F1 101: Your cheat sheet

Formula One Grand Prix. If you asked me my thoughts on it before I left for Europe, I would have looked at your  blankly and mumbled something about it being loud and like NASCAR.

It took another continent and tickets to the Formula One Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain (thank you Land of Valencia) to catch on and feel the craze that sweeps over people when the engines whirr.

My first experience with F1 was on a road trip from Madrid to Merida. It is about a four-hour drive and we needed to stop for lunch. However, the lunch stop HAD to be timed to coincide with the start of the race in Monaco.

For 90 minutes, my two Spanish friends and I sat at a rest stop restaurant, glued to the television watching the 70 or so laps the cars made through the winding streets of the course.  My friends tried to explain it to me, but really, all I gathered from the chat was “Alonso needs to win.”

He didn’t.

So, when I was given my lanyard to hit the race on 27 June, I immediately felt a tinge of unworthiness. I mean, my friends had stopped at a road-side restaurant to watch the race, and now here I was, an American with no real knowledge of F1, and was sitting about nine rows from the action across from the pit lane.

(See, I learned a new term, “pit lane.”)

I tried to ask questions during the race, but it is nearly impossible over the loud high-pitched hum of the engines and the ears being plugged. Most of the time, I saw mouths moving in explanation, but heard nothing.
I can tell you this — I loved it. I didn’t know what was going on, but the energy … the fans all clad in red and Ferrari logos … the experience was amazing.

BUT, these are the things I wish I would have known before being a fan in the stands for F1.

This, my friends, is your F1 101 in brief (NOTE: this in no way should serve as anyone’s F1 Bible … it’s more of a twisted interpretation of what I have gathered. Apologies to any F1 fans if I have butchered this beyond recognition):

What is it?

Formula One (AKA F1) is a series of Grand Prix races held throughout Europe and the world, on “circuits” (local roads and roads built for the race) culminating in two World Championship races — one for the drivers and one for the constructors.

What kind of cars are raced?

F1 cars are single-seat cars with open cockpits racing at ridiculously fast speeds — upwards of 220 miles per hour — and engines that top out at 18,000 rpm. The cars are technological wonders that are designed based on aerodynamics, suspension and tires.

Who races?

Drivers with a death wish. I kid. These drivers have mad skills, most of them have been racing since their early youth with visions of crossing the finish line at championship.

Typically, drivers begin in kart races, then move up through other single seater series in Europe.

Each year, drivers are contracted for a team. Teams have typically more than one driver (to serve as a backup).

Where are the circuits?

Races held each year in Valencia, Spain; Monaco; Singapore; and Melbourne are on specially designed circuits. Other races take place in Europe, Asia, Canada and South America.

How does a car qualify?

In order to qualify for the Grand Prix, drivers must run qualifying laps to set their fastest times. They have three rounds of laps where each driver races against themselves to set their fastest lap pace. The slowest drivers are knocked out and the remaining 1o drivers set their grid position (where they start on the circuit) based on their lap times. Each period, drivers are knocked out based on lap time, resulting in the fastest 10 moving on to the Grand Prix.

How does the race work?

At the beginning of the race, there is a warm-up lap where drivers simply drive the track to ensure the cars are ready for action and to get a feel for the track. They then return to their starting point on the grid and wait for the signal to start the action (five red lights that are lit one-by-one and then shut off at the same time). From there, it is all about strategy.

How does a team win the championship?

It’s all about points. The top 10 teams receive points each race, with the winner bringing in 25. At the end of the season, whoever has the most points is crowned the champ.

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formula_One#The_race

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/discovering-what-makes-formula-one-formula-one.html

Disclosure: Land of Valencia covered all lodging, meals and activities.

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