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Formula One

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Formula One
Current season or competition 2008 Formula One season
The Formula One logo.
Category Single seaters
Country or region International
Inaugural season 1950
Drivers 20
Teams 10
Engine suppliers BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes, Renault, Toyota
Tyre suppliers Bridgestone
Drivers' champion Flag of Finland Kimi Räikkönen
Constructors' champion Flag of Italy Scuderia Ferrari
Official website formula1.com
Formula One
Current season summary

2008 Formula One season

Related articles

History of Formula One
Formula One regulations
Formula One cars
Formula One engines
Formula One racing
Future of Formula One

( GP Winners · Champions · Runners-up)
( GP Winners · Champions · Runners-up)
Grands Prix · Circuits
( Promotional Trophy winners)

Pointscoring systems
Engines · National colors
Sponsorship liveries
Racing flags · People
TV broadcasters
Fatal accidents
Drivers who never qualified
Red-flagged Grands Prix
Grands Prix affected by rain


Drivers ( Wins)
Constructors ( Wins)
Tyres · Races

Formula One, abbreviated to F1, is the highest class of open wheeled auto racing defined by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), motorsport world's governing body. The "formula" in the name refers to a set of rules to which all participants and cars must conform. The F1 world championship season consists of a series of races, known as Grands Prix, held usually on purpose-built circuits, and in a few cases on closed city streets, the most famous of which is the Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. The results of each race are combined to determine two annual World Championships, one for drivers and one for constructors.

The cars race at high speeds, up to 360 km/h (225 mph), and are capable of pulling up to 5g in some corners. The performance of the cars is highly dependent on electronics, aerodynamics, suspension and tyres. The formula has seen many evolutions and changes through the history of the sport.

Europe is Formula One's traditional centre; all of the teams are based there and around half the races take place there. In particular the United Kingdom has produced the most number of Drivers' Champions (12), and the vast majority of Constructors' Champions (32). However, its scope has expanded significantly in recent years and Grands Prix are now held all over the world. Events in Europe and the Americas have been dropped in favour of new ones in Bahrain, China, Malaysia and Turkey, with Singapore scheduled to hold the first night race in 2008 and India being added to the schedule starting in 2010. Of the eighteen races in 2008, nine are outside Europe.

It is a massive television event, with millions of people watching each race worldwide. As the world's most expensive sport, its economic effect is significant, and its financial and political battles are widely observed. On average about 55 million people all over the world watch Formula One races live. Its high profile and popularity makes it an obvious merchandising environment, which leads to very high investments from sponsors, translating into extremely high budgets for the constructor teams. Several teams have gone bankrupt or been bought out by other companies since 2000.

The sport is regulated by the FIA. Formula One's commercial rights are vested in the Formula One Group.


The Formula One series has its roots in the European Grand Prix Motor Racing (q.v. for pre-1947 history) of the 1920s and 1930s. The " formula" is a set of rules which all participants and cars must meet. Formula One was a new formula agreed after World War II in 1946, with the first non-championship races being held that year. A number of Grand Prix racing organisations had laid out rules for a World Championship before the war, but due to the suspension of racing during the conflict, the World Drivers' Championship was not formalised until 1947. The first world championship race was held at Silverstone, United Kingdom in 1950. A championship for constructors followed in 1958. National championships existed in South Africa and the UK in the 1960s and 1970s. Non-championship Formula One races were held for many years but, due to the rising cost of competition, the last of these occurred in 1983.

The sport's title, Formula One, indicates that it is intended to be the most advanced and most competitive of the FIA's racing formulae.

The return of racing (1950–1958)

Juan Manuel Fangio drove this Alfa Romeo 159 to the title in 1951.
Juan Manuel Fangio drove this Alfa Romeo 159 to the title in 1951.

The first Formula One World Championship was won by Italian Giuseppe Farina in his Alfa Romeo in 1950, barely defeating his Argentine teammate Juan Manuel Fangio. However Fangio won the title in 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 & 1957, his streak interrupted after an injury by two-time champion Alberto Ascari of Ferrari. Although the UK's Stirling Moss was able to compete regularly, he was never able to win the World Championship, and is now widely considered to be the greatest driver never to have won the title. Fangio, however, is remembered for dominating Formula One's first decade and has long been considered the "grand master" of Formula One.

The period was dominated by teams run by road car manufacturers - Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes Benz and Maserati - all of whom had competed before the war. The first seasons were run using pre-war cars like Alfa's 158. They were front engined, with narrow treaded tyres and 1.5 litre supercharged or 4.5 litre naturally aspirated engines. The 1952 and 1953 world championships were run to Formula Two regulations, for smaller, less powerful cars, due to concerns over the number of Formula One cars available. When a new Formula One, for engines limited to 2.5 litres, was reinstated to the world championship in 1954, Mercedes-Benz introduced the advanced W196, which featured innovations such as desmodromic valves and fuel injection as well as enclosed streamlined bodywork. Mercedes won the drivers championship for two years, before withdrawing from all motorsport in the wake of the 1955 Le Mans disaster.

The 'Garagistes' (1959–1980)

Stirling Moss at the Nürburgring in 1961.
Stirling Moss at the Nürburgring in 1961.

