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Formula One

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Formula One, or Grand Prix racing is the best known single-seater auto racing class, which involves an annual world championship. It is regarded by many as the pinnacle of auto racing and the most expensive sport in the world. It is based around a series of races (16 in 2003) on either custom-constructed road courses, or closed-off street circuits. Whilst the home of the sport is undoubtedly Europe, races have also been held in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

F1 World Drivers' Championship
Year Champion Nationality
1950Giuseppe Farina[?]Italy
1951Juan Manuel FangioArgentina
1952Alberto AscariItaly
1953Alberto AscariItaly
1954Juan Manuel FangioArgentina
1955Juan Manuel FangioArgentina
1956Juan Manuel FangioArgentina
1957Juan Manuel FangioArgentina
1958Mike HawthornUnited Kingdom
1959Jack BrabhamAustralia
1960Jack BrabhamAustralia
1961Phil Hill[?]United States
1962Graham HillUnited Kingdom
1963Jim ClarkUnited Kingdom
1964John SurteesUnited Kingdom
1965Jim ClarkUnited Kingdom
1966Jack BrabhamAustralia
1967Denny Hulme[?]New Zealand
1968Graham HillUnited Kingdom
1969Jackie Stewart[?]United Kingdom
1970Jochen RindtAustria
1971Jackie Stewart[?]United Kingdom
1972Emerson FittipaldiBrazil
1973Jackie Stewart[?]United Kingdom
1974Emerson FittipaldiBrazil
1975Niki LaudaAustria
1976James Hunt[?]United Kingdom
1977Niki LaudaAustria
1978Mario Andretti[?]United States
1979Jody ScheckterSouth Africa
1980Alan JonesAustralia
1981Nelson PiquetBrazil
1982Keke RosbergFinland
1983Nelson PiquetBrazil
1984Niki LaudaAustria
1985Alain ProstFrance
1986Alain ProstFrance
1987Nelson PiquetBrazil
1988Ayrton SennaBrazil
1989Alain ProstFrance
1990Ayrton SennaBrazil
1991Ayrton SennaBrazil
1992Nigel MansellUnited Kingdom
1993Alain ProstFrance
1994Michael SchumacherGermany
1995Michael SchumacherGermany
1996Damon HillUnited Kingdom
1997Jacques VilleneuveCanada
1998Mika HäkkinenFinland
1999Mika HäkkinenFinland
2000Michael SchumacherGermany
2001Michael SchumacherGermany
2002Michael SchumacherGermany

Current Formula 1 Championship events:

Past Championship Events:

Table of contents


Historically, the series evolved from pre-war European Grand Prix racing[?] of the 1920s and 1930s. With the reestablishment of motor racing post-WWII, the championship was formalised in 1950. Regulations have changed greatly as car technologies have improved, with the appearance of rear-engined cars in the late 1950s, the introduction of wings in the late 1960s, then ground effect aerodynamics in the late 1970s by Lotus, followed by the 1980s era of turbocharged engines which remains the time of the most powerful circuit racing cars of all time.

The late 1980s saw the creeping inclusion of all manner of electronic driver aids to help drivers tame these twitchy beasts, including active suspension, anti-lock brakes, and traction control. Some of these were borrowed from contemporary road cars, some, like active suspension, were primarily developed for the track and later made their way to the showroom.

In any case, whilst they made the cars faster, fans perceived that the new aids were taking away the need for driver skill and so in 1994 the series changed to naturally-aspirated engines[?] and removed many of the driver aids. Some have gradually returned with the realisation that teams were evading the restrictions.

In 1950, a world championship Formula One was established for drivers. In 1958, a world championship for constructors was started as well. Since 1984, the championship has been dominated by just three teams, McLaren, Williams, and Ferrari, who have provided the vehicle for all but two of the World Champions for that period.

The cars

The regulations governing the cars are unique to the championship. The current Formula One regulations specify that cars must be constructed by the racing teams themselves. They specify that the cars must be powered by 3.0 litre, naturally-aspirated engines. All current cars use a V10 engine, located between the driver and the rear wheels, and typically producing around 800 horsepower. The cars, like most open wheeler categories, feature large front and rear wings forcing the cars down on to the road, and the undertray is now flat, unlike the inverted aerofoil section used in the ground effect era, which used to keep a zone of low air pressure under the car and literally sucked the car onto the road.

The cars are constructed from composites of carbon fibre and similar ultra-lightweight (and incredibly expensive to manufacture) materials, with a minimum dry weight of 500 kilogrammes. By regulation, the tyres feature a minimum of four grooves in them, with the intention of slowing the cars down (a "slick" tyre, with no indentations, is best in dry conditions). The fuel is custom-formulated by the major petroleum companies. Brakes incorporate carbon-fibre discs. The entire car is designed for minimum mass and is consequently almost disposable after the race is finished.

