It’s lights out and away we go for another season of Formula One racing. The world’s biggest travelling circus is back, with new drivers, new team bosses, new tracks, new regulations, and brand-new cars. For those who are new to the sport, or have seen the latest season of Netflix’s Drive to Survive and are curious about how it all works, F1 can be an intimidating beast. It is one of the most technical and confusing sports in the world, but don’t worry — we’ve compiled the ultimate beginner’s guide on everything F1 to bring you up to speed.
The race calendar
2024 is an extremely packed year for Formula One. What are the things to know about this year’s calendar? Let’s start by appreciating the absolute size of it. At a whopping 24 races, it is, in fact, the longest race calendar in the sport’s history. It will also be the 75th running of the Formula One World Championship.
Two things leap out about the 2024 F1 calendar right away. The first is that it’s big, much bigger than usual. In 2023, F1 was aiming for a 24-race calendar but ended up two short. The Chinese Grand Prix was set to return to the 2023 roster after several years away from the sport, but ongoing COVID-19 protocols in the country made it impossible to stage a full race there. F1 looked for a replacement Grand Prix, but came up short. In 2024, China is once again back on the calendar. If it stays there, for many fans who’ve come on board since Drive to Survive blew up, this might be the first Chinese Grand Prix they’ve seen live. The 2023 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, was also cancelled due to historic floods in the region.
Elsewhere, the calendar has been shuffled around compared to last year. This is due to green initiatives at F1 and consistent hounding from fans that the previous calendar did not lend itself to efficient global travel. Why fly the teams from Saudi Arabia to Australia and then to Italy when you have the China, Japan and Singapore Grands Prix all close by?
To wit, the calendar now reflects some greater travel efficiencies. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia return as the now-standard February season openers. The calendar then moves to an Asia Pacific leg in late March, including Australia, Japan and China.
The Japanese Grand Prix is usually held in September or October, but organisers have found the Spring weather in Suzuka has become too dangerous and unpredictable, so it moves to the end of Summer in February. Then, F1 makes a long hop to Miami, followed by another long hop to Imola, Italy, in May.
Barring a return to North America for the Canadian Grand Prix in June, F1 then stays in Europe until September. That streak ends with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Usually held in Baku toward the end of April, this year, it moves to September 15, right after the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
From there, it’s another long hop down to Singapore at the end of September, and then on to the North and South American leg, which takes us from Texas to Mexico City, then to Brazil, and finally to Las Vegas.
The calendar concludes with the Qatar and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix in December. Qatar moves to the cooler months of December this year after significant concerns over driver safety during the 2023 Grand Prix. The heat in the region, coupled with the already extraordinary heat in the cockpit, saw drivers retiring with heat stroke, throwing up in their helmets, and reporting blurred vision and severe dehydration during the race. The hope is that a move to the coolest end of the year will alleviate some of those concerns. And if it doesn’t? F1 could find itself with a very expensive problem to solve.
In Australia, the Formula One broadcast rights are held by Foxtel, which screens all three practice sessions, qualifying, and the race itself across each race weekend. You can find the Fox Sports channel on Foxtel iQ, Foxtel Now, and Kayo, where they are broadcast live. Once concluded, Kayo hosts a VOD archive of past races. The only time an F1 race gets free-to-air coverage locally is during the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, which is usually broadcast by the 10 Network.
You can check out the full calendar on the F1 website.
The Formula One teams
There have been a few changes around the paddock this year. Though there hasn’t really been much movement in the driver market, there have been some changes to team branding. Here’s what’s changing this year.
Teams will have their work cut out for them as reigning champs Red Bull look to claim a fourth championship on the hop. Eight-time Constructor’s champions Mercedes are also in the hunt, after a difficult couple of years in which they slumped from the top of the tables.
Oracle Red Bull Racing
Team Principal: Christian Horner
Drivers: Max Verstappen (1), Sergio Perez (11)
With the runaway success of the campaign it ran in 2023, why would Red Bull need to change a thing? And so, it isn’t. Max Verstappen and Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez return this year, along with team principal Christian Horner. Verstappen will be looking to ride his 2024 Red Bull into a fourth consecutive Driver’s World Championship, but he’ll be dogged by Checo’s need to compete. As we saw throughout 2023, Checo has been through a rough patch in terms of his driver performance. He will need to pick up his game in 2024 if he hopes to keep his seat against Mighty Max. After winning all but one race in 2023, there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that Red Bull is the team to beat in 2024.