The first major technological development, Cooper's re-introduction of mid-engined cars (following Ferdinand Porsche's pioneering Auto Unions of the 1930s), which evolved from the company's successful Formula 3 designs, occurred in the 1950s. Australian Jack Brabham, World Champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966, soon proved the new design's superiority. By 1961, all regular competitors had switched to mid-engined cars.

The first British World Champion was Mike Hawthorn, who drove a Ferrari to the title in 1958. However, when Colin Chapman entered F1 as a chassis designer and later founder of Team Lotus, British racing green came to dominate the field for the next decade. Between Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, and Denny Hulme, British teams and Commonwealth drivers won twelve world championships between 1962 and 1973.

In 1962, Lotus introduced a car with an aluminium sheet monocoque chassis instead of the traditional spaceframe design. This proved to be the greatest technological breakthrough since the introduction of mid-engined cars. In 1968, Lotus painted Imperial Tobacco livery on their cars, thus introducing sponsorship to the sport.

Aerodynamic downforce slowly gained importance in car design from the appearance of aerofoils in the late 1960s. In the late 1970s Lotus introduced ground effect aerodynamics that provided enormous downforce and greatly increased cornering speeds (though the concept had previously been used on Jim Hall's Chaparral 2J in 1970). So great were the aerodynamic forces pressing the cars to the track, up to 5 g, that extremely stiff springs were needed to maintain a constant ride height, leaving the suspension virtually solid, depending entirely on the tyres for any small amount of cushioning of the car and driver from irregularities in the road surface.

Big business (1981–2000)

Beginning in the 1970s, Bernie Ecclestone rearranged the management of Formula One's commercial rights; he is widely credited with transforming the sport into the billion dollar business it is today. When Ecclestone bought the Brabham team in 1971 he gained a seat on the Formula One Constructors' Association and in 1978 became its President. Previously the circuit owners controlled the income of the teams and negotiated with each individually, however Ecclestone persuaded them to "hunt as a pack" through FOCA. He offered Formula One to circuit owners as a package which they could take or leave. In return for the package almost all are required to surrender trackside advertising.

The formation of the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) in 1979 set off the FISA-FOCA war, during which FISA and its president Jean-Marie Balestre clashed repeatedly with FOCA over television revenues and technical regulations. The Guardian said of FOCA that Ecclestone and Max Mosley "used it to wage a guerrilla war with a very long-term aim in view." FOCA threatened to set up a rival series, boycotted a Grand Prix and FISA withdrew its sanction from races. The result was the 1981 Concorde Agreement which guaranteed technical stability, as teams were to be given reasonable notice of new regulations. Although FISA asserted its right to the TV revenues, it handed the administration of those rights to FOCA.

The FIA imposed a ban on ground effect aerodynamics in 1983. By then, however, turbocharged engines, which Renault had pioneered in 1977, were producing over 700 bhp (520 kW) and were essential to be competitive. By 1986 a BMW turbocharged engine achieved a flash reading of 5.5  bar pressure, estimated to be "over 1300 bhp" (970 kW) in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix. The following year power in race trim reached around 1,100 bhp (820 kW), with boost pressure limited to only 4.0 bar. These cars were the most powerful open-wheel circuit racing cars ever. To reduce engine power output and thus speeds, the FIA limited fuel tank capacity in 1984 and boost pressures in 1988 before banning turbocharged engines completely in 1989.

The development of electronic driver aids began in the 1980s. Lotus began to develop a system of active suspension which first appeared in 1982 on the F1 Lotus 91 and Lotus Esprit road car. By 1987 this system had been perfected and was driven to victory by Ayrton Senna in the Monaco Grand Prix that year. In the early 1990s, other teams followed suit and semi-automatic gearboxes and traction control were a natural progression. The FIA, due to complaints that technology was determining the outcome of races more than driver skill, banned many such aids for 1994. This led to cars that were previously dependent on electronic aids becoming very "twitchy" and difficult to drive (notably the Williams FW16), and many observers felt that the ban on driver aids was a ban in name only as they "have proved difficult to police effectively."

The teams signed a second Concorde Agreement in 1992 and a third in 1997, which expired on the last day of 2007.

On the track, the McLaren and Williams teams dominated the 1980s and 1990s, with Brabham also being competitive in the early part of the 1980s, winning two drivers' championships with Nelson Piquet. Powered by Porsche, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz, McLaren won sixteen championships (seven constructors', nine drivers') in that period, while Williams used engines from Ford, Honda, and Renault to also win sixteen titles (nine constructors', seven drivers'). The rivalry between racing legends Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost became F1's central focus in 1988, and continued until Prost retired at the end of 1993. Tragically, Senna died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix after crashing into a wall on the exit of the notorious curve Tamburello, having taken over Prost's lead drive at Williams that year. The FIA worked to improve the sport's safety standards since that weekend, during which Roland Ratzenberger also lost his life in an accident during Saturday qualifying. No driver has died on the track at the wheel of a Formula One car since, though two track marshals have lost their lives, one at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix, and the other at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.

