers such as Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari with front-engined cars, but the British BRM and French Talbot teams also took part, along with various privateers.

The cars developed and were replaced by mid-engined versions and then in the 1960s the real advent of technology came upon us, engine and chassis changes in particular and revolutions in safety and aerodynamics followed. Sponsorship of teams also began in this era, with the cars having liveries based around key advertising brands. By this time we are heading well into the 1970s.

Technology became the main focus of changes to the sport over the following years and turbocharged engines and ground-effect ‘skirts’ and bodywork come to the fore. There were driver rivalries and team dominations of the sport over the years through the eighties and up to the present-day race calendar of 20 to 21 Grand Prix.

I could go on about the coming and going of teams, drivers and manufacturers, but there are books that have covered this better than me. Suffice to say there are races and events, politics and technology, that have kept TV viewers and fans alike following the sport, but its history provides the grounding and respect this sport is rooted in.

The Dangers of Motor Sport

People seem to forget that motor sport is dangerous until a tragedy occurs such as that of Jules Bianchi’s awful crash and resultant head injury, and later fatality, in Japan in 2014. This sport more than most has seen its fair share of fatalities. If people like driver, Jackie Stewart and surgeon, Professor Sid Watkins, had not campaigned for advancements in safety over the years, the number of deaths would surely be much higher.

Fourteen drivers died during the 1960s alone, and safety enhancements were already just beginning to take effect during this era.

There has been one F1 racing driver fatality since the fateful weekend at Imola in 1994, when both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives, but near misses have occurred and loss of life has also happened in other formulas. Safety standards have been improved since ’94 and they continue to be at the forefront of the sport, especially recently in respect of open or closed cockpits, so the dangers of motor sport have been highlighted again and we wait to see what Jules Bianchi’s legacy will be in terms of safety changes.

Drivers have also been injured over recent years; Fernando Alonso crashed in 2015 pre-season testing, in a mystery accident that meant he didn’t take part in the season opener in Australia. Michael Schumacher broke his legs in an accident at Silverstone in 1999 when his brakes failed and Felipe Massa had a terrible incident in qualifying in Hungary in 2009 when a car part from the vehicle in front broke free and hit him on the head, causing a skull fracture through his helmet, the need for immediate surgery and a long-term stay in hospital. Happily Fernando, Felipe and Michael recovered well and returned to driving and racing, but anything can happen.

The best way for me to demonstrate this to you is to show you one or two of the accidents that have happened in the last few years; the drivers here were not seriously injured but these couple of clips go to show that it’s not a safe sport.

Accidents and Incidents in F1

This is one of the most amazing incidents of recent years. Mark Webber misjudges his pass on the Lotus with incredible consequences. Both drivers walked away shaken but unhurt.

2012, Spa in Belgium, in-car and on-track footage. The start of the race can be the trickiest. Just look at the helmet of the driver in the red Ferrari.

The Pinnacle of Motor Sport

Why do I describe it as ‘the pinnacle of motor sport’? The way Formula One works is based around several teams (say ten or so), who each race two cars and drivers at each of the 20 or 21 races in a season.
The drivers are all individuals who have worked their way up through the ranks and are at the peak of their skills and fitness. Some are better than others of course, some drive smoother, understand the technology better, are more ‘adventurous’ with their passes than others, etc. etc. but they are all flesh and blood.

Now the cars are another thing. If you got hold of the best engineers in the world and gave them free rein, they would each come up with the best they could do, but every designer would have focused on a different aspect and each item produced would probably be wildly different.

This is where the rule book comes in. Yes, of course there are rules for the drivers, when taking part in the race, for the qualifying sessions to decide the line-up for the start and so on, but one of the largest parts of the rule book is about the car specifications.

You might think that if they all have to work to the same specifications the cars would be all the same, but they’re not. Each team and each designer has their own way of interpreting these rules and this is where the true technological development, advancement, ‘cleverness’ if you will, comes into its own.

These men and women are masters of their art. They push the boundaries, reinterpret what’s gone before, use new materials and generally wring the neck of design. And the thing is it doesn’t always end there.
These technological advancements can often be found on new cars in your local car showroom or garage. The car manufacturers are not just in the sport for the sake of it, they want to be able to not only promote their brand but also incorporate these technologies into their road cars.

An example is ERS, the energy recovery system, which was introduced into Formula One in 2014 based partially around the previous KERS (kinetic energy recovery system). In its simplest terms it’s a system, which recovers energy from the waste heat that occurs when a car brakes (just think how hard it is to slow down a car that’s travelling at 100 mph for a corner) and also heat energy from the turbocharge system on the exhausts of the new engines, and these systems put this recovered energy into special batteries in the car.

