When you see professional athletes excelling in leagues like the NFL or the NBA, there’s a part of you that knows, realistically, you could probably never perform at the level that those athletes do. There’s a certain level of skill inherent, yes, but a lot of it is just hours and hours and hours of practice time and gym time spent honing their skills and fine tuning every movement. When many people see Formula 1, though, they think “Well, I know how to drive, I could probably do that.”
While the simple components of a car moving down a track might seem familiar to everyone with a driver’s license, let’s be honest, a Formula 1 race is absolutely nothing like your drive to the store. The car itself has countless modifications and specifics that need to be in place in order for it to perform at its optimal level. The drivers, though you can’t see their muscles tensing and the sweat pouring down their face like you can see in an athlete who’s just rocking a jersey, are working incredibly hard to get the car exactly where it needs to be. There’s a ton of work that goes on under the surface to make Formula 1 racing so speedy – and so effortless looking.
So, if you ever wondered just what kind of experience the drivers have, or just what makes the vehicles racing down the track so special and expensive, here are 15 things you might not have known about Formula 1 racing.
15. They Go From 0 to 100 In Less Than 2 Seconds
Everyone who has felt a need for speed while driving knows roughly how fast their car can accelerate from 0 to a certain speed, and most car manufacturers will boast how quickly their advertised car can go from 0 to 100 miles per hour, or even 0 to 60 miles per hour. While the number varies according to the type of car, it’s generally at least a couple seconds before you’re really cruising. Luckily, those cars aren’t compared to the cars that make the rounds on the Formula 1 circuit, because that would just be embarrassing for pretty much any car pitted against those beasts. A Formula 1 vehicle can go from the standard 0 to 100 miles per hour in 1.5 seconds. That’s right – by the time you’d turn the keys in the ignition in a regular car, an F1 racer will already be long gone thanks to that insane acceleration.
14. The Drivers Sweat…A Lot
In comparison with athletes who are racing up and down a court or field, visibly sweating, their muscles visibly strained, it can be easy to assume that a Formula 1 driver has it easy. After all, they’re just sitting in the car, driving, and you don’t exactly break a sweat when you’re just cruising down the road commuting to work, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out that, during a race, a Formula 1 driver loses an average of about 6.5 pounds of weight as a result of how profusely they sweat. It’s all to do with their environment – the high G-forces involved in taking those hairpin turns at such high speeds and the boiling temperature within the car makes for an environment that, well, makes those drivers sweaty. So, next time someone claims that Formula 1 drivers have such an easy job that they don’t even break a sweat, there’s a fun factoid you can toss at them.
13. The Cockpit Is Hot, Hot, Hot
Most modern cars have luxuries that control the temperature within the vehicle – heat and seat warmers to keep things toasty when it’s cold outside, and air conditioning to keep you cool as a cucumber when it’s hot outside. You would think, given how high tech Formula 1 vehicles are, that they’d have a similar system, right? Well, not really –Formula 1 cars are all about achieving the optimal results on the course, and they’re formulated with those priorities in mind rather than formulated for maximum comfort like the average car is. Pretty much every part on a Formula 1 car gets crazy hot during a high intensity race, and the cockpit is no different. The driver is generally sitting in an environment of about 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) during a race – and it can be even hotter during races taking place in locations with a hot climate. No wonder they sweat so much!
12. The First Ever Race Was Star-Studded
In most circles, Formula 1 drivers aren’t quite as well recognized as the biggest NFL or NBA stars – pretty much everyone knows who Lebron James and Tom Brady are, but not as many people can name the top Formula 1 racers. However, there were a lot of familiar faces in the first ever Formula 1 race that took place. For that race, drivers included Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, who was a member of the royal family in Thailand, and Baron Emmanuel “Toulo” de Graffenried, a baron who had won the British Grand Prix in 1949. Neither did very well in the race, but still – can you imagine the equivalent today? Prince William hopping into a Formula 1 racer and tearing down the track while Kate and the children watch from the sidelines? Nowadays, the racers tend to be actual racing pros rather than royalty. Although that’s not to say that a member of the royal family couldn’t decide to pursue a career in racing!