Since the deaths of Senna, Ratzenberger and Gilles Villeneuve, the FIA has used safety as a reason to impose rule changes which otherwise, under the Concorde Agreement, would have had to be agreed upon by all the teams - most notably the changes introduced for 1998. This so called 'narrow track' era resulted in cars with smaller rear tyres, a narrower track overall and the introduction of 'grooved' tyres to reduce mechanical grip. There would be four grooves, on the front and rear - although initially three on the front tyres in the first year - that ran through the entire circumference of the tyre. The objective was to reduce cornering speeds and to produce racing similar to rain conditions by enforcing a smaller contact patch between tyre and track. This, according to the FIA, was to promote driver skill and provide a better spectacle.

Results have been mixed as the lack of mechanical grip has resulted in the more ingenious designers clawing back the deficit with aerodynamic grip - pushing more force onto the tyres through wings, aerodynamic devices etc - which in turn has resulted in less overtaking as these devices tend to make the wake behind the car 'dirty' preventing other cars from following closely, due to their dependence on 'clean' air to make the car stick to the track. The grooved tyres also had the unfortunate side effect of initially being of a harder compound, to be able to hold the groove tread blocks, which resulted in spectacular accidents in times of aerodynamic grip failure e.g. rear wing failures, as the harder compound could not grip the track as well.

Drivers from McLaren, Williams, Renault (formerly Benetton) and Ferrari, dubbed the "Big Four", have won every World Championship from 1984 to the present day. Due to the technological advances of the 1990s, the cost of competing in Formula One rose dramatically. This increased financial burden, combined with four teams' dominance (largely funded by big car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz), caused the poorer independent teams to struggle not only to remain competitive, but to stay in business. Financial troubles forced several teams to withdraw. Since 1990, twenty-eight teams have pulled out of Formula One. This has prompted former Jordan owner Eddie Jordan to say that the days of competitive privateers are over.

The manufacturers' return (2000–2007)

A sign displaying that the safety car (SC) is deployed. Safety is of paramount concern in contemporary F1.
A sign displaying that the safety car (SC) is deployed. Safety is of paramount concern in contemporary F1.

Michael Schumacher and Ferrari won an unprecedented five consecutive drivers’ championships and six consecutive constructors’ championships between 1999 and 2004. Schumacher set many new records, including those for Grand Prix wins (91), wins in a season (13 of 18), and most drivers' championships (7). Schumacher's championship streak ended on September 25, 2005 when Renault driver Fernando Alonso became Formula One’s youngest champion. In 2006, Renault and Alonso won both titles again. Schumacher retired at the end of 2006 after sixteen years in Formula One.

During this period the championship rules were frequently changed by the FIA with the intention of improving the on-track action and cutting costs. Team orders, legal since the championship started in 1950, were banned in 2002 after several incidents in which teams openly manipulated race results, generating negative publicity, most famously by Ferrari at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. Other changes included the qualifying format, the points scoring system, the technical regulations and rules specifying how long engines and tyres must last. A 'tyre war' between suppliers Michelin and Bridgestone saw lap times fall, although at the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis seven out of ten teams did not race when their Michelin tyres were deemed unsafe for use. During 2006, Max Mosley outlined a ‘green’ future for Formula One, in which efficient use of energy would become an important factor. And the tyre war ended, as Bridgestone became the sole tyre supplier to Formula One for the 2007 season.

Since 1983, Formula One had been dominated by specialist race teams like Williams, McLaren and Benetton, using engines supplied by large car manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Renault and Ford. Starting in 2000 with Ford’s creation of the largely unsuccessful Jaguar team, new manufacturer-owned teams entered Formula One for the first time since the departure of Alfa Romeo and Renault at the end of 1985. By 2006, the manufacturer teams – Renault, BMW, Toyota, Honda and Ferrari – dominated the championship, taking five of the first six places in the constructors' championship. The sole exception was McLaren, which is part-owned by Mercedes Benz. Through the Grand Prix Manufacturers Association (GPMA) they negotiated a larger share of Formula One’s commercial profit and a greater say in the running of the sport.

Outside the World Championship

Currently, the terms "Formula One race" and "World Championship race" are effectively synonymous; since 1984, every Formula One race has counted towards the World Championship, and every World Championship race has been to Formula One regulations. This has not always been the case, and in the earlier history of Formula One many races took place outside the world championship.

European non-championship racing

In the early years of Formula One, before the world championship was established, there were around twenty races held from late Spring to early Autumn (Fall) in Europe, although not all of these were considered significant. Most competitive cars came from Italy, particularly Alfa Romeo. After the start of the world championship these non-championship races continued. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were many Formula One races which did not count for the World Championship (e.g., in 1950, a total of twenty-two Formula One races were held, of which only six counted towards the World Championship). In 1952 and 1953, when the world championship was run for Formula Two cars, a full season of non-championship Formula One racing took place. Some races, particularly in the UK, including the Race of Champions, Oulton Park International Gold Cup and International Trophy, were attended by the majority of the world championship contenders. These became less common through the 1970s and 1983 saw the last non-championship Formula One race: The 1983 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, won by reigning World Champion Keke Rosberg in a Williams Cosworth in a close fight with American Danny Sullivan.