This ‘extra’ energy is then stored and used by the car to provide additional ‘power’; in effect this means that for up to 33 seconds a lap the car could have an extra 160 brake horsepower. When a lap can be over a minute long and the differences between drivers are just fractions of a second, this is quite something…
This is actually a very ‘green’ and environmentally friendly technology, saving, recovering and recycling energy, and of course if it’s useful, car producers would like to include that idea into their cars too. Several carmakers are already looking at ways in which to use this technology and are beginning to introduce ‘similar’ systems.

Formula One is full of this creativity, the desire to push the boundaries, find the limits and produce new and exciting technology. Most advancements in your new car are likely to have come from motor sport.

The Noise!

Red Bull car Photo taken by DreyaB

Red Bull car Photo taken by DreyaB

The great thing about F1 is not just the excitement of cars and racers going up against each other, it’s not just about the technology or the intrigue and politics, it’s about the fun, the atmosphere and the noise!

If you think about your normal car that you take on the road each week, it won’t be completely quiet, even the electric ones make a little noise. But if you’re on a motorway or expressway, what sort of speed are you going and how noisy is your car then? Perhaps 70 mph or 110 km/hour?

Formula One cars can easily reach over 200 mph, though their averages in races are lower (circuits have lots of bends and corners too!) and remember they’re built only for one person, and they’re not all closed in like a family car. So the engines in them are pretty awesome and noisy, though admittedly things changed a bit in 2014 with the new engine requirements, but in 2016 they could get louder again with a second exhaust pipe.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend one Grand Prix in my time (they’re pretty expensive) and the noise was amazing! An individual F1 car is not as loud as say a jet car dragster, where you can feel your chest pound and flutter from the sound they make, but imagine what the start of a Formula One race is like.

My fantastic partner bought me race weekend tickets to a Grand Prix as a mega birthday present one year, knowing how much I loved the sport but never having been to one. It was a brilliant few days and I will never forget the start of that race. I’ve got goosebumps now just thinking about it!

As we stood in the grandstand next to the grid where all the cars lined up, the tension mounted. There were 22 cars formed up on that grid, engines running. As the starting light sequence commenced, the pitch of those 22 engines rose. I’ve never been so excited; I squeezed my partner’s hand tight. I had earplugs in and ear defenders on over the top and still you could hear and feel the roar of those cars. In a split second the lights went out and they were off. The race was underway… So brilliant!

Now since the changes in 2014 from the 2.4-litre normally aspirated V8 engines to the 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines, the engine noises have changed. The previous V8s produced over 750bhp while the 2014 engines put out about 600bhp but they have additional recovered power coming from ERS (see above). All this meant the engine notes sounded significantly different and there was much discussion in the early part of 2014 about this which has resulted in a change to two exhaust pipes in 2016.

The die-hard fans initially struggled to adapt to the changing sound – I don’t think any of them (me included) had realised just how different the cars were going to sound. I have to admit that for the first race weekend of the season I was one of those strugglers. I couldn’t believe how strange things sounded compared to the old cars and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else at first, so I’m really looking forward to the start of 2016 to find out if I can hear any difference. You see at the end of the day F1 isn’t just about the noise. As I’ve already explained there’s so much more and the engine changes (for me at least) have not destroyed the passion I have for the sport, and most true fans of course have stuck by it as well. There as some major changes planned as well for 2017, but they’re still finalising the small print for now.

F1 Noise and Highlights

Don’t worry about the picture too much just listen to the sound!

This just gives you a flavour of what F1 can be about…

A great comparison to illustrate what I’m talking about. The true fans have stuck with F1 no matter what though…

The Winners


Formula One is a fascinating and exciting sport; there are so many aspects to it and so much variety. The winners are not just the drivers and the teams, the fans win too. With Hamilton chasing his fourth title, the US Grand Prix in October, a whole new set of rules and regulations due to be introduced in 2017 and some interesting amendments for 2016, there’s never been a better time to get acquainted with the sport I love.

Where you can find out more about Formula 1

If I’ve managed to catch your interest you can use these links to find out much more about Formula 1, the pinnacle of motor sport.




DreyaB is British-born and now living in rural France where she lives the simple life along with her partner and various assorted animals. She writes on a wide variety of subjects including Formula One, arts and crafts and reviews of books, games and her favourite products. To see more of her writing and articles click here

Author: Jackie Jackson

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  1. Great article – great videos!

    • Thank you Jackie. Knew you’d like it! 😉 Some of those video clips are amazing… :0)

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