A Formula One race or Grand Prix is a sporting event which takes place over three days (usually Friday to Sunday), with a series of practice and qualifying sessions prior to a race on Sunday.
Current regulations provide for two free practice sessions on Friday (Thursday for Monaco), a morning practice session and an afternoon qualifying session held on Saturday, and the race held on Sunday afternoon or evening, though the structure of the weekend has changed numerous times over the history of the sport.
Since 2006, three practice sessions are held before the race; the first on Friday morning and the second on Friday afternoon. Both sessions last one and a half hours. The third session is held on Saturday morning and lasts an hour. Testing in the middle of the season is banned, but a third driver is permitted to take part in the first Friday free practice sessions in the place of a regular driver. The Monaco Grand Prix traditionally begins on a Thursday, with Friday as a day of rest. Practice sessions for the Bahrain, Singapore and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix take place in the evening as these races are run at night.
Traditionally before 1996, qualifying was split into two one-hour sessions; the first was held on Friday (Thursday at Monaco) afternoon from 13:00 to 14:00 local time, with the second held on Saturday afternoon at the same time. The fastest time set by each driver from either session counted towards his final grid position. Each driver was limited to twelve laps per qualifying session.
In 1996 qualifying was amended with the Friday qualifying session abolished in a favour for a single qualifying session held on Saturday afternoon. As previously, each driver was limited to twelve laps with the inclusion of a 107% rule to exclude drivers with slow lap times. This was calculated by using the time of the driver on pole position and adding on 7% to create a cut-off time. This format remained until the conclusion of the 2002 season.
In 2003 the Friday running order was determined with the leader of the Drivers' Championship heading out first. The Saturday running order was determined by times set in Friday afternoon qualifying with the fastest heading out last and the slowest running first. No refuelling was allowed between the start of Saturday qualifying and the start of the race, so drivers qualified on race fuel. The lap times from the Friday afternoon session did not determine the grid order.
In 2004 the Friday session was moved to Saturday. The running order for the first session was now based on the result of the previous race. At first both sessions were held back-to-back, but the first session was later moved earlier in the day.
At the start of 2005 the sessions were held on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Lap times from both sessions were counted to give the overall aggregate position. From the 2005 European Grand Prix onwards, the Sunday morning session was dropped for a single run on Saturday afternoon having proved unpopular with drivers, teams and broadcasters. The running order was the reverse of the previous race result.
Since 2006, qualifying takes place on Saturday afternoon in a three-stage "knockout" system. One hour is dedicated to determining the grid order, divided into three periods with short intermissions between them.
Currently, the first qualifying period is eighteen minutes long, with all twenty cars on the circuit. At the end of the period, the five slowest drivers are eliminated from further qualification rounds, and fill positions sixteen to twenty on the grid based on their fastest lap time. Any driver attempting to set a qualifying time when the period ends is permitted to finish his lap, though no new laps may be started once the chequered flag is shown. After a short break, the second period begins, with fifteen cars on the circuit. At the end of the fifteen-minute period, the five slowest drivers are once again eliminated, filling grid positions eleven to fifteen. Finally, the third qualifying period features the ten fastest drivers from the second period. The drivers have twelve minutes to set a qualifying time, which will determine the top ten positions on the grid. The driver who sets the fastest qualifying time is said to be on pole position, the grid position that offers the best physical position from which to start the race. For the first two races of the 2016 season, a modified format was used where drivers were eliminated during the sessions rather than just at the end and only eight drivers progressed to the final session. Qualifying reverted to the previous format from the third race of the season onwards.
Drivers may complete as many laps as they choose. However, the top ten drivers must start the race on the set of tyres they used during their fastest lap time in the second qualifying period. These may only be changed if qualifying and the race are held under different weather conditions, or if a tyre is damaged as a result of an accident. The remaining ten drivers are free to start the race with any tyres they choose.
Generally, a driver will leave the pits and drive around the track in order to get to the start/finish line (the out-lap). Having crossed the line, they will attempt to achieve the quickest time around the circuit that they can in one or more laps (the flying lap or hot lap). This is the lap time which is used in calculating grid position. Finally, the driver will continue back around the track and re-enter the pit-lane (the in-lap). However, this is merely strategy, and no teams are obliged by the rules to follow this formula.
