How To Sound Like An F1 Buff Watching The First Race Of The Season
Whether you're trying to get into the sport for the first time this year or have a Sunday Session planned on race day. Here's everything you need to know to make this year's Grand Prix a far more absorbing watch.
The Race Weekend
A normal F1 weekend begins on a Friday with a two practice sessions. This allows the driver and teams to fine-tune the car to the circuit's conditions, adjusting things like handling and downforce to provide the car with as much grip in the corners, and as much speed on the straights, as possible. It's worth saying here that the track itself often proves a massive variable in a race weekend, and it's all-too-common for a team to go an entire weekend without tuning a car that's well-balanced enough to prove competitive on race-day.
After another practice session on Saturday, comes qualifying. This is actually where you see F1 cars at their fastest, with drivers battling it out to set the fastest time possible in a single lap of the track. This sets the order for the grid the next day.
How A Race Normally Goes
The Australian GP runs for 58 laps around the Albert Park grand prix circuit. It's a unique location, as despite the fact that it's technically a street circuit, it's still wide enough to be condusive to overtaking.
The biggest mistake people have coming into watching F1 for the first time is hoping for it to be a two hour marathon of crashes and overtakes. As with most motorsports, this simply isn't the case. F1 is a sport of strategy — one where races are generally made or broken by a team or driver's reactions to the race happening around them.
The most exciting part of any F1 race is, invariably, the first lap. It's a time when the field is as closely bunched together as it ever gets, and Australia's run-in to turn 1 is one of the most iconic on the calendar. It makes for hectic, chaotic racing, and is where the majority of major crashes happen.
For the leaders in particular, a race can essentially be won by making a good start, as aerodynamically, it pays to be in the lead. Getting caught up in traffic exposes the car to more dirty, distorted air thrown up by the cars in front, reducing grip, and speed in the process. If you have no-one in front of you to chase, the easier it is to go faster.
The second major variable in F1 comes in the form of Pit Stops. F1 teams now have them down to a science, and a race strategy is essentially built around when to bring a driver in for new tyres. Teams generally float between a 1 or 2-stop strategy — 1 stop affords the advantage of only having to come in once, however you run the risk of the tyres degrading to an extent where it costs you more time in the process.
A two-stop strategy adds more security grip-wise and allows you to push the car harder, but if you're battling with someone on a one-stop and they're still making good time, the extra pit stop may prove too costly in time.
Formula 1 racing, is, then, a high-speed game of chess. It's a sport based around responding to the strategies of others, all while making split-second decisions to give a driver an added advantage. All this while the driver himself is still very much racing.
The Other Variables (O the stuff that will really make you sound like a F1 buff)
The Safety Car
A large crash is about the biggest spanner you can throw into the works of any race, as it brings out the safety car, bunching the field back up and temporarily restoring the race back to lap 1 conditions.
DRS is one of the main measures introduced into F1 to help increase overtaking opportunities. It basically works by lowering a flap on the car's rear wing, increasing a car's straight-line speed. It can only be used by a car that's less than a second behind the driver in front.
A rule of thumb in F1 (like any other motorsport) is that you need to spend $5 million to make $1 million in profit. For that reason, most car manufacturers simply can't justify spending developing their own F1 teams, and only a few factory teams (Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault) exist anymore.
This means that the other teams, for instance McLaren or Red Bull, are forced to rely on outside manufacturers to make their engines, meaning their success depends entirely on another company's ability to make an effective and reliable power plant. Sometimes, like in the case of Red Bull back during the Vettel years, it goes fine. Sometimes, however, it ends disastrously. Red Bull have had troubles with their Aston Martin-derived power plant, while Honda have become the laughing stock of F1 after a calamitous two years making engines for McLaren.
Who You Should Know About
There's been a lot of chopping and changing in the F1 grid over the last 18 months, and with the departure of Fernando Alonso from McLaren last year, only Kimi Raikkonen remains from the era where the likes of Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa reigned supreme. The new generation has arrived, with Max Verstappen taking up senior driving duties at Red Bull, GP2 stars George Russell and Alexander Albon stepping up to the sport for the first time, Charles Leclerc deputising for Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, and Lando Norris joining Carlos Sainz at McLaren.
Of course, that goes without saying that the veterans in the form of Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, and the aforementioned Sebastian Vettel still very much rule the roost. For a proper breakdown of who to look out for this year, the F1 have a great guide you can watch below.