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F ormula One is pretty much the only sport I follow, and I follow it voraciously. I catch every race on TV, and several of my family members and I traveled to Indianapolis for every US Grand Prix (currently the event is off the calendar, but we are hopeful that it will return). My brother Eric worked corners at the US Grand Prix for four years, in the employ of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Dad has been a Formula 1 fan since the 60s.

F1 at present does not enjoy as much popularity in the United States as abroad, so some background as to what it is (and isn't) might be helpful.


Lewis Hamilton - Courtesy of F1 is a different series than IRL IndyCar. Both series are open wheel, but each has its own rules. IRL, for instance, races on a mix of oval tracks and road courses (race tracks with left and right turns as well as elevation changes), competes almost entirely in the United States, and does not race in the rain.

In contrast, F1 races exclusively on road courses, competes all over the world, and can race in near-monsoon conditions. In addition, there are significant technical differences (governed by the relevant rules-making body) between each series. Differences regarding regulation of weight, aerodynamics, gearbox, tire specifications, driver aids (like traction control), fuel chemistry, and engine rev limits are examples.

F1 bills itself as the pinnacle of motorsport - the acme of talent and technology. Setting aside the hype, it can be said that no other racing series is historically more permissive with respect to technical innovation or more highly regarded by race car drivers as the gold standard of racing. A genuinely stupid amount of money flows through F1. The top teams each employ around 1,000 people and have annual budgets of around half a billion dollars.

While not a trait exclusive to F1, there is a disproportionate level of intrigue and political infighting between the teams, the regulating body (the Federation Internationale Automobile) and the commercial rights holder (Formula One Management).

Some Interesting Facts:

bullet F1 cars can go from 0 to 100 and back to 0 miles per hour in under 5 seconds. This is currently faster than any commercially available sports car can go from 0 to 100 mph. Acceleration is obviously a significant contributor, but braking even more so. F1 brake discs are made of carbon fiber, which is much lighter than steel and capable of sustaining temperatures up to 750 degrees Celsius (1382 degrees Fahrenheit). In the "under 5 seconds" performance metric mentioned above, fewer than 2 seconds of that is braking.
bullet F1 cars generate a tremendous amount of downforce (air flow pushing the car against the track). At race speeds, the amount of downforce generated exceeds the weight of the car. It is therefore theoretically possible to drive the car upside down on an inverted track.
bullet The current engine "formula" is a 2.4 liter, naturally aspirated V8. It redlines at around 19,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) and achieves over 700 horsepower. Compare this to the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti's 5.7 liter V12 (7,250 rpm/540 hp), or the Honda S2000's 2.2 liter straight 4, (8,200 rpm/237 hp).
bullet A driver can experience as much as 4 to 5 g-forces (g) through corners; under straightline braking as much as 6 g. At 5 g a 150 pound person weighs 750 pounds, with the head alone weighing 50 pounds. A reasonably fit person will experience loss of vision and difficulty breathing at around 5 g.
bullet To endure the physical punishment inherent to driving these incredibly high-performing cars, F1 drivers train to be some of the fittest athletes in the world. Each driver's training program obviously varies, but their target condition is described as similar to a boxer's - a balance between stamina and strength. Programs target abdominal and upper body strength, with the neck and shoulder muscles given particular attention (on account of the g-forces). One of the challenges given the amount of training the drivers do is not to bulk up on muscle. Muscles are heavy and take up space - two things an engineer does not want in a F1 car. A top driver's body fat ratio is about 7 percent - similar to a long distance runner. Given track temperature and the fireproof racing suit, the temperature drivers experience can exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). A driver can sweat as much as a liter of fluid over the course of a race.
bullet The development lifecycle for each team is continuous year-round, not just in the off-season. Teams introduce new components and entirely new car releases throughout the season.
bullet Each track on the F1 calendar is different. Some emphasize straightline speed more than cornering, or vice versa. Some tracks are narrower than others, making overtaking difficult. Some have significant elevation changes. Most run clockwise. Each team optimizes their cars for the specific track. This might mean choosing a harder or softer tire compound, adjusting the front and rear wings (for more or less downforce), increasing or decreasing the size of airflow ducts for cooling, or setting a harder or softer suspension.

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Page last updated March 30, 2008 at 6:54:20 am