Saturday, March 17, 2012

Beginners guide to Formula 1

As I was watching the 2 free practices with a good friend of mine, who doesn’t come from a motor racing background, I was being inundated with questions about the basics of Formula 1. There is plenty of jargon and terms for things in Formula 1 that, if you were not used to hearing them, you would think what the heck is this! So I thought, being a mainly political blog, there may be a few people in this sort of position as well. I shall now compile the beginner’s guide to Formula 1.

  • · Downforce: Downforce, in general,can be simply explained as the effect that holds the car on the ground. Formula1 cars travel at ridiculous speeds of up to 300kph; they require a lot of force to keep them on the ground and able to corner. Creating Downforce on an F1 car works,essentially, opposite to that of an aeroplane. Downforce is created by the design of the car. Mainly through the front and rear wings, side pod design and the design of the floor. The ideal design would be to have a front wing cutting air, directing it to both below the car to the floor and through the side podto the rear wing. Downforce is one of the most important aspects to car setup, as you need to find the balance between corner speed and straight-line speed. Max downforce will be better in a corner, but worse down the straight and viceversa.
  • · DRS: Drag Reduction System. I touched on this in my first post. Basically the DRS is an adjustable plane on the rear wing of the car that is able to be controlled from the cockpit. The rear wing is important for downforce (see definition) through the turns. In a straight line, the rear wing is effectively just a parachute and slows the car down. By being able to adjust the plane and open it, you effectively cut a hole in the parachute when you most need it, down the straight. The DRS needs to be adjustable, as the adjustable wing dumps 80% of downforce necessary for cornering.
  • · Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA):The FIA is basically the organization that sets the rules and then enforces them. Managing the race through the stewards and race directors who investigate incidents through the race and deploy the safety cars.
  • · Tires: Since Pirelli picked up the contract to supply the tires to F1 there has been quite a big change to grip levels and wear rates. For starters, Pirelli create acertain amount of tires each year, a super soft, soft, medium and hard for dry weather and an intermediate and wet tyre for damp and wet conditions. Pirelli then, based on their own, independent testing, select 2 compounds of dry tire to allocate to the teams. They base the tire selection based on estimated tire wear of the track vs the wear rates of their compounds. Teams get 11 sets of dry tires (5 of the softer compound and 6 of the harder) and 14 sets of wet tires (7 Intermediate and 7 wet). Through the race each car must use both a soft compound tire and a hard compound tire. As a general rule, the softer the compound, the more grip and the faster the lap time. But as the compound is softer, it will degrade faster as the rubber is softer and easier to rub offagainst the road.
  • · “Marbles”: Marbles are the result of tire wear. Particularly during the race as all 24 cars on the grid race around with their tires degrading. Marbles work the same as an eraser works on a piece of paper. As you erase, the rubber parts and leaves the rubber residue on the page. As more laps pass and more cars tires degrade, the track surface off the main racing line becomes covered in the rubber residue from the tires and the track surface becomes slippery in those areas. Also, if the driver runs through the “marbles” they collect on the tires and also make the tires have less grip until they wear off again.
  • · “Green track surface”: A green track surface is used to describe a track surface, usually at the start of the weekend when there has been a small amount of track action and thus no rubber build up on the track. As the track “rubbers in” times will become faster as more rubber means more grip because the rubber of the tires gets an easier time working on rubber instead of course tarmac.
  • · Yellow flags/Safety car: The safety car is mainly used to maintain safety on the racetrack after an incident. If there is a major crash on the racetrack and a full course yellow is needed to retrieve a car or remove damaged cars from the track, then the safety car is deployed. For minor incidents or incidents off the racing line and out of danger, a localised yellow may be used in a particular section of the track. Under either yellow conditions, no passing is allowed. Another incident where the safety car may be deployed is at the start of a wet race where the track may be too dangerous to start the race under normal conditions,so the race is started and goes green when the FIA deem the track to be safe enough to start.
  • · Qualifying: The qualifying structure is awesome. There are three sessions in total. The first session sees all 24 cars on the track to set grids 17 to 24. Only 17 cars progress to session 2 to set grids 10-17. Session 3 is a straight fight to set the top 10 positions on the grid. To make things more interesting, teams only receive 3 setsof the faster, soft compound tire and 5 hard compound tires. The top teams typically use a hard compound tire in qualifying 1, as there is little chanceof them being slower than the slowest teams on any type of tire. This saves them 3 sets of new tires for qualifying 2 and 3. Usually teams use 1 set in qualifying 2, on a low fuel load (less weight) and then are able to do 2 runs in qualifying session 3, giving them 2 shots at a fastest lap time. To make things further interesting, if teams make it to qualifying 3, they must start the race on the tire that they do their fastest lap on, another reason it is critical to save 2 sets of tires for qualifying 3.
  • · Practice: Practice is essentially the time where the teams do the bulk of their testing. As official testing is banned for teams throughout the year, teams use free practices to develop new components for their cars. It is also used to gather valuable information on tire and fuel wear, which is used for strategy calculations for the race.

I think, at this stage, this will get you through the first weekend at Melbourne! If anything weird occurs, I’ll cover it in my reports after the weekend. I’ll also do a post qualifying report on Sunday,before the race. As I am racing myself tomorrow night, it won’t be able to be straight after qualifying.

I will make somewhat of a prediction though,based on free practice 1 and 2. I think Vettel will be on pole, followed by Button and then either Hamilton or Webber. Watch out for Di Resta, Hulkenberg,Schumacher and Ricciardo in his home race to impress tomorrow in qualifying.All looked very fast and stable straight out of the box today. Enjoy watching!


Robert Winter said...

I can see the point of soccer - fitness and elegance. I can see the point of cricket - the chance to drink beer and explain why you lost. I can see the point of rugby - the NZ version of Keynesian pump-priming for the economy, if Otago is anything to go by. But demented lawn-mowers going round in circles at immense cost, burning up extravagantly fossil fuels, to make Bernie Eccvestone richer, does not compute.

Hermo48 said...

See, I'm the opposite. Sometimes I sit and question the relevance of Cricket and Rugby. To the untrained eye, Cricket looks like a bloke throwing a ball at another bloke with a bat, who tries to avoid hitting it at other blokes standing around a circle of grass all day. And, you can play for 5 days and still get a drawn game. And Rugby a bunch of blokes running at each other, cuddling each other and then fighting over a ball.

Formula One is about designing and then being able to drive and race an extreme vehicle, at ridiculous speeds, with ridiculous amounts of force being exerted on both car and driver.

Robert Winter said...

And what is wrong with cuddling? F1drivers seem to be a grumpy lot who try to drive each other off the track or hit each other with detachable steering wheels and the like.....

Hermo48 said...

It may look like driving each other off the track, but only in the same way as making a good tackle looks, to the untrained eye, like a cuddle.

jabba said...

I shared a link on facebook with Bathurst 1000 of a lap around the Mt with Jensen Button .. 1:49 secs. Thought the car was going to take off or explode at the end of Conrod .. great stuff. Don't worry Robert, hear they plant a tree after each race

Suz said...

Hermo and Robert..thanks for the wittiest comments in the blogosphere today, not to mention the most gentlemanly disagreement!

Personally I've no time for any of the macho crap,(shoot me now), but am well aware I'm in the minority. Now if it were base-jumping or sky-diving..different story.

Keeping Stock said...

Quite so Suz; disagreements don't have to be acrimonious, as Robert W and Hermo have shown. For adventure though, you could try driving Hermo's race-car upside down as he managed to do a few weeks ago!