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team
Team Principal: Toto Wolff
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton (44), George Russell (63)
2023 was another tough year for Mercedes, though it did take several encouraging steps forward. Rising from its third place finish in 2022 to claim second place in the Constructors’ Championship for 2023, Mercedes began to undo the damage of its dead-end W13 race car. The W14, resplendent in black once again, quickly shed the vestiges of its predecessor and found solid pace across the year. It could not, of course, hold a candle to the Red Bull in Verstappen’s hands, but it was always fighting toward the front of the pack behind him. In 2024, we’re sure that team boss Toto Wolff will be telling the team that laughing time is over. Mercedes wants to be back at the front of the pack, fighting Red Bull for wins and after two years in the wilderness, it’s time to put up or shut up. With seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton in one car, and rising star George Russell in the other, the ball is firmly in Mercedes’ court this year.
Team Principal: Frédéric Vasseur
Drivers: Charles Leclerc (16), Carlos Sainz (55)
Ferrari’s 2023 campaign could be charitably described as ‘fine’. The team made much fewer mistakes than it did in 2022, and it managed to scrape a win in Singapore with a brilliant drive from Carlos Sainz. According to team boss Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari is fielding an almost entirely new car in 2024. As longtime fans know, that could go either way for the team from Maranello – they could come out of the starting blocks like lightning, or hubris could send them backward. One thing is for sure: its driver combo of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz deserves to be fighting at the front. The team’s rabid fanbase, the Tifosi, certainly hope to see them there.
McLaren Formula One Team
Team Principal: Andrea Stella
Drivers: Lando Norris (4), Oscar Piastri (81)
McLaren pulled off something of a miracle in 2024. It went from the absolute back of the pack in Bahrain to fighting for wins by the time it turned up for qualifying at the British Grand Prix in July. It was a remarkable, barnstorming first year for freshman team principal Andrea Stella, and a mighty run of races from driver pairing Lando Norris and Australian Oscar Piastri. The difference McLaren made to its car and its championship hopes in just half a year was transformative. In our view, pending a disaster over winter testing, we expect to see McLaren making further gains this year and the boys in papaya fighting for race victories. Keep fighting Lando – that first race win is coming, but Oscar’s going to want to beat you to it.
Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team
Team Principal: Mike Krack
Drivers: Fernando Alonso (14), Lance Stroll (18)
Aston Martin blew everyone away with its first few races in 2023. Flying up the order from the back of the pack, the Aston blew the entire paddock away in Bahrain, showing incredible speed on the straights and through the turns. Piloted by a Fernando Alonso who, at 42, is somehow still at the top of his game, it seemed like Aston was on a path to fighting for the championship. Sadly, it was not to be. Upgrades failed to help the car keep pace with the competition and before long it was sinking back down into the midfield. It raises questions about Aston’s ability to build a race car – sure, they can copy the Red Bull to a tee at the beginning of the season, and even get results, but can they meaningfully develop their car across the year? Still unproven.
BWT Alpine F1 Team
Team Principal: Bruno Famin
Drivers: Pierre Gasly (10), Esteban Ocon (31)
Alpine is hoping to put a couple of uneven years behind it 2024, but may also have to tow a fine line. After some early concerns about the ability of its driving pairing in Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon to get along, Alpine then abruptly sacked its team principal Otmar Szafnauer at the Belgian Grand Prix. Amidst the turmoil, the team was struggling for pace and for points, fending off a Williams team that seemed to have found its footing.
Team Principal: James Vowles
Drivers: Alexander Albon (23), Logan Sargeant (2)
After years in the wilderness, Williams’ fortunes began to look up in 2024. Under the steady, analytical hand of former Mercedes strategist James Vowles, and some truly excellent driving from #1 driver Alexander Albon, Williams found itself raking in good points across the year. It also seemed to find itself further up the order on qualifying day rather more often that it had expected. Under Vowles’ leadership, Williams has overhauled its approach to upgrades, has allowed Albon to take rookie driver Logan Sargent under his wing, and is attempting to get back to its winning ways of old. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say.