South African Formula One championship

South Africa's flourishing domestic Formula One championship ran from 1960 through to 1975. The frontrunning cars in the series were recently retired from the world championship although there was also a healthy selection of locally built or modified machines. Frontrunning drivers from the series usually contested their local World Championship Grand Prix, as well as occasional European events, although they had little success at that level.

British Formula One Series

The old fashioned DFV helped make the UK domestic Formula One series possible between 1978 and 1980. As in South Africa a generation before, second hand cars from manufacturers like Lotus and Fittipaldi Automotive were the order of the day, although some, such as the March 781, were built specifically for the series. In 1980 the series saw South African Desiré Wilson become the only woman to win a Formula One race when she triumphed at Brands Hatch in a Wolf WR3.

Racing and strategy

Nick Heidfeld who finished second in the 2008 Australian Grand Prix with Race Winner Lewis Hamilton on the Podium
Nick Heidfeld who finished second in the 2008 Australian Grand Prix with Race Winner Lewis Hamilton on the Podium

A Formula One Grand Prix event spans a weekend, beginning with two free practice sessions on Friday (except in Monaco, where Friday practices are moved to Thursday), and one free practice on Saturday. Additional drivers (commonly known as Third drivers) are allowed to run on Fridays, but only two cars may be used per team, requiring a race driver to give up their seat. A Qualifying session is held after the last free practice session. This session determines the starting order for the race.

The format of this qualifying session has been through several iterations since the 2003 season. Attempts were made to reinvigorate interest in the qualifying session by using a "one-shot" system in which each driver would take turns on an empty track to set their one and only time.

For the 2006 season a knockout qualifying system was introduced and remains in use, with some minor alterations, in 2008. The qualifying session is split into three phases. In the first phase, all twenty cars are permitted on the track for a twenty minute qualification session. Only their fastest time will count and drivers may complete as many laps as they wish. The slowest five cars can take no further part in qualifying, these cars will make up the last five grid positions in the order of their times.

The times for the fifteen remaining cars are reset for the next fifteen minute session. The slowest five cars will make up the grid in positions 11 to 15 in the order of their times set in this session.

The times for the ten remaining cars will be reset for the final ten minute session. For the final period, the cars will be arranged on the grid in positions one to ten in the order of their times in this session. In the first two sessions, cars may run any fuel load and drivers knocked out after those sessions may refuel ahead of the race. However, the top-ten drivers must start the race with whatever fuel was left in the car at the end of the final qualifying session. For all the sessions, if a driver starts a timed lap before the chequered flag falls for the end of that session, their time will count even if they cross the finish line after the session has ended.

The race begins with a warm-up formation lap, after which the cars assemble on the starting grid in the order 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. 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.

A light system above the track then signals the start of the race. Races are a little over 305 kilometres (190 miles) long and are limited to two hours, though in practice they usually last about ninety minutes. Throughout the race, drivers may make one or more pit stops in order to refuel and change tyres. Teams are supplied with tyres from Bridgestone. Bridgestone have developed four tyre compounds of which they then select two for the teams to use at a given race event. Drivers must use both tyre compounds during a race which is hoped will bring more excitement to the sport. The softer of the available compounds for the weekend's tyres can be seen with a white ring around one of the grooves on the tyre itself.

When a driver comes round to lap another, the backmarker must move out of the way within three blue flags being waved by the trackside marshals, or face a penalty.

Various systems for awarding championship points have been used since 1950. Since 2003, at the end of the race the top eight drivers and their respective teams receive points on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis (the race winner receives ten points, the first runner-up eight, and so on). The winner of the two annual championships are the driver and the team who have accumulated the most points at the end of the season. In the case of a tie in points, the championship is awarded to the driver or team having the higher number of wins; if these are equal, second place finishes are considered, and so on.


The Formula One Drivers' Trophy.
The Formula One Drivers' Trophy.

Since 1984 Formula One teams have been required to build the chassis in which they compete, and consequently the terms "team" and "constructor" are more or less interchangeable. This requirement distinguishes the sport from series such as IndyCar Series and Champ Car World Series which allow teams to purchase chassis, and " spec series" such as GP2, which require all cars be kept to an identical specification.

In the 2007 season, for the first time since the 1984 rule, two teams used chassis built by other teams. Super Aguri started the season using a modified Honda Racing's RA106 chassis (used by Honda in the 2006 season), while Scuderia Toro Rosso used a modified Red Bull Racing RB3 chassis (same as the one used by Red Bull in the 2007 season). Such a decision did not come as a surprise because of spiraling costs and the fact that Super Aguri is partially owned by Honda and Toro Rosso is half owned by Red Bull. Formula One team Spyker has raised a complaint against this decision, and other teams such as McLaren and Ferrari have officially confirmed that they support the campaign. The 2006 season could have been the last one in which the terms "team" and "constructor" were truly interchangeable, and that attracted the Prodrive team to F1 to the 2008 season, where it intended to run a customer car. After not being able to secure a package from McLaren, Prodrive's intention to enter the 2008 season was dropped after Williams threatened legal action against them. Now, it seems that the customer cars concept will be banned in the near future.