As of 2019, ten teams are entered for the Formula One World Championship, each entering two cars for a total of twenty cars. The regulations place a limit of twenty-six entries for the championship. At some periods in the history of Formula One the number of cars entered for each race has exceeded the number permitted, which historically would vary from race to race according to the circuit used. Monaco, for example, for many years allowed only twenty cars to compete because of the restricted space available. The slowest cars excess to the circuit limit would not qualify for the race and would be list as 'Did Not Qualify' (DNQ) in race results.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the number of cars attempting to enter each race was as high as thirty-nine for some races. Because of the dangers of having so many cars on the track at the same time, a pre-qualifying session was introduced for the teams with the worst record over the previous six months, including any new teams. Only the four fastest cars from this session were then allowed into the qualifying session proper, where thirty cars competed for twenty-six places on the starting grid for the race. The slowest cars from the pre-qualifying session were listed in race results as 'Did Not Pre-Qualify' (DNPQ). Pre-qualifying was discontinued after 1992 when many small teams withdrew from the sport.
As the number of cars entered in the world championship fell below twenty-six, a situation arose in which any car entered would automatically qualify for the race, no matter how slowly it had been driven. The 107% rule was introduced in 1996 to prevent completely uncompetitive cars being entered in the championship. If a car's qualifying time was not within 7% of the pole sitter's time, that car would not qualify for the race, unless at the discretion of the race stewards for a situation such as a rain affected qualifying session. For example, if the pole-sitter's time was one minute and forty seconds, any car eligible for racing had to set a time within one minute and forty-seven seconds.
The 107% rule was removed since the FIA's rules indicated previously that 24 cars could take the start of a Formula One race, and a minimum of twenty cars had to enter a race. In 2003, the qualifying procedure changed to a single-lap system, rendering the rule inoperable. However, there were concerns about the pace of the new teams in the 2010 season. As the qualifying procedure had been changed since the 2006 season to a three-part knockout system, the rule could now be reintroduced. As such, the 107% rule was reintroduced in the 2011 Formula One season. Currently, cars have to be within 7% of the fastest Q1 time in order to qualify for the race. Since the rule was re-introduced, only twice have cars failed to qualify for a Grand Prix--both times involving Hispania Racing cars and both times occurring at the Australian Grand Prix, namely in 2011 (through Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan) and 2012 (through Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa). On other occasions, however, drivers who had not set a time within the desired 107% span during qualifying have been permitted to race by the stewards on grounds of corresponding lap times in free practice. For example, in the 2018 British Grand Prix neither Lance Stroll nor Brendon Hartley were able to set a time in Q1, but both were allowed to race at the stewards' discretion.
The race itself is held on Sunday afternoon, with the exception of night races at Singapore since 2008 and Bahrain since 2014. Some races were previously held on Saturdays, but this has not happened since the 1985 South African Grand Prix.
Thirty minutes prior to race time, the cars take to the track for any number of warm-up laps (formally known as reconnaissance laps), provided they pass through the pit lane and not the grid, after which they assemble on the starting grid in the order they qualified. At the hour of the race, a green light signifies the beginning of the relatively slow formation lap during which all cars parade around the course doing a final tire warmup and system checks. The cars then return to their assigned grid spot for the standing race start. The starting light system, which consists of five pairs of lights mounted above the start/finish line, then lights up each pair at one-second intervals. Once all five pairs are illuminated, after a random length of time (one to nine seconds), the red lights are turned off by the race director, at which point the race starts. The race length is defined as the smallest number of complete laps that exceeds 305 kilometers (the Monaco Grand Prix is the sole exception with a race length of 78 laps / 260.5 km), though occasionally some races are truncated due to special circumstances. The race can not exceed two hours in length; if this interval is reached the race will be ended at the end of the next full lap. The only exception is if the race is halted by a Red flag in which case the total time including the red flag stoppage must not exceed 4 hours (since 2012), and the total time excluding the red flag stoppage may not exceed 2 hours.
Since the 2007 season, teams are supplied by the sole tyre supplier (currently Pirelli which replaced Bridgestone in 2011), and receive two different types of slick dry tyre compounds: "Prime" tyres (now either the Hard, Medium or Soft compound), and "Option" tyres (either the Medium, Soft or Supersoft compound). In 2016 teams received three different types of slick tyre. The Prime tyres are more durable than the Option tyres, however the Option tyres produce faster lap times than the Prime tyres (the Option tyres are said to be one second per lap quicker than the Prime tyres, though this figure varies between circuits). From 2014, drivers who qualify in the top ten must start the race with the tyres they used in the second qualifying session (previously this had been the tyres they used in the final qualifying session); all other drivers have freedom over which tyres they can start with. Each driver is also required to use both types of dry compound during a dry race, and so must make a mandatory pit-stop. Timing pitstops with reference to other cars is crucial--if they are following another car but are unable to pass, the driver may try to stay on the track as long as possible, or pit immediately, as newer tyres are usually faster. Prior to the 2010 season, drivers used to make pitstops for fuel more than once during a race, as the cars on average consumed two kilometres per litre (approximately five miles per gallon)- nowadays this figure is lower, due to changes in engines from 2014. From 2010, refuelling has been forbidden during a race.