Team Principal: Franz Tost
Drivers: Yuki Tsunoda (22), Daniel Ricciardo (3)
Alpha Tauri, the Red Bull junior team, underwent a bit of drama in 2023. By the time we reached Baku, its year still wasn’t really coming together. F1 rookie Nyck de Vries wasn’t getting the results the team had hoped for, and the car had been underdeveloped. It wasn’t looking good. Right after the British Grand Prix, Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko dumped de Vries from the team and replaced him effective immediately with former Red Bull third driver and perennial fan favourite Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie wouldn’t last long behind the wheel, an unavoidable crash in the Netherlands breaking his hand and ruling him out for several races. Another F1 rookie, New Zealander Liam Lawson, stepped in, immediately making an impression, bringing in a good haul of points and keeping himself out of trouble. And all the while, longer-term driver Yuki Tsunoda was growing, putting in solid and impressive races of his own. Ricciardo was back in the driver’s seat before the end of the year though, and will partner Tsunoda in 2024.
In 2024, there is a suggestion that the team will change its name. The current rumour is that the team will become Racing Bulls, widely thought of as a god-awful name that sucks extremely bad, as it attempts to get away from the Alpha Tauri fashion brand.
Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber
Team Principal: Andreas Seidl (CEO), Alessandro Alunni Bravi (General Counsel)
Drivers: Valterri Bottas (77), Zhou Guanyu (24)
Things did not go well in Alfa Romeo’s final year in F1. Its drivers were often anonymous in the pack and rarely did the team find its way into the points. In 2024, the team will hold onto its driver pairing of Valterri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, but will race under a different name. Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber is, I think we can all agree, an absolute joke of a name devised by an absolute joke of a team owner. Stake, of course, is an online casino, and a notorious one at that. Kick is its amoral video live-streaming platform, similar to Twitch, that it uses to funnel gambling advertisements to viewers via product placement from its streamers. The whole thing is about as awful and grubby as it’s possible to get. Sauber is a team with a long and memorable history in F1. It deserves to race with a greater degree of dignity than this.
My respects to Valterri and Zhou, who have no real say in who they race for in 2024. It will be difficult to support you this year. Thankfully, the Stake name will only stick around for a couple of years. At the beginning of the 2026 season, the team will officially become the property of German automaker Audi and be renamed Audi F1 Team.
Looking forward to Martin Brundle refusing to call them Stake on the Sky Sports F1 broadcast this year.
MoneyGram Haas F1 Team
Team Principal: Ayao Komatsu
Drivers: Kevin Magnussen (21), Nico Hulkenberg (27)
Haas had a bad year in 2023. There’s no other way to describe it. Multiple nasty crashes, and a car that just couldn’t compete with even the slowest backmarkers, it was a team going nowhere slowly. In January 2024, Haas stunned the paddock by announcing it had fired its popular team principal Guenther Steiner, replacing him with former Director of Engineering, Ayao Komatsu. Steiner’s departure is a blow for Haas’ PR. Despite being the team principal of a lower-order team, Steiner’s appearances on Drive to Survive, and his constant, fluent swearing made him a fan favourite and a true character in the paddock.
Komatsu is quieter and less of a big personality by comparison. It remains to be seen if he, with his background in engineering, can steer the team in a more fruitful direction for 2024 and beyond.
What does a Formula One race weekend look like?
Race weekends are always held over three days, across a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In terms of itinerary, F1 observes one of two race weekend formats — Standard and Sprint Race. The Standard race weekend is far and away the most common. The standard format begins on Friday afternoon, with two hour-long free practice sessions, referred to as FP1 and FP2. These sessions are used for the drivers to get a feel for the track and start helping their mechanics dial in their race setups.
On Saturday, there is a third and final practice session, called FP3, before Qualifying later in the afternoon.