Early manufacturer involvement came in the form of a "factory team" or "works team" (that is, one owned and staffed by a major car company), such as those of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari ( Fiat) or Renault. After having virtually disappeared by the early 1980s, factory teams made a comeback in the 1990s and 2000s and now form half the grid with Ferrari ( Fiat), BMW, Renault, Toyota and Honda either setting up their own teams or buying out existing ones. Since 1995 Mercedes-Benz owns 40% of the McLaren team and manufactures the team's engines. Factory teams currently make up the top competitive teams; the "Big Four" are considered to be Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Renault (formerly Benetton). These have won every constructors' championship since 1979, and produced title-winning drivers from 1984 to the present. Ferrari, McLaren and Williams make up the "Big Three", each having over 100 race victories to their credit. Williams remains the only major team that is still independently owned.

Companies such as Climax, Repco, Cosworth, Hart, Judd and Supertec, which had no direct team affiliation, often sold engines to teams that could not afford to manufacture them. In the early years independently owned Formula One teams sometimes also built their engines, though this became less common with the increased involvement of major car manufacturers such as BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Renault and Toyota, whose large budgets rendered privately built engines less competitive. Cosworth was the last independent engine supplier, but lost its last customers after the 2006 season. Beginning in 2007 the manufacturers' deep pockets and engineering ability took over, eliminating the last of the independent engine manufacturers. It is estimated that the big teams spend €100 to €200 million ($125-$250 million) per year per manufacturer on engines alone.

The sport's 1950 debut season saw eighteen teams compete, but due to high costs many dropped out quickly. In fact, such was the scarcity of competitive cars for much of the first decade of Formula One that Formula Two cars were admitted to fill the grids. Ferrari is the only still-active team which competed in 1950, and as of 2006 eleven teams are on the grid, each fielding two cars. Although teams rarely disclose information about their budgets, it is estimated that they range from US$66 million to US$400 million each.

Entering a new team in the Formula One World Championship requires a £25 million (about US$47 million) up-front payment to the FIA, which is then repaid to the team over the course of the season. As a consequence, constructors desiring to enter Formula One often prefer to buy an existing team: B.A.R.'s purchase of Tyrrell and Midland's purchase of Jordan allowed both of these teams to sidestep the large deposit and secure the benefits that the team already had, such as TV revenue.


Each driver is assigned a number. The previous season's champion is designated number 1, with his team-mate given number 2. Numbers are then assigned in order according to each team's position in the previous season's constructors' championship. The number 13 is not used.

There have been exceptions to this rule, such as in 1993 and 1994, when the current World Drivers' Champion ( Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost, respectively) was no longer competing in Formula One. In this case the drivers for the team of the previous year's champion are given numbers 0 (Damon Hill, on both occasions) and 2 (Prost himself and Ayrton Senna – replaced after his death by David Coulthard and occasionally Nigel Mansell – respectively). The number 13 has not been used since 1976, before which it was occasionally assigned at the discretion of individual race organisers. Before 1996 only the world championship winning driver and his team generally swapped numbers with the previous champion – the remainder held their numbers from prior years, as they had been originally set at the start of the 1974 season. For many years, for example, Ferrari held numbers 27 and 28, regardless of their finishing position in the world championship. As privateer teams quickly folded in the early 1990s numbers were frequently shuffled around, until the current system was adopted in 1996.

Michael Schumacher and Scuderia Ferrari have each won their respective World Championships a record number of times.
Michael Schumacher and Scuderia Ferrari have each won their respective World Championships a record number of times.
Kimi Räikkönen and Scuderia Ferrari won the 2007 Drivers' and Constructors' championships.
Kimi Räikkönen and Scuderia Ferrari won the 2007 Drivers' and Constructors' championships.

Michael Schumacher holds the record for having won the most Drivers' Championships (seven) and Ferrari holds the record for having won the most Constructors' Championships (fifteen). Jochen Rindt became the only posthumous World Champion after a fatal accident at the 1970 Italian Grand Prix.

Feeder series

For the most part F1 drivers start in Karting and then come up through traditional European single seater series like Formula Ford, Formula Renault, Formula 3, and finally GP2. The GP2 series started in 2005 and all three champions have gone on to race in F1. Before GP2, Formula Two and then Formula 3000 had filled the role of the last major "stepping stone" into F1. No F2, F3000 or GP2 champion has yet won the Formula One championship, however. Drivers are not required to have competed at this level before entering Formula One. British F3 has long been considered one of the best places to spot F1 talent, with champions including Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna and Mika Häkkinen having moved straight from that series to Formula One. Again, though, it is possible to be picked earlier, as was the case with Kimi Räikkönen, who went straight from Formula Renault to an F1 drive.

American Championship Car Racing has also contributed to the Formula One grid. Champions Mario Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve, as well as Michael Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Cristiano da Matta and Sébastien Bourdais have all moved to F1 from America, with varying degrees of success.

Other drivers have taken different paths to F1; Damon Hill raced motorbikes, and Michael Schumacher raced in sports cars, albeit after climbing through the junior single seater ranks. To race, however, the driver must hold an FIA Super Licence – ensuring that the driver has the requisite skills, and will not therefore be a danger to others. Some drivers haven't had the license when first assigned to a F1 team. Kimi Räikkönen received the license despite having only 23 car races to his credit.

