The distinct high-pitched roar of Formula One (F1) engines will be heard in just a few short months on Nov. 18 in Austin when the city will be host to the United States Grand Prix (USGP). For rabid F1 fans, this year’s USGP will be one for the books. Not only is it the first USGP since 2007 where it was hosted at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it is also the penultimate race of the year before F1 heads to Brazil for the final grand prix of the season.
Despite F1’s wild popularity around the globe, the racing series has yet to capture the attention of most mainstream sports fans in the United States, making it one of the least understood motorsports in the country.
The first race of the 2012 season takes place on March 18, and for those unfamiliar or new to the sport, the following is a brief FAQ to help you understand what F1 is and why it has a total global television audience of more than 500 million people.
What, exactly, is F1?
F1, formally known as the FIA Formula One World Championship, is the highest class of single-seater auto racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The “formula” in Formula One represents a set of rules which all participants’ cars must meet.
What kind of cars are raced?
Somewhat similar in appearance to IndyCars, the modern F1 cars are single-seat, open-cockpit, open-wheel racing cars which are very dependent on electronics and on aerodynamics, suspension and tires.
The regulations governing the cars are unique to the championship and Formula One regulations specify that cars must be constructed by the racing teams themselves, though the design and manufacture can be outsourced. For example, racing team Lotus F1 Team’s cars are built by Lotus but uses Renault’s engine.
How do the cars impact the environment?
Contrary to popular belief that F1 cars are gas-guzzling and bad for the environment, F1 cars have actually been at the forefront of major technological advance in the development of hybrid car technology.
On-and-off since 2009, F1 cars have been equipped with a kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), which is an automotive system for recovering a moving vehicle’s kinetic energy under braking. The recovered energy is stored in a reservoir for later use under acceleration. This type of technology is under development for road vehicles.
However, not all teams choose to equip cars with KERS because it adds an extra 25 kilograms of weight.
How are championships determined?
There are two types of championships in F1: drivers and constructors championships.
Both championships rely on earning points during races that are determined by the place a driver finishes. Each team consists of two drivers and cars.
As of 2010, the top ten cars are awarded points, the winner receiving 25 points. The total number of points won at each race are added up, and the driver and constructor with the most points at the end of the season are World Champions. If both a team’s cars finish in the points, they both receive Constructors Championship points.
For the 2012 season there are 12 teams consisting of 24 drivers, including six drivers who have already won World Championships.
Catch me up, what’s happening right now?
Currently F1 teams are conducting pre-season testing of cars and manufacturers recently unveiled updated cars for the 2012 season.
The most notable change to cars is a new stepped nose design which has been introduced to increase driver safety in case of a T-bone collision between cars.
What does the 2012 season look like and how can I watch it?
During the 2012 season there are 20 grand prixs taking place around the globe on purpose-built racing or street circuits. The first race of the season takes place on March 18 in Melbourne, Australia.
Since each race takes place in a different country viewing times can vary. Most races occur in the early morning hours in United States timezones. Generally races can be seen on SpeedTV, but a handful of races are aired on Fox during the year.
Alternatively, there are several F1 watch parties that are held each race weekend in Austin.