At the end of the race, the first, second and third-placed drivers take their places on a podium, where they stand as the national anthem of the race winner's home country and that of his team is played. Dignitaries from the country hosting the race then present trophies to the drivers and a constructor's trophy to a representative from the winner's team, and the winning drivers spray champagne and are interviewed, often by a former racing driver. The three drivers then go to a media room for a press conference where they answer questions in English and their native languages.
Points are awarded to drivers and teams based on where they finish in a race. The winner receives 25 points, the second-place finisher 18 points, with 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 points for positions 3 through 10. One additional point is awarded to the driver and team with the fastest lap of the race, if they finish in the top 10 positions. If a race has to be abandoned before 75% of the planned distance has been completed all points are halved. In a dead heat, prizes and points are added together and shared equally for all those drivers who tie. The winner of the annual championship is the driver (or team, for the Constructors' Championship) with the most points. If the number of points is the same, priority is given to the driver with more wins. If that is the same it will be decided on the most second places and so on.
Historically, the races were scored on the basis of a five-place tally: i.e. via an 8-6-4-3-2 scoring system, with the holder of the fastest race lap also receiving a bonus point. In 1961, the scoring was revised to give the winner nine points instead of eight, and the single point awarded for fastest lap was given for sixth place for the first time the previous year. In 1991, the points system was again revised to give the victor 10 points, with all other scorers recording the same 6-4-3-2-1 result. In 2003, the FIA further revised the scoring system to apportion points to the first eight classified finishers (a classified finisher must complete 90% of race distance) on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
At certain periods in Formula One's history, the world champion has been determined by virtue of the "best 7 scores" in each "half" of the world championship, meaning that drivers have had to "discard" lower scores in either half of the season. This was done in order to equalise the footings of teams which may not have had the wherewithal to compete in all events. With the advent of the Concorde Agreements, this practice has been discontinued, though it did feature prominently in several world championships through the 1970s and 1980s.
The change in the awarding of world championship points has rendered the comparison of historical teams and drivers to current ones largely ineffective. For instance, Michael Schumacher is widely credited with being the most successful GP driver of all time. While his statistics are very impressive and easily outstrip those of his nearest competitor, it is worth noting that his points tally vs points available, and winning percentage of grands prix entered, do not significantly exceed those of Juan Manuel Fangio, whom he recently dethroned as winner of the most World Championships. As with most other sports, it is very difficult to compare stars of different eras owing to the changes in the sport and regulations.
Despite having the highest budget in all of auto racing, Formula One racing has often been accused of being unexciting when compared to less expensive categories. The differences in driver ability are usually dwarfed when compared to the relative speed of the different makes of cars, and on-track overtaking is less common than other similar forms of racing, due to the aerodynamics of trailing cars being adversely affected by the car in front (making overtaking only possible by very risky and thus rarely taken chances, or a much faster car trailing a slower one). So, beginning in the 2011 season F1 adopted two new innovations to help with passing/overtaking and to bring a little more excitement to the races. These innovations are "DRS" and the "KERS" systems. The DRS (Drag Reduction System) allows for one of the horizontal fins/blade on the rear spoiler to be "lifted" open which reduces the downforce and increases the race car speed. This system is only operable on straightaways where rear downforce is not as important. The system cannot be activated unless the driver is within (1) second or less behind the car he is trying to pass. The DRS zones on each track are set by the F1 governing body. And although the system is controlled by computers and timers, the driver has to activate it by pushing a button on the steering wheel when he wants to use it. The "KERS" (kinetic energy recovery system) grabs and stores the energy usually lost during braking (which has always been wasted) and stores the energy into the batteries. Again, when allowed and the driver wants to use this system it is a matter of pushing a button and the engine gets another 60-80 horse power for a short time. The system will deplete/discharge this stored energy quickly and the driver has to wait until it gets charged back up. Also the use of electronic driver aids such as semi-automatic gearboxes and traction control has been widely criticized by F1 fans around the globe. Traction control was banned in the 2008 Formula One season.
The sport is lesser-known in the United States than the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series or their mostly domestic open-wheel racing series, the IndyCar Series, but in terms of budgets and global TV audiences F1 is much larger than both combined.