Beyond F1

Most F1 drivers retire before their mid-30s; however, many keep racing in disciplines which are less physically demanding. The German touring car championship, the DTM, is a popular category involving ex-drivers such as two-times F1 champion Mika Häkkinen and Jean Alesi, and some F1 drivers have left to race in America – Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi duelled for the 1993 IndyCar title, and Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Speed and Jacques Villeneuve have moved to NASCAR. Some drivers have gone to A1GP, and some, such as Gerhard Berger and Alain Prost, returned to F1 as team owners. A series for former Formula One drivers, called Grand Prix Masters, ran briefly in 2005 and 2006.

Grands Prix

Cars wind through the infield section of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the 2003 United States Grand Prix.
Cars wind through the infield section of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the 2003 United States Grand Prix.
Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg on the street circuit of Albert Park in the 2008 Australian Grand Prix
Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg on the street circuit of Albert Park in the 2008 Australian Grand Prix


The number of Grands Prix held in a season has varied over the years. Only seven races comprised the inaugural 1950 world championship season; over the years the calendar has almost tripled in size. Though the number of races had stayed at sixteen or seventeen since the 1980s, it reached nineteen in 2005.

Six of the original seven races took place in Europe; the only non-European race that counted towards the World Championship in 1950 was the Indianapolis 500, which, due to lack of participation by F1 teams, since it required cars with different specifications from the other races, was later replaced by the United States Grand Prix. The F1 championship gradually expanded to other non-European countries as well. Argentina hosted the first South American grand prix in 1953, and Morocco hosted the first African World Championship race in 1958. Asia (Japan in 1976) and Oceania (Australia in 1985) followed. The current eighteen races are spread over the continents of Europe, Asia, Australia, North America and South America.

Traditionally each nation has hosted a single Grand Prix, which carries the name of the country. If a single country hosts multiple Grands Prix in a year they receive different names. For instance, a European country (such as Britain, Germany or Spain) which has hosted two Grands Prix has the second one known as the European Grand Prix, while Italy's second grand prix was named after nearby republic of San Marino. Similarly, as two races were scheduled in Japan in 1994/95, the second event was known as the Pacific Grand Prix. In 1982 the United States hosted three Grands Prix.

The Grands Prix, some of which have a history that pre-dates the Formula One World Championship, are not always held on the same circuit every year. The British Grand Prix, for example, though held every year since 1950, alternated between Brands Hatch and Silverstone from 1963 to 1986. The only other race to have been included in every season is the Italian Grand Prix. The World Championship event has taken place exclusively at Monza with just one exception: in 1980, it was held at Imola, host to the San Marino Grand Prix until 2006.

One of the newest races on the Grand Prix calendar, held in Bahrain, represents Formula One's first foray into the Middle East with a high-tech purpose-built desert track. The Bahrain Grand Prix, and other new races in China and Turkey, present new opportunities for the growth and evolution of the Formula One Grand Prix franchise while new facilities also raise the bar for other Formula One racing venues around the world. In order to make room on the schedule for the newer races, older or less successful events in Europe and the Americas have been dropped from the calendar, such as these in Argentina, Austria, Mexico, San Marino, and the United States.

In 2007 it was confirmed that new Grands Prix would be added to the calendar. The first was the Singapore Grand Prix which will be held in Singapore. The second was the Indian Grand Prix which will be held in Delhi, India. Other changes included the removal of the United States Grand Prix from the calendar, and the move of the European Grand Prix to Valencia, Spain.


The Autodromo Nazionale Monza, home to the Italian Grand Prix, is one of the oldest circuits still in use in Formula One.
The Autodromo Nazionale Monza, home to the Italian Grand Prix, is one of the oldest circuits still in use in Formula One.

A typical circuit usually features a stretch of straight road on which the starting grid is situated. The pit lane, where the drivers stop for fuel and tyres during the race, and where the teams work on the cars before the race, is normally located next to the starting grid. The layout of the rest of the circuit varies widely, although in most cases the circuit runs in a clockwise direction. Those few circuits that run anticlockwise (and therefore have predominantly left-handed corners) can cause drivers neck problems due to the enormous lateral forces generated by F1 cars pulling their heads in the opposite direction to normal.

Most of the circuits currently in use are specially constructed for competition. The current street circuits are the Circuit de Monaco and Melbourne, although races in other urban locations come and go ( Las Vegas and Detroit, for example) and proposals for such races are often discussed – most recently London and Beirut. Several other circuits are also completely or partially laid out on public roads, such as Spa-Francorchamps. The glamour and history of the Monaco race are the primary reasons why the circuit is still in use, since it is thought not to meet the strict safety requirements imposed on other tracks. Three-time World champion Nelson Piquet famously described racing in Monaco as "like riding a bicycle around your living room".

A map showing countries which have and/or will host Formula One Grands Prix.
A map showing countries which have and/or will host Formula One Grands Prix.

