The beginners guide to a Formula 1® weekend
We all know that F1® is awesome! However, with the recent Netflix documentary, we have been hearing more and more people saying, “Wow! I’ve never seen a race in my life, but how great is this!”
Liberty Media sure have capitalised on their strengths and attracted new people into the sport.
So if you’re new to F1, here is a basic rundown of what you need to know about Formula 1, how qualifying works and what you need to know when watching your race weekend.
Every race weekend follows the same simple format (except Monaco).
Each race weekend has 3 free practice sessions (FP1, FP2 & FP3), three qualifying sessions and one race that are all spread over Friday, Saturday & Sunday.
Friday: FP1 & FP2 each run for 1.5 hours on the Friday of each race weekend. There are 2.5 hours between the end of FP1 & the start of FP2.
Saturday: Saturday consists of FP3 & Qualifying. FP3 runs for 60 minutes and then 2 hours after FP3 finishes, qualifying starts which generally runs for an hour.
Sunday: It's RACE DAY! Sunday consists of the race itself, what the entire weekend has built up to! The race runs for a fixed amount of laps that varies circuit to circuit, or 120 minutes, whichever comes first.
The quirks of each session
The entire lead up to the race consists of the teams trying to get as much information and data as they can on how the car is reacting and performing so they can strategise for the race.
FP1 The cars are completely stripped down and rebuilt between each event, which means that FP1, consists of a lot of checks, single laps and just making sure the car is operating as expected. FP1 will also often be used to test upcoming drivers in the modern F1 car.
FP2 tends to have all race drivers in their own car. FP2 is typically used to test a drivers race pace, which means they will put higher fuel loads in the car and run for longer stints.
FP3 is generally used as a qualifying simulation. The teams will start to open their engines up a little and put in some faster times than you would have seen through the other practice sessions. As there is only 2 hours between the end of FP3 and Qualifying, there isn’t enough time to change out a gearbox, so teams must use their race gearbox in FP3 (more on this later), which means they also tend to be cautious.
Qualifying is made up of 3 sessions - Q1, Q2 & Q3.
Q1 runs for 18 minutes, all cars go out on track and try and set their fastest lap. The fastest 15 cars make it through to Q2 while the cars P16 and down start in the order they qualified from fastest to slowest.
Q2 runs for 15 minutes, the top 15 drivers from Q1 all come out again to try and set their fastest lap. Their times from Q1 are cleared so they have to start from scratch. The top 10 drivers from Q2 make it through to Q3 and P11 to P15 start in the order they finished (even if they don’t set a time at all or their time was slower than Q1)
Q3 runs for 12 minutes and the top 10 drivers from Q2 come out to set their fastest lap. Wherever they finish in Q3 is where they will start the race.
The top 10 cars from Q2 HAVE to start the race on Sunday with the tyres they qualified on in Q2.
What does this mean?
Typically over qualifying, tyres only last a few laps, the drivers are pushing them so hard the tyre’s wear out quickly, lose grip and therefore performance. So for example, if a driver makes a mistake on their fast lap and has to go again in Q2, their tyres have done more laps than other drivers who got it right the first time.
So... the top teams tend to be cautious in Q2, they want a quick time, but don’t want to compromise their race on Sunday.
In Q3, teams are also given a free set of tyres for the session (more on the importance of this later) to encourage them to go out for two attempts at pole position.
Finally - qualifying decides the initial starting grid, any penalties incurred in the previous race or over the weekend in the lead up to qualifying, are applied after the grid has been set through qualifying.
The race is pretty straightforward; it race runs for a fixed amount of laps, or 120 minutes plus one lap, whichever comes first.
Each team has to use at least two compounds of tyre per race unless it’s declared a wet race, in which case they can start and finish on wet tyres.
There are 5 compounds of tyre in the 2019 season. Hard, Medium, Soft, Wet & Intermediate.
Without getting too complicated, the hard, medium and soft compounds each have two variations.
The Quirks Of Tyres
Each team has to elect their tyre choice for each weekend months in advance. They are only allowed a set amount of tyres per weekend and rely on the data from the previous year's race and their pre-season testing to see how the tyre lasts and how their car reacts on each tyre. Which is why the free set in Q3 is a bonus to encourage the teams to go out for two flying laps.
There are a range of flags that can be used over the weekend and each one has a different meaning. Here are the main ones you need to know about:
Yellow - danger ahead, overtaking is prohibited while the yellow flag is out and cars must slow down.
Double Yellow - considerable danger ahead, cars must slow down considerably and be prepared to stop. Overtaking is prohibited under double yellow flag.
Blue - the car in front needs to pull over to let the car behind past. It’s shown to backmarkers (cars about to be lapped) through the race and cars on a slow lap through free practice and qualifying sessions.
Red - the session has been suspended. Usually due to a major accident or something that has caused the track to become unsafe. All cars are required to go to the pit lane and remain there until the track has been declared safe.
There are a lot more rules and regulations around F1 that you will discover as you watch each race weekend and get into the sport. However, these are some of the more important and basic rules that will help you understand what's going on each weekend.
From here, all we can say is... Enjoy!