Formula 1 for Motor Racing Beginners

01
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Formula 1 Is Not NASCAR

486090615 Subscription download 20 Apr 2014 SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 20: during the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 20, 2014 in Shanghai, China.
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The Formula 1 world championship is governed and owned by a world body of motor racing based in France, called the International Automobile Federation. The commercial rights to F1 are leased by FIA to a British man named Bernie Ecclestone. NASCAR is owned by the France family -- as opposed to the country -- although it, too, is a private racing series.

NASCAR racing cars resemble cars that you drive on the highway, your basic road cars. Formula 1 cars look like insects -- they have long snouts and wings; the wheels are entirely outside the body like an insect's legs and the drivers are visible in the middle of all this like the bug's eye. F1 involves what is known as single-seat, open wheel racing. In NASCAR, by contrast, the wheels are covered, and the driver is covered and not hanging outside the cockpit like an F1 driver.

02
of 09

Formula 1 is NOT IndyCar

Spyker F1 car
Spyker F1 car. Photo (c) 2007 Brad Spurgeon licensed to About.com, Inc.

If you have ever seen the Indianapolis 500, then you know what Indy cars look like. The race -- held annually over the Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis -- is the major event of the IndyCar season. You might think that the cars look like F1 cars. But, this is only an illusion, as an IndyCar is nowhere near as technical level as an F1 car.

Interestingly, from 2000 to 2007 Formula 1 also raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Formula 1 race, while attracting massive crowds, was never really a huge success. Formula 1 cars are not built to race on oval tracks with banked corners. The speedway was redesigned for the F1 race, with part of the infield being used for the track.

03
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Formula 1 Is Not Formula 3 or GP2

Formula 3 and GP2 races serve as stepping stone series for drivers who are trying to climb their way up to Formula 1. F3 and GP2 are among the many feeder series in Europe where drivers race vehicles that look similar to F1 cars, however, these cars are much slower and less sophisticated. These races do teach the drivers how to prepare for F1 racing.

04
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Formula 1 is Not Endurance Racing

The Le Mans race -- a 24-hour event held annually in France in mid-June -- is the world's prime example of an endurance race. By contrast, a Formula 1 Grand Prix race -- the name given to all Formula 1 races, like the Grand Prix of Monaco or the United States Grand Prix -- lasts no more than two hours, and often about 90 minutes. Formula 1 is not about endurance. It is about sprint racing. That is why the F1 cars break down so often. Also, endurance racing cars do not have exposed wheels, as F1 cars do, although some of the endurance drivers are exposed to the open air. Formula 1 is not about endurance. It is about sprint racing. That is why the F1 cars break down so often. Also, endurance racing cars do not have exposed wheels, as F1 cars do, although some of the endurance drivers are exposed to the open air.

05
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Formula 1 Is Worldwide

F1 testing in Bahrain
An F1 car on the Bahrain circuit. Photo (c) 2007 Brad Spurgeon licensed to About.com, Inc.

Unlike most of the previously mentioned racing series, Formula 1 is a worldwide event, not just the racing series of a single country. F1 teams are based in England, Germany, Italy, France, Japan and Switzerland and other countries. With 18 races on average in a season, most F1 competitions take place in a different country, though Germany, Spain and Italy have traditionally hosted two F1 races annually.

06
of 09

F1 Is the Pinnacle of Racing Technology

F1 carbon fiber cooking oven
Carbon fiber is baked in ovens like this at F1 team factories. Photo (c) 2007 Brad Spurgeon licensed to About.com, Inc.

Formula 1 teams generally spend nearly half a billion dollars per year building the car for 18 races. That car is then junked and a new one is built for the next season. The cars are built out of carbon fiber and other exotic materials, all of which are handcrafted at team factories. The engines are the most powerful in the world, the electronics are the most complicated and teams know through computer sensors how every part of the car is reacting during a race or test any time it is on the track.

07
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Formula 1 Has the World's Best Drivers

Formula 1 teams pay their drivers fortunes -- Michael Schumacher, for example, earned more than $30 million from Ferrari one season, and that does not include sponsorships and endorsements. Include those, and this top F1 driver is earning about $80 million per season. It's not hard to see why F1 is where most drivers would like to end up, even some NASCAR drivers. But there are only 22 to 24 seats to fill each year, depending on whether there are 11 or 12 teams.

08
of 09

Formula 1 Is the Most Expensive Form of Racing

Unlike many other series of open-wheel racing, where a team may be able to buy a chassis for less than a million dollars from a racing car manufacturer, in Formula 1, teams have to pay for a staff of highly qualified engineers and technicians to build a car from scratch. They have to craft every part -- and that's expensive. Sponsors of some of the biggest F1 teams pay up to $50 million per year to have their names plastered onto the cars, making F1 vehicles the world's fastest billboards.

In addition to the cost of the cars, each F1 team sends staffs of around 60 people to each race to prepare the car, run the media operation and do sponsorship activities. Teams also employ up to 1,000 people at their factories to take care of business and build the cars. No other form of racing on the planet comes close to this kind of cash outlay.

09
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Formula 1 Races at the Greatest Tracks in the World

To anyone familiar with car racing history, the tracks where F1 Grand Prix races take place are familiar names. The one just about everyone knows is within the city of Monaco on the French Riviera. The Monaco Grand Prix first took place through the winding city streets in 1929. F1 returned when the series came into being after the Second World War, and today the Monaco race remains the centerpiece of the season.

But other tracks also resonate with history:

  • Monza, located in a suburb of Milan, for instance, is even older than Monaco as a track and is as big an attraction for racing fans.
  • Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, less than an hour's drive from Liege, is one of the most spectacular and historic tracks. It winds through the Ardennes forest, and for the drivers, it is a kind of roller coaster.
  • Formula 1 has also moved to new locations. In the past decade, tracks have sprouted up from Bahrain to Shanghai and from Kuala Lumpur to Istanbul, highlighting the sport's growing reach.