Circuit design to protect the safety of drivers is becoming increasingly sophisticated, as exemplified by the new Bahrain International Circuit, added in 2004 and designed – like most of F1's new circuits – by Hermann Tilke. Several of the new circuits in F1, especially those designed by Tilke, have been criticised as lacking the "flow" of such classics as Spa-Francorchamps and Imola. His redesign of the Hockenheim circuit in Germany for example, while providing more capacity for grandstands and eliminating extremely long and dangerous straights, has been frowned upon by many who argue that part of the character of the Hockenheim circuits was the long and blinding straights into dark forest sections. These newer circuits, however, are generally agreed to meet the safety standards of modern Formula One better than the older ones.

The most recent addition to the F1 calendar is Istanbul Park in Turkey, which first staged an F1 race in 2005. The next confirmed additions for the 2008 Formula One season will be street races in Valencia and Singapore (the latter set to be the host of the first night race in F1 history) Abu Dhabi has been confirmed as the last race for the 2009 season.

A Formula 1 Grand Prix will be held in India for the first time in 2010.

Cars and technology

Modern Formula One cars are mid-engined open cockpit, open wheel single-seaters. The chassis is made largely of carbon fibre composites, rendering it light but extremely stiff and strong. The whole car, including engine, fluids and driver, weighs only 600kg. In fact this is the minimum weight set by the regulations – the cars are so light that they often have to be ballasted up to this minimum weight. The race teams take advantage of this by placing this ballast at the extreme bottom of the chassis, thereby locating the centre of gravity as low as possible in order to improve handling and weight transfer.

The cornering speed of Formula One cars is largely determined by the aerodynamic downforce that they generate, which pushes the car down onto the track. This is provided by 'wings' mounted at the front and rear of the vehicle, and by ground effect created by low pressure air under the flat bottom of the car. The aerodynamic design of the cars is very heavily constrained to limit performance and the current generation of cars sport a large number of small winglets, 'barge boards' and turning vanes designed to closely control the flow of the air over, under and around the car.

The other major factor controlling the cornering speed of the cars is the design of the tyres. As of 2008, tyres in Formula One are not ' slicks' (tyres with no tread pattern) as in most other circuit racing series. Each tyre has had four large circumferential grooves on its surface designed to limit the cornering speed of the cars. Slick tyres will return to Formula One in the 2009 season. Suspension is double wishbone or multilink all round with pushrod operated springs and dampers on the chassis. Carbon-Carbon disc brakes are used for reduced weight and increased frictional performance. These provide a very high level of braking performance and are usually the element which provokes the greatest reaction from drivers new to the formula.

Engines are mandated as 2.4 litre naturally aspirated V8s, with many other constraints on their design and the materials that may be used. The 2006 generation of engines spun up to 20,000 rpm and produced up to 780 bhp (582 kW). Engines run on unleaded fuel closely resembling publicly available petrol. The oil which lubricates and protects the engine from overheating is very similar in viscosity to water. For 2007 the V8 engines are restricted to 19,000 rpm with limited development areas allowed, following the engine specification freeze from the end of 2006.

A wide variety of technologies – including active suspension, ground effect aerodynamics and turbochargers – are banned under the current regulations. Despite this the 2006 generation of cars can reach speeds of up to 350 km/h (around 220 mph) at some circuits ( Monza). A Honda Formula One car, running with minimum downforce on a runway in the Mojave desert achieved a top speed of 415 km/h (258 mph) in 2006. According to Honda the car fully met the FIA Formula One regulations. Even with the limitations on aerodynamics, at 160 km/h aerodynamically generated downforce is equal to the weight of the car and the often repeated claim that Formula One cars create enough downforce to 'drive on the ceiling' remains true in principle, although it has never been put to the test. At full speed downforce of two and a half times the car's weight can be achieved. The downforce means that the cars can achieve a lateral force of up to five times the force of gravity (5 "g") in cornering – a high-performance road car like the Ferrari Enzo only achieves around 1 "g". Consequently in corners the driver's head is pulled sideways with a force equivalent to 20kg. Such high lateral forces are enough to make breathing difficult and the drivers need supreme concentration and fitness to maintain their focus for the one to two hours that it takes to cover 305km.

Revenue and Profits

Formula 1 is a profitable exercise for most parties involved. The TV channels make profits from broadcasting the races. The teams get a slice of the money raised from the sale of broadcasting rights as well as from the sponsor's logos on their cars. The race-track owners also make profits from selling tickets.

The cost of building a brand new permanent circuit like in Shanghai can be up to hundreds of millions of dollars. While the cost of converting a public road such as Albert Park into a temporary circuit is much less. However, permanent circuits can generate revenue all year round from leasing the track for private races and also other races such as MotoGP. The Shanghai circuit cost over $300 million. The owners are hoping to break-even by 2014. The Istanbul Park circuit cost $150 million to build.

Not all circuits make profits, for example, Albert Park made a loss of $32 million in 2007.

