If the high-speed thrills, chills and drama of a high-octane multi-million dollar motorsport sound like your kind of entertainment, then you will love Formula 1 (F1) auto racing. Behind the Olympics and the soccer World Cup, the F1 race series is the most popular event in the sporting calendar, with the very best drivers on the planet competing for the honor to be crowned “World Champion.”
Two of the most exciting aspects of F1 (also referred to as Grand Prix racing) are its heritage and the continual evolution of its cutting-edge technology. The world championship started in 1950 and 62 years later, the sport’s best drivers continue to race at several original circuits, including Silverstone, the glamorous streets of Monte Carlo and the high-speed Monza track in tifosi-mad Italy.
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In its early days, F1 racers were wealthy amateurs running their own privateer cars, however, in today’s world, Grand Prix racing has exploded into a multi-million dollar commercial venture. Sponsors pour in big bucks to allow the world’s biggest performance car manufacturers to produce some of the most technologically-advanced machines ever to race. Hundreds of employees work long hours to refine suspension parts, piston heads and carbon fiber front wings — all with the sole aim of shaving off fractions of a second in laptime.
Every year, drivers compete on a world stage in front of a television audience of millions with the aim of adding their name to the impressive roll call of F1 world champions. Legends such as: Juan Manuel Fangio, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher are household names who have all won titles over the past six decades of racing.
The Formula 1 calendar is truly a test of endurance and logistics. The season kicks off in Australia in March, ventures onto new tracks in the tropics of Malaysia and then moves up to Shanghai and the desert of Bahrain before taking over the historic race tracks in Europe.
Then the final push of the year includes a night race on the streets of Singapore and Grand Prix races in India, Abu Dhabi, Austin, Texas and finally Brazil in November. In just the final eight weeks of the season (six races), drivers and team personnel spend over 80 hours traveling.
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Each Grand Prix event covers a distance of approximately 305 km (189.5 miles) in under two hours of racing. In-race refueling has now been banned, but even so fuel usage is weighted towards performance, not economy. F1 cars must use 2.4-liter V8 engines, which rev to a maximum 18,000 rpm and at full throttle will guzzle gas at a rate of 3.5 liters (0.92 gallons) per minute.
An F1 car’s performance figures are incredibly impressive. Firstly, they weigh just 690 kg (1,521 lbs.), including the driver. The engine itself is ultra-lightweight. Ferrari’s V8 powerplant is around 90 kg, 10 kg less than the engine of a high-performance motorbike. From a standing start, an F1 car will accelerate to 60 mph in 1.5 seconds and after five seconds will be travelling at 120 mph in fourth gear. Top speed in seventh can be as high as 215 mph. Braking is equally — if not more — impressive. The carbon brakes can scrub off 140 mph in less than two seconds.
Where an F1 car really excels, however, is in the corners. Its sponsor-filled surface is made out of ultra-strong, lightweight carbon fiber that has spent hundreds of hours being refined in a wind tunnel to ensure it produces huge amounts of downforce with as little drag as possible. The result is extraordinary high levels of grip in cornering, which the very best drivers can use to prove their worth against the opposition.
Take the Japanese Suzuka Circuit‘s famous 130R corner. A modern road car could probably take the turn flat-out at 70 mph, whereas an F1 machine will take the same turn at 170 mph. The F1 car will produce over 1,200 kg of downforce, which is the equivalent of adding a couple of large horses as passengers.
Despite having power steering, high-speed bends require great physical strength by the drivers. Fitness is must, and it becomes even more crucial during a race held in extreme heat and humidity. In his fireproof Nomex Coveralls, a driver may lose several pounds in sweat during a Grand Prix.
In addition to having brute force and strength, racers must be super smooth with the gas pedal to control the rear wheels and cornering must be precise to preserve the tyres. In every Grand Prix, two types of Pirelli tyres must be used: a softer, faster, less durable compound and a harder, slower rubber. Tyre stops have become a well-rehearsed science, with team members able to change all four wheels in an incredible three seconds during a race.
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Six former world champions line up on the current Formula 1 grid. Kimi Raikkonen of Finland races in the sleek, black and gold Lotus. The youngest consecutive title winner in history, Sebastian Vettel of Germany, races for Red Bull. His nemesis is Spaniard Fernando Alonso — looking to win with Scuderia Ferrari. Finally, British racers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button race for the supercar manufacturer McLaren, while seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher of Germany (who has just announced his retirement at the end of the 2012 season) races for Mercedes. All six racers are currently competing to win the World Championship.
Want to learn even more about the sport of F1 and the current World Championships? Check out the F1 official website for news, races, results and more.
Cover Photo Credit: Jaffa The Cake – flickr.com