Qualifying takes about an hour and is broken into three stages in a knockout competition. The first stage of qualifying, called Q1, runs for about 18 minutes and sees all 20 cars attempting to set the fastest laps they can. At the end of the session, the five slowest cars are eliminated, setting their grid positions for the race. The second stage, Q2, sees the remaining 15 cars vying for the fastest lap times, and again the five slowest cars are knocked out. That just leaves the third stage, Q3, which runs for 12 minutes. The final ten cars now vie for the most coveted places on the grid. The fastest time in Q3 will determine the car and driver that will start the race from pole position.
Sunday is always race day. The race typically begins at 3:00 pm local time, with the formation lap beginning at the top of the hour. Races have a two-hour time limit, and the total number of laps will vary from race to race based on that time limit.
And then there are the Sprint Race weekends.
What are Sprint Races Weekends?
Sprint Race Weekends denote a change of format in the race weekend. It’s still a three-day affair, and the main race is still held on Sunday. It’s Friday and Saturday where things play out a little differently. On a Sprint Race weekend, Friday is divided into one practice session (FP1) and the three-stage qualifying described in the section above (Q1, 2 and 3). This sets the starting grid for Saturday’s Sprint Race event.
Saturday begins with the second and final practice session (FP2) and moves into a Sprint Race in the late afternoon. They are proper races, held over half the distance of the race on Sunday. The order in which the drivers finish the Sprint Race has no effect on the main race on Sunday, though it is an opportunity to score some extra points for their teams.
In 2024, F1 plans to hold six Sprint Race weekends over the course of the year. They are:
- Shanghai, China (19th-21st April)
- Miami, Florida (3rd-5th May)
- Red Bull Ring, Austria (28th-30th June)
- Austin, Texas (18th-20th October)
- Interlagos, Brazil (1st-3rd November)
- Lusail, Qatar (29th November-1st December)
Sprint Races are a relatively new addition to the Formula One calendar, and they’ve divided the fan base cleanly in two. Some fans love that F1 has found a way to squeeze an extra race into certain events throughout the year. Others prefer the reliable, standard race weekend format. For their part, the drivers and the teams don’t seem all that keen on Sprint Races. The broad feeling in the paddock is that they endanger the cars and the drivers for the sake of spectacle. Crashes that happen during Sprints are costly and are easier to avoid under the standard race weekend format. Further, because there are points on the line, any incident that occurs on a Sprint Race weekend could have massive ramifications on the Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championship Standings.
Wait, there are TWO Championships?
That’s right. The Formula One World Championship is divided into two discrete competitions — the Drivers’ World Championship, which rewards individual prowess behind the wheel, and the Constructors’ World Championship, which reward the teams that build the best cars. A points system is used to determine the outcome of both Championships.
In the 2024 season, points will be awarded to the cars and drivers that finish in the top ten. Points will be awarded thusly
- 1st place: 25 points
- 2nd place: 18 points
- 3rd place: 15 points
- 4th place: 12 points
- 5th place: 10 points
- 6th place: 8 points
- 7th place: 6 points
- 8th place: 4 points
- 9th place: 2 points
- 10th place: 1 point
If a driver that places in the top ten also records the fastest lap, they will receive an additional point.
Sprint qualifying is another avenue for scoring points. On a Sprint weekend, points are awarded to the top eight finishers as follows:
- 1st place: 8 points
- 2nd place: 7 points
- 3rd place: 6 points
- 4th place: 5 points
- 5th place: 4 points
- 6th place: 3 points
- 7th place: 2 points
- 8th place: 1 point
At the end of the year, the driver that has scored the most points will be crowned the Formula One Drivers’ World Champion. The team that has scored the most points across both of its cars will be crowned the Formula One Constructors’ World Champion.
The Formula One races you shouldn’t miss
Like the cars that make up the F1 grid, not all race tracks are created equal. Formula One is a sport of hits and misses, with many tracks delivering far better racing than others. For Aussies, watching an F1 race usually means staying up for a start time of 11:00 PM on a Sunday night, or later. For those of us that have to go to work on Monday, this means being damned sure the race stands a solid chance of being a banger. If not, you might as well catch it on a replay at a more reasonable hour.
So, which races should you make time for?
As the first race of the season, Bahrain is always worth watching. It’s a solid circuit and delivers decent racing year-on-year, but the real thrill is getting to see all the new cars out there racing for the first time. Surprising performance from a spirited underdog? The presumed season leaders suffering from reliability problems? You never know what could happen in Bahrain.