11. The Average Cost Of The Vehicle Alone Is $6.8 million
Luxury vehicles have a pretty high price tag, and if you’ve ever marveled at just how much a Maserati or Ferrari costs, well, you haven’t received the sticker shock that a Formula 1 vehicle entails. Yes, they’re comprised of many, many specifically designed and manufactured parts, since they don’t exactly drive the same speeds regular cars do. However, would you have ever imagined that the average cost of a Formula 1 car is a staggering $6.8 million? That’s right! You could get garages full of top of the line luxury cars for the same price! And, that’s just the average, basic model of the vehicle itself. The process of developing different parts and researching how they react at such high speeds and temperature is a whole different cost to consider. Pit crews and drivers likely pray a vehicle doesn’t get damaged in some way, because it’s going to be quite the investment to replace any single vehicle!
10. There Are About 80,000 Components…Per Car
Given what they need to withstand, it only makes sense that a Formula 1 car might have a few extra components than your average car created for just driving around town, but did you know that a Formula 1 vehicle actually has about 80,000 components? Yup, 80,000 separate pieces that are all meticulously crafted and assembled and tested and researched ad nauseum. Many people assume that actually driving the cars is the hard part of the racing equation, but it turns out, creating those masterful vehicles is quite the feat in and of itself. They need to work flawlessly in all situations, be both safe yet lightweight and easily manipulated, be able to withstand the high temperatures and speeds they’re required to go at, and much more. Now, the question is, if one component amongst the 80,000 goes wrong, how can you tell which component it is? We hope that those skilled technicians don’t have to narrow it down from 80,000!
9. The Helmets Are Nearly Indestructible
Given the high speeds the drivers hurtle along the course at, it only makes sense that safety is an absolutely vital consideration when it comes to Formula 1 racing – and a key component of that equation is the helmet. Now, Formula 1 helmets don’t just get slammed against some pavement to see if they crack or protect a dummy skull sufficiently. First of all, a helmet has to be able to deal with projectiles that fly at it at approximately 500 kilometres per hour. Then, it also needs to be able to withstand flames at 800 degrees Celsius for 45 seconds without melting the head of the wearer. And, through it all, if there are dents left on the helmet deeper than 2.5 millimetres, it gets a failing grade. In Formula 1 racing, they take safety seriously! Now, the question is, just how much does one of those helmets cost?
8. The Vehicle Emits Exhaust At A Temperature That Could Melt Aluminium
Just in case you weren’t up to date on your melting temperatures, we’ll give you a little bit of context – aluminium melts at about 660 degrees Celsius, while steel melts at about 1,350 degrees Celsius, both materials that comprise components found on some vehicles. Formula 1 exhaust gas, in turn, comes out of the vehicle at temperatures of approximately 950 to 1,000 degrees Celsius; almost double the temperature that aluminium melts at. Given the high temperature of the exhaust, any part of the vehicle that comes into contact with the exhaust needs to be made of materials that is extremely heat resistant. So, Formula 1 exhaust systems use a super alloy called Inconel. What other types of machinery use that particular alloy? Oh, just jet engines and nuclear reactors, no big deal. The more you find out about the particular requirements of a Formula 1 vehicle, the more the price tag almost makes sense.
7. A Formula 1 Driver Is Pretty Much Always Changing Gears
Driving a car on a simple route around town isn’t too high maintenance – if you’re rocking a vehicle with a manual transmission, you might have to change gears every few minutes as you drive. A Formula 1 driver doesn’t have things quite that easy. During the course of one race – which, as any fan knows, is over in the blink of an eye – a driver will change gears in the vehicle anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 times. That’s an average of a gear change every 1.3 seconds! Part of the reason for this is that they need razor sharp control and precision over every aspect of the drive during a race, and part of the reason is the technology within the vehicle itself – gears in the Formula 1 vehicles can be cycled from first to seventh and then back to first in one fifth of a second, which is pretty incredible.