Constructors' Champions
Year Champion Year Champion

The racing

A race weekend usually begins on Friday, with free practice for the drivers to learn the circuit and for the teams to experiment with their cars to figure out the best settings for the particular track. Also on Fridays, a preliminary round of qualifying takes place. This round only sets the order of running in Saturday's qualifying round (with Friday's fastest qualifier running last on Saturday), which determines the order the cars start on the grid. Each round of qualifying consists of each driver setting one lap time. There are typically races for other categories (such as Formula 3000) over the weekend, to keep crowds amused.

Historically, there were often an excess of cars that wished to compete in F1 and so teams had to pre-qualify for the opportunity to race. With the huge costs the possibility of not racing is no longer practical and the organisation that runs the championship (FOCA), sells the right to compete at F1 races to teams. Each team usually runs two entries in each race.

The race itself, held on the Sunday afternoon, begins with a warm-up lap, after which the cars are assembled on the starting grid in the order they qualified. They then go on the signal of the starting light system, which consists of five lights mounted above the start/finish line which light up at one second intervals, and then all go dark, at which point the race starts. Races are a little over 300 kilometres (180 miles) long, though occasionally some races are truncated due to special circumstances. However, no race will go on for longer than two hours.

Drivers stop for fuel and to change tyres at least once, and possibly two or three times. Timing pitstops with reference to other cars is crucial - if following another car but unable to pass, drivers will pit early in the expectation that when they rejoin the race they will land in clear track where they will be able to drive as fast as they can go, and thus make up overall time and pass the other car "in the pits".

Points are awarded to drivers and teams exclusively on where they finish in a race, with the winner receiving 10 points, the second place finisher 8 points, third 6, fourth 5, fifth 4 and sixth 3, seventh 2 and eighth 1. The winner of the annual championship is the driver (or team, for the constructor's championship) with the most points.

Despite being the pinnacle of racing in terms of budgets, and driver skill, Formula One racing has often been accused of being unexciting when compared to less-prestigious 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 very rare 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).

The sport is lesser-known in the United States than either their mostly-domestic open-wheeler racing series (at the moment there are two major ones, IRL and CART) or NASCAR, but in terms of budgets and global TV audiences F1 is bigger than all three. Estimates for Ferrari's racing budget in 1999 were around 240 million USD, and even tailender Minardi reportedly spent 50 million. Estimates of TV audiences are around 300 million per race.

2003 rule changes

To make the sport more interesting, substantial rule changes have been introduced for the 2003 season. Most driving aids have been banned and more will be disallowed during the season. Team orders are outlawed and radio traffic between pits and driver must be publically accessable, to prevent teams to pass orders during the race. The two-way telemetry, only introduced in 2002, which allows the pit crew to change the configuration of the car during the race has also been banned again. The cars will be locked up between the final qualifying and the race, to stop the teams from using qualifying setups and engines. During this time, teams can only work on cars supervised and only to perform urgent repairs.

The qualifying mode has been drastically changed from the previous method, where an hour-long session would be held on Saturday, with each car allowed twelve laps to set their fastest time. As well, since the cars can not be refuelled between qualifying and race, the teams have to rethink their strategies. Lighter fuel loads produce better qualifying results but also mean earlier and possibly more pitstops. To avoid a situation like in the 2002 season, where Michael Schumacher had collected more championship points than the rest of the field together, the points system has been revamped and points are now given to the top eight drivers (10,8,6,5,4,3,2,1) as opposed to the previously used modus that saw the top six drivers being awarded points (10,6,4,3,2,1).

Though initially heavily disputed, the new rules seem to have had some impact on the races so far. Due to the different strategies of the teams, there has been more overtaking on the track and more exciting races.

To cut the immense costs of the sport, further radical rule changes are to be introduced in the next few years. From 2004 on, the same engine must be used for two complete race weekends, from 2005 it will be four and from 2006 eight. Considering the price of approx. $300,000 per engine, this can dramatically cut the cost and save smaller teams like Minardi or Jordan[?], who do not have the backing of a major manufacturer.

The long-term future of the series is, as of 2003, a subject of considerable speculation. With the gradual phasing out of tobacco sponsorship in the series' core market, Europe, teams have gradually aligned themselves more closely with the major automobile manufacturers. The relations between the teams and Bernie Ecclestone[?] (the entrepreneur who has de-facto control over the series) have deteriorated somewhat over the desire of those teams and the backing manufacturers for more control, as well as some of Ecclestone's proposals to reform the series (such as shifting races to Asia where tobacco promotion is not yet restricted). All the teams are contracted to 2008, but there is considerable speculation of a mass defection of teams to a new series after that date.


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