Alright, look. Is Australia one of the best circuits on the calendar? No. Do we consistently deliver great racing? Also no. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, Albert Park is a mid-tier F1 circuit amongst many. It’s fast, yes, however, it’s not that easy to overtake on. But it is our Grand Prix, and the Australian atmosphere is like nowhere else in the world. We come to the F1 to party, and you can feel it even through the TV. It’s also incredibly cool to see these powerful, beautiful cars tearing it up on Australian soil with the Melbourne skyline as their backdrop.
All that, and it’s one of the very few races of the year that takes place in our timezone, so we have to take advantage of that.
The British Grand Prix at Silverstone is, without a doubt, one of the best races of the year. A grand old dame of a circuit, Silverstone was created from the bones of a former military airfield, and it gives the track a unique, undulating quality. Some of the best racing of the last few years took place here. Just in 2023, it led to a spectacular three-way fight between Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Sky Sports commentator David Croft’s exultant cry of “Through goes Hamilton!” as the battle reached its apex was instantly entered into the history books.
In complete honesty, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps is a hit-and-miss affair. Sometimes it’s a belter of a race, and sometimes (as it was in 2022), it’s a bit of a snoozefest. But what makes Spa so special is its location. This is a huge race track, the longest on the F1 calendar, and it’s located in the heart of the Ardennes Forest. There is no race on the Formula One calendar that is more beautiful than Spa. The scenery is absolutely stunning and to see the cars racing through such gorgeous countryside is really, really special. Spa was almost dropped from the calendar recently but remained on the docket after significant fan pushback. It’s one of the oldest circuits in the sport, and people have a real soft spot for it.
The Temple of Speed. One of the oldest and most beloved tracks in Formula One is Monza, Ferrari’s home race. This is an old-school race track built for going absolutely flat out. The lap is fast and furious, its luxurious straightaways broken up by just three chicanes and a series of long, sweeping corners. Some of the wildest and most unlikely wins in F1 history have happened at Monza. There is a magic to this place, brought the Tifosi and infused in everyone who attends or watches by osmosis. Unmissable.
Where Spa is an aesthetically pleasing circuit, Japan’s Suzuka International Racing Course is architecturally pleasing. It is, to many, The Perfect Race Track. The Japanese eye for innovation, when applied to a Formula One racetrack, observed the things that worked at other tracks and combined them to create a circuit that is dazzling in its design. It is both a technically demanding circuit and, somehow, also a joy to drive. When the Americans tried to take the same kitchen sink approach, they came up with the Circuit of the Americas and while it’s good, it’s not quite the same, is it? The teams love Suzuka, the drivers love Suzuka, and so will you.
Another classic circuit, Sao Paolo’s Interlagos, is considered by many to be the greatest Formula One track in the world. Every single year, this circuit provides thrilling racing up and down the field. The course is fast and technical but is also wide enough through the turns to allow for daring overtakes and battles. For a long time, Interlagos was the final race on the calendar. It’s since been superseded by the significantly less interesting Abu Dhabi, but still delivers an exciting, unpredictable race year after year. Long live Interlagos. May it never drop off the calendar.
I can’t believe I’m putting Vegas on the list this year. Last year, it was thought that the Las Vegas Grand Prix was going to be a disaster. The track was untested (and later destroyed a Ferrari so completely it delayed practice running until 2 AM) and race theory suggested the design would not yield very good racing. How wrong we were. The slippery surface and the cold night temperatures of Vegas in late November created chaos. After all the drama, it created an extremely entertaining and exciting race. I look forward to seeing what happens this year.
The races you can probably skip
The Miami circuit was only added to the calendar in 2023 and has been quickly placed on the Most Hated list among long-time fans. Held in the parking lot of the Hard Rock Stadium, the track layout is uninspired, with a final sector that slows the cars down to a crawl before letting them blast down a slightly too-long straightaway obscured by a highway overpass. Its maiden run in 2022 did little to inspire fans, and the 2023 race was equally dull with few overtakes. For most fans, this track is already on the Skip It pile. Cull this track from the calendar and bring back Malaysia.