6. Women Have Had A Tough Time Breaking Into The Sport
Between 1950 and 2016 – a span of over half a decade – only six women in total have entered a Grand Prix race. And, of those six women, only three qualified, and only one (Lella Lombardi) managed to actually score any points. Since Lombardi, there hasn’t been a single woman qualifying for the starting grid and actually ripping around the track with the boys. Note: Lombardi was of an earlier generation, so that means there hasn’t been a single woman qualifying for the starting grid since 1976! Right now, there’s a single female driver in development, Carmen Jorda, but she hasn’t yet made her professional debut. Given the gender divide in other types of racing – I mean, just consider how much attention Danica Patrick got simply because she was a woman in an incredibly male-dominated sport – the lack of women in Formula 1 is hardly surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less notable.
5. A Formula 1 Engine Only Lasts About Two Hours
Most people in their lifetime have driven an old beater car that’s 10, 15, or even 20 years old. You have to make certain repairs, sure, but if you take good care of a vehicle it can usually last for quite some time. That is, unless you’re a Formula 1 driver. Formula 1 vehicles are obviously cared for very well, but because of the sheer insanity of what they’re put through, a Formula 1 vehicle engine isn’t going to last you ten years. It isn’t going to last you one year. In fact, it might not even last you one day. That’s because the life span of a Formula 1 car engine is approximately two hours of racing. That’s the impact such high speeds and unusual conditions have on the expensive, carefully developed engine. Insane! Thank goodness regular car engines last a little bit longer or else no one would be able to afford to drive!
4. The “Formula” Refers To A Set Of Rules
Have you ever wondered why Formula 1 is called what it is? Well, turns out there’s a pretty straightforward explanation. Way back in the 1920s and 1930s, the Formula 1 racing series started out with the European Grand Prix Motor Racing series. The “formula” referred to in the now common title of the racing series is simply a set of rules that every participant’s car must meet in order for them to be a part of the race. It makes sense given how roughly those cars are treated when they’re thrown around the course, and considering that back in the day there wasn’t as many technological advancements and safety measures available, it’s smart that there were some rules and guidelines to streamline the process and try to ensure that everyone would emerge from the race unscathed. Frankly, we almost wish the explanation was something a little bit more exciting, but there you have it.
3. The Tires Last Less Than 200 Kilometres
This probably comes as no surprise, particularly once you find out how little time each Formula 1 vehicle’s engine has before it’s shot, but the tires are no different. On a regular car just driving around town, the tires can typically last anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 kilometres. Depending on how much you drive and what kind of terrain you’re working with, it could be years and years before you need to spring for replacement tires. On a Formula 1 vehicle, in comparison, the tires last about 90 to 120 kilometres; a mere fraction of the distance that a regular car’s tires last. Obviously, it’s because those vehicles are ripping around the race track far quicker than any regular car would ever go anywhere, but still – that’s barely any time at all! Lucky that the sport’s stars get sponsorships to help offset the cost of constantly replacing tires.
2. The Driver Must Remove The Steering Wheel To Get In
Formula 1 vehicles are built with one thing in mind: speed. That means all the unnecessary components are taken out and all the necessary components are streamlined to deliver the best possible product in the lightest possible package. So, it only makes sense that the inside of the vehicle, where the driver sits, is an incredibly compact space. How compact, exactly? Well, it turns out that the drivers can’t just hop into the vehicle like you’d hop into your car on the way to the store. They need to actually hit a latch behind the steering wheel, release it from the column, and totally remove the steering wheel, just in order to get into the car. They’re definitely packed in there like a sardine during the race, so it’s lucky that it’s over quickly. We can’t imagine that kind of set up would be comfortable for a long road trip or something of that nature.
1. They Can Rip Off A Manhole Cover
There are definitely a lot of preparations that go into a Formula 1 race, but here’s a surprising one you might not be aware of. Before the Monaco Grand Prix, the manhole covers in the streets are actually welded down in preparation. Why, exactly? Well, it turns out that the downforce that is created by a Formula 1 vehicle at racing speed is so intense that it creates enough suction to literally rip the manhole covers off and send them flying through the air. We kind of don’t want to know exactly how that was figured out because, well, it was probably disastrous, but we can’t help but be a little bit impressed. I mean, who would have thought a car literally driving on the street could generate enough energy to lift a heavy metal object straight into the air? The task of welding the covers shut must be boring, but it’s an absolute necessity for safe racing.