Qualifying, racing and strategy

Qualification

A Formula One Grand Prix event takes place over an entire weekend.

Practice sessions take place on Fridays and Saturdays and allow the drivers to get a feel for the track and the racing conditions, but they also crucially permit both the drivers and constructors to test out the two cars they’re allowed per team. It is during these practice sessions that vital last minute adjustments are made to the car, and these adjustments can make the difference between a place on the podium and a place outside the points.

After these practice sessions, the qualifying session is held on a Saturday. This qualifying session will determine the various positions on the grid that the cars will take in the race proper. There have been various formats that the qualifying session has taken over the years, including an exciting “one shot” system where each driver would take turns on an empty track to set their one and only time. The current system sees all 22 cars permitted on the track for a 15-minute qualification session. Only their fastest time will count and drivers may complete as many laps as they wish. Any car running a timed lap when the chequered flag is shown is entitled to complete the lap.

The six slowest cars, however, take no further part in qualifying after the initial fifteen minutes. These six cars are simply assigned the last six grid positions for the race; numbers 17 – 22, in the order of their times. The remaining 16 cars then have their times reset before the next 15-minute qualifying session. Again, the slowest six cars in this session are assigned the next lowest grid positions; this time it will be numbers 11 – 16, in the order of their times.

For the final 15-minute qualifying session, the remaining cars will be arranged on the grid in positions one to ten in the order of their fastest times so far.

Fill her up

Fuel is a surprisingly important factor in determining car speeds. Cars tend to go faster with a lighter fuel load, and this is taken into account during the qualifying session.

The rules state that, in the first two 15-minute sessions, cars may run any fuel load and the 12 drivers knocked out after those sessions may refuel ahead of the race. However, in the final 15-minute qualifying session, the top-ten drivers must begin the session with the fuel load on which they plan to start the race and to check this, they will be weighed before they leave the pits. This ensures that they are not running with hardly any fuel to secure pole position.

That said, whatever fuel they use in the final 15-minute qualifying session may be replaced at the end of the session provided that the laps they complete are all within 110% of their best session time. This is important, as any fuel for a lap outside of the 110% time will not be replaced.

As with the first two 15-minute sessions, if a driver starts a timed lap before the chequered flag falls for the 15-minute session, their time will count even if they cross the finish line after the session has ended. Two laps are exempt from this rule: outlaps and inlaps. An outlap is a lap that started in the pitlane, and an inlap is a lap that ended in the pitlane. Both these types of lap are permitted to be no more than 120% of the driver’s best session time.

Race Day

The race begins with a warm-up formation lap, where cars drive a lap of the track in the order they’ll start on the grid. This is when you’ll see the cars snaking from side to side along the track. They do this in order to get as much grip as possible from their new tyres.

After the warm-up, the cars will re-assemble on the starting grid in the order in which they qualified. If a driver stalls before the parade lap, and the rest of the field passes him, then he must start from the back of the grid. As long as he moves off and at least one car is behind him, he can retake his original position.

Although it doesn’t happen too often, sometimes a racer may also elect to start from pit-lane if he has any last minute problems with the car. If they choose to do this, they must wait for all cars to pass pit-lane before they may begin the race.

The rules

The basic objective of Formula One is to drive your car faster round the track than any of your competitors. Although, when you take into account the advanced aerodynamics, and driver skill needed, we can see that the effort that goes into winning is slightly more complicated! However, many of the major rules actually relate to the cars construction and what is allowed and what is outlawed. Once the race actually begins, it is mostly a simple matter of who will complete the circuit first.

Races vary slightly in their length as no two tracks are the same but, generally, they are a little over 190 miles long and are limited to two hours, though usually last about ninety minutes.

A light system above the track signals the start of the race and, throughout the race, drivers may make one or more pit stops in order to refuel and change tyres. This is also where the tactics of fuel load come into play. For example, some teams may decide to have a lighter fuel load in order to maximize speed. The problem with this is that they will need to stop in the pits two or even three times in order to refuel. Conversely, the teams that choose to begin the race with a full tank may need to stop only once, but their cars will be heavier and therefore slower.

The rules for tyres state that drivers have access to only two different types of tyres, hard and soft, and a driver must use each type of tyre at least once during a race.

What happens once the race starts?

After the race has begun, there are certain events which occur during a race that will cause flags to be raised to alert the drivers what is happening. Below is a guide to these flags and what they mean. Understanding what each flag means will mean you are fully aware of what is happening while the race is taking place.

Flags

Checkered

The famous checkered flag signifies that the race has ended. It is shown first to the winner of the race, and then to every car to cross the line behind them.

Yellow

The yellow flag indicates danger ahead and that overtaking is temporarily prohibited. A single waved yellow flag means slow down, and a double waved yellow warns that the driver must be prepared to stop if necessary.

This flag is usually raised when there has been an accident or collision on the track.

Green

The green flag indicates that a hazard has been cleared up and the cars can proceed at racing speed.

Blue

The blue flag is shown to a driver to indicate that a faster car is behind him and trying to overtake.

It is shown to both lapped car and to those racing. A lapped car must allow the faster car past after seeing a maximum of three blue flags or risk being penalised. A car racing for position is under no obligation to move over.

Red

The red flag is waved because the race has been stopped, usually because a car is lying in a dangerous position after an accident or because conditions are too poor for racing to be safe.

Red-Yellow stripe

The red and yellow striped flag warns that the track is slippy, usually because there is oil or water on it.

White

The white flag warns of a slow-moving vehicle on the track, such as a tow truck or safety car. The safety car appears when there has been an accident, and sets a slow pace at the front of the field until the danger has passed.

Black

The black flag is shown with the relevant car’s number to indicate that the driver must call into the pits immediately. This is usually because he has broken the rules and will be disqualified.

Black and White diagonal

The black and white diagonal fag is shown with the car number to indicate a warning for unsportsmanlike behaviour. A black flag may follow if the driver takes no heed of the warning.

Black with Orange disc

The black flag with orange disc is shown, with the relevant car number, to indicate that this car has a mechanical problem and the driver must return to his pit immediately.

Making a point!

Although the fuss might appear to focus on the drivers, there are actually two awards up for grabs in each Formula One season.

The drivers’ championship is awarded to the individual driver who has gained the most points over the year, and the constructors’ championship is given to the car manufacturer who gains the most points with their team. Both these prizes involve tons of cash!

How the points system work

The FIA awards points to the top eight drivers and their respective teams in each Grand Prix.

This point system goes 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 The race winner receives ten points, second place gets eight points, third place gets six points and so on.

The same goes for the constructors’ championship so, for example, if Ferrari have their two drivers come in first and third place, they will receive sixteen points.

At the end of the season the winner of the two annual championships are the driver and the team who have accumulated the most points over the course of the year. If any drivers or teams have the exact same amount of points and are both competing for the driver or team championships, the driver or team who has won the most individual Grand Prix races during the course of the season is declared the winner.