So the 2014 season finale is over, and the drivers' and constructors' championship has brought happiness to some and sorrows for many. While many think that Formula 1 is all about speed, the real truth is, Formula 1 is nothing but the strategies and regulations, which go into making a race, successful. Formula1 is an immensely complex game, due to these rules and strategies only. For a first time spectator, it can be a bit frustrating, not able to understand, the science behind the game.
A race weekend is typically divided into three days, from practice sessions to qualifying race, and the actual race. A race in itself is dependent on the factors at the start of the race, then all the stops during the race, known as the pit stops and the finishing. So we bring you a comprehensive and point-wise discussion of the strategies and rules of the game.
A typical race weekend is divided into three days, with day one- Friday- utilized as a practice day, where two one and a half-hour practice sessions take place. On Saturday, a one-hour session practice session is mandatory, followed by a qualifying session on the afternoon.
Saturday's qualifying session, is split into three distinct parts, each with multiple drivers on track simultaneously, and each with the drivers running as many laps as they want:
Q1: The first session starts with all cars running the laps for the first 18 minutes, to achieve their best time. At the end of the first 18 minutes, the six slowest cars drop out and fill the final six grid places.
Q2: After a seven-minute break, again the same procedure takes place, but this time with leftover cars (16 in number) and the session is timed at 15-minutes. At the end of the session, six slowest cars drop out and fill places 11 to 16 on the grid.
Q3: After a further eight-minute break, the qualifying comes down to the final 10 drivers, who set their fastest lap, in order to achieve the pole (the one who will start the race from ahead). The final session is timed to 12-minute session.
The Sunday race spans over one and a half hour session and the laps are counted by dividing the average time of the lap by the total time. So, in Indian GP, the average time to complete the lap was 1 minute 30 seconds and dividing it by 90 minutes, the laps came out to be 60. The top three drivers are said to achieve the podium.
Teams and Drivers
The regulations of FIA indicate a minimum of 10 teams on the grid for the race, and each team consisting two drivers. So at a time, to fill the grid, there must be 20 drivers. But, it depends on season to season and sometimes there are 22 drivers and sometimes 24, depending on the addition and removal of the teams.
The role of team can be played by anyone, who have cars, technical support and enough funds to run the race. Teams like Ferrari and Mercedes are factory teams, who manufacture their own engine, chassis and do the assembly, at a separate Formula1 division. Others like Red Bull are pure marketing teams, who have taken over some other teams and uses the brand name for marketing. Red Bull uses an engine developed by Renault.
The F1 points system has changed quite a few times now. The current point system is revered as one of the systems in many years and benefits the top 10 drivers of the grid. The winner gets 25 points, followed by 18 points of the runner-up and 15 points of the driver at the third place. The driver at the tenth spot gets 1 point.
Formula 1 calender is the most variable aspect of all, with typically one or two races getting in or out of the calender every year or so. The start of the season is around the mid of the march, dates depending on the weekend, and the end of the season is around mid to last of November. The 2014 season saw 19 races in all, starting from Australia and ending at Abu Dhabhi.
The races used to be 20 in number, with the Indian GP, happening in October. But with no Indian GP, the races reduced to 19 in number with an addition of Mexico in 2015 and a possibility of two more GPs in 2016, will take the toll upto 22 races.
They say, of many circuits, where overtaking is nearly impossible, the race start is a winner decider. And hence, most of the planning and tuning comes down to the most critical part of a Formula One race -- the start. The start procedure looks something like this:
1. Cars are driven to their respective grid positions, 30 minutes prior to the race. If they don't adhere to the timings, they have to start racing from the pit stop, alas when after first racing lap.
2. Final preparations and adjustments are done once the cars are in their grid positions.
3. Everyone has to leave the grid, five minutes prior the race begins.
4. As we discussed in our previous article, the tyres of the car needs to warm up for optimum performance, and hence a formation lap is performed, as soon as a green light signals the beginning of the formation lap, a single loop around the track.
5. After the formation lap is over, the cars once again take their respective grid positions and the officials walk onto the track, to check if everything is in place.
6. A set of random red lights is used to indicate the start of the race. As soon as the final red light goes out, the race begins.
One of the most important and result changing time is the time spent at the pit stops by a team. In a matter of just seven to 10 seconds, the pit crew has to complete the following:
• Change the tires
• Refuel the car
• Adjust the wings
• Replace damaged bodywork
• Clear debris from the car's intake
• Get the car safely back on the track
Everything from the timings to stop at the pit, from the timings inside the pit, matters. So depending on the track and conditions, a team decides when and how long a pit stop will take. Though, it can change at any time, depending on various factors.
All the preparations and strategies are meant for this part of the race. Every driver is working hard to see that checkered flag first. Like the start of the race, at the end of the race, after the checkered flag, the winner must complete another lap, known as the slowing down lap, after which he is allowed to return to the pits to celebrate with his team members. The car, after the race, is directed to an area called 'parc fermé', which in French means 'closed park', a fenced-off area where only race officials and drivers are allowed. The car is parked there for the final inspection for all the technical regulations, and the driver is weighed to check, if they exceed the specified weight limit. Finally, if the car and driver pass these inspections, they are declared winners. The driver is then escorted to the winner's podium and given champagne to pop as part of the celebration.
Formula One Safety
Safety is one area, where each and every effort is made, to protect a driver's life. The last and most infamous death was of famous Ayrton Senna in 1994. Since then, there has been no fatal accident.
As a part of the driver's overall, clothing, boots, and gloves, form a complete and seamless barrier. The stuff used for making all the clothing is called Nomex, a material that can save the driver from a fire for at least 12 seconds, the time it should take medical and rescue personnel to reach an accident. The sponsor logos that appear on the overalls must also be made from this fire-resistant material.
Next is the Head and Neck Support System (HANS), made completely out of carbon-fiber. It is a collar that fits around a driver's neck, and helps him from any strains on his head and neck in the event of a crash or collision.
The Helmet is the basic and the most important part of any safety equipment. All the helmets are made to fit a driver's exact dimension and consists of the same layered carbon-fiber material used to construct the monocoque. This results in an ultrastrong, but extremely lightweight, helmet that decreases the momentum a driver's head would experience in a serious crash.
Seatbelt offers support of any kind to a four-wheeler driver and an F1 belt is a five-point harness system. The five "points" refer to the five straps that make up the harness: one over each of the driver's shoulders, one on each side and one that comes up between the legs. All of the straps connect to a central buckle, which is locked for the race. There is a quick-release mechanism so a driver can get out of the car quickly in an emergency.
Also important are the Field Marshals who are deployed in hundreds of numbers to ensure the safety of drivers and spectators. These marshals wear bright orange coveralls and have three primary jobs: Warn drivers of danger, clear debris or damaged cars from the track and keep spectators in their assigned areas.
A safety car is used in the event of a crash or other incident. When the safety car is on the track, the field must slow down behind it, with the leader in front. No driver can try to overtake another in such a situation.
Formula 1 is one of the most watched out sports around the globe, with over 150 million watching a race on television. Sadly, in India, it is still unknown. We hope, our article will give an insight to the sport, and more and more people will start watching this thrilling and fast paced sports.