2016: A Beginner’s Guide to Formula One

Have you ever wondered what Formula One is all about? There’s no better time to start watching the sport than at the start of a new season. The sport is about to embark on a record breaking 21 race season and if you’re wanting to watch, but you’re not sure what’s going on, here’s a brief guide.

The Basics

From reigning world champions Mercedes to new team Haas, eleven teams make up the current Formula One grid with each team fielding two race drivers. Driver experience levels range from complete rookie to veteran of 250+ Grand Prix.

Jenson Button is the most experienced current Formula One driver. He has started 284 Grand Prix and has won one world championship. The reigning world champion is Lewis Hamilton, fresh off the back of his third world title in 2015. The driver with the most world championships on the current grid is Sebastian Vettel (four). Other world champions on the grid are Fernando Alonso (two) and Kimi Raikkonen (one).

For the first time ever, 2016 will see the calendar feature 21 races. The season starts in Australia and ends in Abu Dhabi.

Points are awarded per race for the top ten positions as follows:

  • First – 25
  • Second – 18
  • Third – 15
  • Fourth – 12
  • Fifth – 10
  • Sixth – 8
  • Seventh – 6
  • Eighth – 4
  • Ninth – 2
  • Tenth – 1

The drivers champion is the driver with the most points at the end of the season. The constructors champion is the team with the most points at the end of the season. The team points are made up of both their drivers’ points.

The Drivers

As previously mentioned, there are five world champions currently on the Formula One grid. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both drive for Ferrari, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso both drive for McLaren and Lewis Hamilton drives for Mercedes – the reigning champions.

Drivers race with permanent numbers – a rule brought into the sport in 2014. Previously the world champion had driven with number one on his car with his team-mate racing with number two. Number three was on the car of the team who finished second in the championship and worked out so on and so forth. These permanent numbers were picked by drivers for a variety of reasons, whether it was a special number to them or a random choice.

There are three rookies on this year’s grid – Jolyon Palmer at Renault, Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto at Manor.

The Race Weekend

The race weekend is split into three main sections – practice, qualifying and the race.

Free Practice sessions take place on Friday and Saturday. On Friday there are two hour and a half long practice sessions, with the exception being the Monaco Grand Prix where they take place on Thursday. Unlike in the past, race drivers generally take part in the Friday practice sessions although occasionally teams may choose to run their test drivers.

The third and final practice session is an hour long and takes place on the Saturday morning prior to qualifying.

Qualifying has had a shake up ahead of the 2016 season but will still be made up of three sessions – Q1, Q2, and Q3. This decides the grid order for Sunday’s race but could be shaken up by grid penalties. Penalties can be received for a number of reasons including impeding another driver during qualifying, causing an incident at a previous race, or changing a component of the car when you’re not supposed to.

The race is then held on a Sunday with the number of laps depending on the length of the circuit or the amount of time a lap takes. Races can not exceed two hours in length and if a situation arises where the two hour limit is reached before the planned end of the race, the race is stopped at the end of the lap the lead driver is on when they hit two hours.

The Nitty Gritty

Tyres

Pirelli are the sole tyre supplier in Formula One and, like qualifying, there has been some adjustments made to the tyre rules ahead of the 2016 season.

There are five dry tyre (‘slick’) compounds – Ultrasoft, Supersoft, Soft, Medium and Hard – and two for wet weather – Intermediate and Full Wet. Each driver gets an allocation of three sets of Full Wet, four sets of Intermediate, and 13 slick tyres per weekend. In a difference to previous years Pirelli will nominate three tyre compounds per race. For Australia, for example, these three compounds are Supersoft, Soft and Medium.

From these three compounds Pirelli will give each driver two sets that must be used during the race. Drivers will also receive a set of the softest compound to use in Q3. Should a driver not make Q3, they can carry these tyres through to the race.

This leaves drivers to select how they will split the remaining ten tyres of their allocation. Team-mates do not have to make the same selections. They can choose from any of the three compounds nominated for that race weekend. Rules stipulate that a driver must make use of at least two slick compounds during a race however there is an exception to that rule. If it becomes a wet race and they have to use the Intermediate or Full Wet compound then they do not have to use two dry compounds.

Power Units

Without getting too in depth about the Power Units, essentially drivers are allowed five unpenalised Power Unit changes throughout the season. The Power Unit comprises different components. A full explanation of these can be found on the Formula One website.

Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car

If there is an incident on track the Safety Car may be deployed. Drivers must line-up behind the Safety Car – which becomes the pace setter – in the order they were in when it came out. You cannot overtake under the safety car. The Virtual Safety Car is when there is no need for the physical safety car to come out but drivers must drive to a certain lap-time if there is an incident on track.

The Viewing

Formula One can be viewed two ways in the UK – on Channel 4 and on Sky Sports. Sky Sports F1 broadcast all races completely live, while Channel 4 will broadcast ten races live with the remainder as extended highlights packages.

The sport is a new acquisition by Channel 4 following the decision of the BBC to pull the plug early in their contract due to budget cuts.

Want to go further?

The official Formula One website has a comprehensive Inside F1 section which explains in further detail the ins and outs of the sport, including the regulations.

Previous Beginners Guides on The H Duct were published in 2011 and 2012.

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