F1 explained for beginners

Formula 1: Everything you need to know about the F1

Amon Fearon - November 11, 2022

Formula 1 racing is the world’s most exciting - and technically accomplished - racing event. With more than 400 million viewers and a global audience, Formula 1 is a popular sport you won't want to miss. From the engineering ingenuity of the race cars to the fervour surrounding Grand Prix events, many of the best automotive brands show up to this spectacle to battle for top spot on the podium. Whether you’re a seasoned F1 fan brushing up on one or two pieces of info, or a keen beginner looking to understand the sport, we’re here to cover some of the main questions people are asking about F1.

Here’s what you’ll find:

  • How long is an F1 race?
  • How many laps are in an F1 race?
  • How many F1 teams are there?
  • How does F1 qualifying work?
  • How fast can F1 cars go?
  • What does ‘interval’ mean in F1?
  • Do you have to make a pit stop in F1?
  • The fastest F1 pit stop

How long is an f1 race?

There are two parts to this answer: distance and time.

In terms of distance, F1 races must be at least 305km (just over 189 miles) long. Races often clock in slightly over this figure because the 305km mark will be hit during a lap, and racers are still required to finish that lap.

One track is exempt from this rule: on the Circuit de Monaco, racers are only required to complete 260.5km (just shy of 162 miles). This is because the Circuit de Monaco is laid out on the city streets of Monte Carlo.

With regards to time, races usually take about an hour and a half. The maximum length of a race is two hours: if the race is approaching two hours, a signal is given to drivers to let them know.

If a race is paused because of weather or a crash, this two hour maximum can increase to three hours.

How many laps are in an F1 race?

The number of laps in an F1 race varies depending on the course. Because races are 305km long (or 260.5km on the Circuit de Monaco), drivers complete as many laps as required to hit this distance.

  • The shortest circuit used in the 2021-22 season was the Circuit de Monaco, clocking in at 3.337km and requiring 78 laps.
  • The shortest circuit used for a 305km race was Circuit Zandvoort, whose 4.259km required 71 laps 
  • The longest track used in the 2021-22 season was the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps: 7.004km, or 43 laps

The TV driver board should show the current lap as well as the track’s total number of laps e.g. lap 2/66.

How many F1 teams are there?

In the 2022-23 F1 season there are 10 teams, each with two drivers:

  • Alfa Romeo: Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu
  • AlphaTauri: Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda
  • Alpine: Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon
  • Aston Martin: Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll
  • Ferrari: Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc
  • Haas F1 Team: Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen
  • McLaren: Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo
  • Mercedes: George Russell and Lewis Hamilton
  • Red Bull: Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez
  • Williams: Alexander Albon and Nicholas Latifi

In total, around 132 teams that have participated in at least 1 past Grand Prix event.

The process for new teams to enter F1 is long, and prospective teams must pay a $200 million entry fee. Castore are the kit team partners of McLaren and Red Bull for 2023.

McLaren F1 team in Castore clothing

How does F1 qualifying work?

There are 20 grid positions in an F1 race, and a process called qualifying is used to determine which drivers start where.

Qualifying takes place before each race. The session takes around an hour, and is broken into three stages - Q1, Q2 and Q3 - which work as follows:

  1. In Q1 all 20 drivers race. After 18 minutes drivers finish the lap they’re on. The final five finishers fill grid positions 16-20.
  2. In Q2 the 15 drivers race for 15 minutes, then at the end of that lap another 5 are knocked out to fill positions 11-15.
  3. In Q3 the remaining 10 drivers each have 10-12 minutes to set the fastest lap time possible. Positions 1 (pole position) to 10 are allocated from fastest to slowest.

Penalties can be incurred: these are applied after Q1-3 are completed. 

How fast can F1 cars go?

Think about the length of a race - 305km - and the average time - 90 mins - and you get an impressive average race speed of about 203km/h (just over 126mph). 

But this is far from the full picture.

F1 cars represent the pinnacle of motor engineering, and their speed and power is something to behold:

  • The record high speed for an F1 car during a race was set by Valtteri Bottas in 2016: a whopping 372.5km/h (231.4mph).
  • The Honda F1 team holds the record for fastest ever speed: 397.37km/h (just shy of 250mph).
  • Michael Schumacher set the highest average race speed in 2003, at 247.586km/h (almost 154mph).
  • F1 cars can accelerate from 0-60mph in roughly 2.6 seconds but have recorded as fast as 1.6 seconds.

What does ‘interval’ mean in F1?

In an F1 race the scoreboard will look something like this:

F1 race scoreboard

Each driver’s name is given along with various information including their team, logo, time, and tyre type.

However, only the top driver’s time is shown in the regular format: other drivers’ time is indicated by a number relative to this, known as the interval.

In F1, the interval is the amount of time between a driver and the driver ahead of them. So in the picture above, Daniil Kvyat’s time of +0.948 means he was 0.948 seconds behind Sergio Perez. 

Do you have to make a pit stop in F1?

A pit stop is a stop for drivers and race teams to make mechanical adjustments to their car. In F1, pit stops take place incredibly quickly: in a matter of seconds.

Due to regulation changes in 2010, F1 cars are no longer allowed to refuel in pit stops, meaning they must carry enough fuel for the whole race. This change was made to improve safety.

But a lot of people wonder whether F1 drivers are still required to make pit stops.

As with everything in F1, it depends, this time on the weather: unless using intermediate or wet-weather tyres, F1 rules dictate that each driver must make a pit stop. This is because they are required to use at least 2 different dry tyre compounds during a race.

The fastest F1 pit stop

New rules around pit stops were introduced in 2021, with the view to reduce the risk that comes with too much focus on speed, and to improve driver safety as a result. Various actions are now not allowed to be completed in less than 0.15 seconds.

This said, there is a certain amount of prestige in achieving the quickest pit stops. Doing so means that drivers can re-enter the race as quickly as possible, minimising disruption and improving the chances of a better overall time.

The fastest pit stop on record was achieved by team Red Bull in 2019, and took just 1.82 seconds.

Considering this involves raising the car, doing the required jobs, and lowering it back down, the time is an incredible show of precision and ability.

Hopefully, answering 8 of the top F1 questions demonstrates just how incredible a sport this is. With world-class teams and racers pushing the boundaries of what’s mechanically possible, we can’t wait to see what the rest of the season holds.