Oh god, I’m getting into very contentious territory here, so I’d better tread carefully. Monaco is a beloved circuit, the oldest on the calendar by far. It is the last of the “classic” Formula One circuits from the sport’s beginnings in the 1950s. It is a glamorous race, it is a race with a view that is unlike any other. It is one of the most technical and unforgiving tracks on the entire calendar.
And in 2024, it is also dead boring. F1 fans: whether we love or hate Monaco, the race is boring and I think we can all agree on that. The problem with Monaco is that there’s nowhere to go. The cars have grown so large that the drivers can no longer overtake on Monaco’s narrow streets without risking life and limb. Instead, they rumble through the circuit single-file, because it’s safer, turning the race into the world’s most expensive parade. The only time any excitement occurs in the race is during the pit window, when everyone comes in for fresh tyres. This is the only time in the race where the order could potentially change. Once the pit window closes, the race returns to a deary processional until it ends. And the principality of Monaco itself can’t upgrade the circuit to accommodate the modern version of the sport because, again, there’s nowhere to go. Monaco has become so overdeveloped by its ultra-wealthy inhabitants that there’s literally no room to alter or even widen the circuit.
My tip: Watch Monaco qualifying instead. It’s much more exciting, and is all about setting the fastest possible lap on an insanely dangerous circuit. Because no one can overtake, it means that the Monaco Grand Prix is generally won and lost in qualifying. The race is but a formality.
Another older circuit, and one with a sad history, Imola is a track that is somewhat situational. In dry weather, its biggest problem is that it’s a bit of a bastard to get around. Like Monaco, it suffers from being a fairly narrow circuit. This means that, with the exception of two or three places on the track, it’s not all that easy to overtake. Because of this, races can become quite processional after the first 10 laps or so, and even the pit window can’t meaningfully spice things up. In wet weather, however, Imola becomes one of the most exciting and unpredictable Formula One races of the year. If you’re not sure if you should stay up for the Imola Grand Prix, check the local weather before you go to bed. If it’s raining at the track, stay up. It’ll be worth it. If not, catch the highlights in the morning.
Qatar’s F1 debut happened in 2021, when it filled in for Japan late in the season. The track’s inclusion was a test run for a future tilt at an F1 license, and it apparently got whatever it needed because it has been added to the calendar full time. The trouble is, Qatar sucks — both in terms of its race track and its appalling human rights record.
The track itself was built to host the MotoGP, the global pinnacle of motorcycle racing. MotoGP bikes handle very differently from Formula One cars, making it very hard for them to race. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Qatar. The rumble strips on the sides of the track, graded to help slow MotoGP bikes down, originally ate through F1’s Pirelli tyres like a hot knife through butter, leading to several tyre blowouts during the 2021 race. In 2023, the race saw multiple retirements and raised numerous questions about driver safety after it became clear the heat was having a damaging effect on the drivers. They were getting heat stroke, suffering severe dehydration, reporting blurred vision, and even throwing up in their helmets. Some were so wrecked by the two-hour race that they couldn’t even lift themselves out of their cars at the end. It’s a bad race! We should go somewhere else! But F1 likes money, and it doesn’t care who that money comes from.
I actually hate putting Mexico on the Skip It list. The energy at the Mexican Grand Prix is so incredible. The vibes are absolutely immaculate, and the fans are some of the most passionate in the world. It’s unfortunate, then, that the track just doesn’t produce good races. Part of this is its elevation — the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is 2.2km (or 7,200 odd feet) above sea level. The thinner air at that altitude has a deleterious effect on the aerodynamics the cars rely on to move quickly. Further, the track isn’t used terribly often outside of the F1 circus, which means that dust tends to build up on one side of the track. Those forced onto that side of the track find it much harder to maintain grip than those on the racing line, damaging any hopes of getting an overtake done.
Formula One, like any motorsport, can be fairly dense and technical for new fans attempting to get in on the ground floor. Shows like Drive to Survive are great for showcasing the personalities in the sport, but they do a terrible job of explaining the rules. Let us help with a few technical terms.
Tyre strategy is a huge part of any Formula One race. There are five types of tyre that can be used in F1 — soft, medium, hard, intermediate and full wet. All these tyres use the friction of the track and brake duct heat to activate their high-performance rubber, which is what allows the cars to stick to the road like glue. Three of these tyres — the soft, medium, and hard — are for dry conditions. The soft tyre is identified by its red stripe, and is the fastest of the three but wears out quickly. The medium, with its yellow stripe, is slightly slower than the soft, but can last 30-40 laps, depending on the track. The hard, in a white stripe, is slower again than the medium, but is the longest lasting. The hard tyre is a situational choice. It takes forever to heat up, but once it does, it lasts almost an entire race distance. Teams going with hard tyres have to be damned sure they want to commit to it.
The remaining tyres — the intermediate and the full wet — are used in rainy conditions. The intermediates, identified by their green stripe, come out when the track begins to dampen, and dry tyres can no longer grip the surface. The full wets, in dark blue, are the most rarely seen tyres. These are reserved only for the most ferocious downpours, or when the track has pockets of deep standing or running water across its surface. Both the intermediate and full wet tyres have grooved surfaces designed to disperse water from the track, which is why they create such an immense spray plume behind the car.
In a normal race under dry conditions, the rules of Formula One dictate that teams must use at least two types of tyre in each race. This means, if they plan on making a single pit stop for the entire race, they must change to a different tyre. In the event of a wet race, and the wet weather tyres come out, this rule is waived.
Different tracks require different plans of attack. Some tracks have surfaces that chew tyres up quickly, meaning teams will likely have to come in for two scheduled pit stops. Others aren’t as abrasive and will see the teams attempting to finish the race with just a single stop. One of the key aspects of any good pit strategy is timing. Pit stops generally take between 20 and 30 seconds, from the moment a driver enters the pit lane to the moment they return to the track. The act of changing the tyres is over in a flash — most teams can change all four tyres in less than 2.5 seconds. It’s the slow drive down the pit lane that’ll kill you.
Pit strategy leads to two common tactics that are rarely explained during any Formula One broadcast — the overcut and the undercut. An undercut is when a team pits their driver early, putting them on fresher, faster tyres than their rival before that rival can make a stop of their own. Let’s say that Mercedes wants to get Lewis Hamilton ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Mercedes can pit Lewis earlier than his scheduled stop — say, on lap 23 instead of lap 28 — and put him onto a fresh set of tyres. While Lewis is stuck in the pits, Max can stretch his lead. However, when Lewis returns to the track, he’s going to be on faster, fresher tyres than Max’s, which are now 24 laps old. Lewis can use these fresh tyres to move swiftly around the circuit, regaining the time that he lost in the pits. When Max comes in for his own scheduled stop on lap 26, all he can do is watch Lewis scream by and into the lead as he trundles down the pit lane. Of course, when Max leaves the pits, he’ll now be the one on fresher tyres, but, unless there’s another scheduled stop to come, he will need to overtake Lewis the old-fashioned way — on track.
The overcut is the exact opposite strategy. It is far riskier than the undercut, and so is rarely attempted. When staging an overcut, teams will elect to keep their driver out of the pits while their rivals come in for their scheduled stops. Without cars on track, the air the cars rely on for aerodynamics begins to settle — and that’s what the overcutting team wants. Clean air means a more efficient run — you can make good time without putting huge stress on your tyres, which is useful if they’ve already seen some wear and tear.
Let’s say Red Bull is setting up Sergio Perez for an overcut on Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. Red Bull will wait for Sainz to enter the pits and then tell Perez to give it absolutely everything for as long as he can. The longer Perez can stay out on his older tyres, and keep Sainz at bay, the later he can come in for his own stop. What this buys Perez is the ability to come out of his pit on fresher, faster tyres much later in the race than everyone else. And if they time it just right, he might be able to lead a charge all the way to the front. Like we said, it’s much riskier than the undercut, which is why you don’t see it as often.
The Safety Car is deployed in the event of an accident. Once on the track, all Formula One cars must travel at a pre-determined “safe” delta speed and form an orderly queue behind the Safety Car until the accident is cleared. Drivers may only overtake the Safety Car if they are a lap or more down in the race. Under these conditions, lapped cars are allowed to overtake the Safety Car in order to un-lap themselves. Once unlapped, cars must rejoin the Safety Car queue in their correct race position.
As an example, let’s say that Alex Albon, running in 18th place and a lap behind, was caught between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen in 1st and 2nd when the Safety Car came out. Albon is allowed to leave the safety car queue and move around the track to take his spot in 18th place at the back of the queue. This allows Max to move up behind Charles, in their correct positions. F1 uses this method to sort the Safety Car queue into the correct order, ensuring all drivers are on the same lap when the race restarts.
In 2022, F1 had two Safety Cars, the Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, both high-performance supercars. They’re some of the fastest road-legal vehicles in the world — and Formula One cars make them look slow.
There are a lot of coloured flags used in Formula One. The four flags that appear most often are yellow, red, green, and blue.
Yellow flags are waved by marshalls on the side of the track as a warning to drivers to use caution ahead — a car may have run wide through a turn, putting them in an unexpected place on the track. Such an event is grounds to wave yellow flags — they’re all about helping the drivers avoid dangerous accidents. Yellows are also waved after minor accidents, where minimal debris has been spread on the track. Drivers must observe yellow flags, and there are severe penalties for not doing so.
Red flags are for severe accidents that require the race to come to a stop. Under red flag conditions, all cars must return to the pits and await further instructions while track marshalls and emergency personnel clear the wreckage and see to the health and safety of any drivers involved. Red flag conditions can go on for quite a while.
Green flags are the all-clear signal. Under green flag running, the race is free to continue.
Blue flags are flown during the race to alert drivers that the car ahead is a lap or more down. Under blue flag conditions, the lapped car must give way to its faster rival.
But many other flags are used in Formula One, and they all tell the drivers different things. The chequered flag is perhaps the most famous in F1 and signals the end of the race. The red-and-yellow flag indicates a change in track surface ahead, like an oil spill or standing water that could lead to a loss of grip. Black-and-white flags are for when drivers have been naughty — if you see one of these, someone is getting a warning for unsportsmanlike behaviour. A black flag is an immediate disqualification — it is one of the rarest flags, and one of the most serious. A black-and-orange flag is for when a car has a mechanical problem the marshalls believe has made it a danger to itself and others. Finally, a white flag is used to tell drivers that there is a slow-moving vehicle ahead, often a medical car or service truck.
Penalties are given to drivers for breaking certain rules and depend on the severity of the inciting incident. Usually, penalties come in the form of losing either time or grid places.
Grid place penalties usually happen when a team must make part changes past a certain deadline on the race weekend. As an example: if a car needs to take a new engine the night before a race, it will start from the back of the grid on race day. The idea is that it will dampen any competitive advantage that a car might gain from taking a new engine. A five-place grid penalty means a driver gets shunted down the race day order by five places. If a driver qualifies in first and they have a five-place grid penalty, they’ll start the race in sixth place.
Time penalties are a different thing entirely, and are usually given for accidents or reckless driving on track. If a car doesn’t slow down for a yellow flag, that’s a time penalty. If a driver keeps going over the white lines through the turns to gain an advantage, that’s a time penalty. If a driver mounts an overtake but clatters into another car, causing damage or even taking their opponent out of the race, that’s a time penalty. Time penalties come in two flavours, five or ten seconds. They are served during the driver’s pit stop, and the mechanics must wait until the penalty is served before working on the car. If the penalty is given after the drivers’ pit stops, time penalties will be applied at their final time at the end of the race.
Then you have drive-through penalties, in which the driver must enter the pit lane, observe the speed limit while travelling through it, and exit again without stopping. Finally, there are stop-go penalties, in which the driver must enter the pit lane, stop in their pit box and remain stationary for ten seconds. The mechanics are forbidden from working on the car while the penalty is served.
Lights out, and away we go
And just like that, we’ve crossed the finish line! Good on you for making it to the end of this incredibly exhaustive guide! Hopefully, this piece gives you a document you can refer back to as you make your way into this incredible, frustrating, beautiful, alarming sport. There is nothing in the world quite like the thrill of a great race and, thanks to shows like Drive to Survive, there are more people coming into the sport than ever before. There has never, ever been a better time to become an F1 fan than right now.
This article has been updated to reflect the details of the 2024 schedule.
Lead Image Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images, Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans
Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.