Estimated budget split of an F1 team based on the 2006 season
Estimated budget split of an F1 team based on the 2006 season

In March 2007 F1 Racing published its annual estimates of spending by Formula One teams. The total spending of all eleven teams in 2006 was estimated at $2.9 billion. This was broken down as follows; Toyota $418.5 million, Ferrari $406.5 m, McLaren $402 m, Honda $380.5 m, BMW Sauber $355 m, Renault $324 m, Red Bull $252 m, Williams $195.5 m, Midland F1/Spyker-MF1 $120 m, Toro Rosso $75 m, and Super Aguri $57 million.

Costs vary greatly from team to team; in 2006 teams such as Honda, Toyota, McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari are estimated to have spent approximately $200 million on engines, Renault spent approximately $125 million and Cosworth's 2006 V8 was developed for $15 million. In contrast to the 2006 season on which these figures are based, the 2007 sporting regulations ban all performance related engine development.


Formula One went through a difficult period in the early 2000s. Viewing figures dropped, and fans expressed their loss of interest due to the dominance of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. Viewing figures are seeing some signs of recovery due to the varied 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons. Ferrari's dominance ended in 2005 as Renault became the top team in Formula One, with Fernando Alonso becoming the new World Champion. There has since been a resurgence of interest in the sport and twenty-two teams applied for the final twelfth team spot available for the 2008 season. The spot was eventually awarded to former B.A.R. and Benetton team principal David Richards' Prodrive organization, but the team pulled out of the 2008 season in November 2007.

The FIA is responsible for making rules to combat the spiralling costs of Formula One racing (which affects the smaller teams the most) and for ensuring the sport remains as safe as possible. To this end the FIA recently instituted a number of rule changes, including new tyre restrictions, multi-race engines and reductions on downforce. Safety and cost have traditionally been paramount in all rule-change discussions. More recently the FIA has added efficiency to its priorities. Currently the FIA and manufacturers are discussing adding bio-fuel engines and regenerative braking for the 2011 season. FIA President Max Mosley believes F1 must focus on efficiency to stay technologically relevant in the automotive industry as well as keep the public excited about F1 technology.

After being banned since 1998, slick tyres are likely to return to Formula One racing in 2009.

In the interest of making the sport truer to its designation as a World Championship, FOM president Bernie Ecclestone has initiated and organised a number of Grands Prix in new countries and continues to discuss new future races. The sport's rapid expansion into new areas of the globe also leaves some question as to which races will be cut.


Formula One can be seen live or tape delayed in almost every country and territory around the world and attracts one of the largest global television audiences. The 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix attracted an average live global TV audience of eighty-three million viewers, with a total of 154 million viewers tuning in to watch at least some part of the event. Official figures from FOM for 2006 that state Formula One television broadcasts were witnessed by 580 million unique viewers during the 2005 season and average viewing figures for 1995–1999 were 50 billion. It is a massive television event; the cumulative television audience was calculated to be 54 billion for 2001 season, broadcast to two hundred countries.

In 2005 the Canadian Grand Prix in Montréal was the most watched of the races, and the third most watched sporting event in the world.

During the early 2000s Formula One Administration created a number of trademarks, an official logo, and an official website for the sport in an attempt to give it a corporate identity. Ecclestone experimented with a digital television package (known colloquially as Bernievision), which was launched at the 1996 German Grand Prix in cooperation with German digital television service "DF1", thirty years after the first GP colour TV broadcast, the 1967 German Grand Prix. This service offered the viewer several simultaneous feeds (such as super signal, onboard, top of field, backfield, highlights, pit lane, timing), which were produced with cameras, technical equipment and staff different from those used for the conventional coverage. It was introduced in many countries over the years, but was shut down after the 2002 season for financial reasons.

TV stations all take what is known as the 'World Feed', either produced by the FOM (Formula One Management) or the 'host broadcaster'. The only station that has any difference is 'Premiere' – a German channel that offers all sessions live and interactive, with features such as the onboard channel. This service was more widely available around Europe until the end of 2002, when the cost of a whole different feed for the digital interactive services was thought too much. This was in large part because of the failure of the ' F1 Digital +' Channel launched through Sky Digital in the United Kingdom. Prices were too high for viewers, considering they could watch both the qualifying and the races themselves for free on ITV.

Bernie Ecclestone has announced that F1 will adopt the HD format near the end of the 2007 season. However, details of the races to be covered and the means of showing the content have yet to be announced.

Distinction between Formula One and World Championship races

Currently the terms "Formula One race" and "World Championship race" are effectively synonymous; since 1984, every Formula One race has counted towards the World Championship, and every World Championship race has been to Formula One regulations. But the two terms are not interchangeable. Consider that:

  • the first Formula One race was held in 1947, whereas the World Championship did not start until 1950.
  • in the 1950s and 1960s there were many Formula One races which did not count for the World Championship (e.g., in 1950, a total of twenty-two Formula One races were held, of which only six counted towards the World Championship). The number of non-championship Formula One events decreased throughout the 1970s and 1980s, to the point where the last non-championship Formula One race was held in 1983.
  • the World Championship was not always exclusively composed of Formula One events:
    • The World Championship was originally established as the "World Championship for Drivers", i.e., without the term "Formula One" in the title. It only officially became the Formula One World Championship in 1981.
    • From 1950 to 1960, the Indianapolis 500 counted towards the World Championship. This race was run to AAA/ USAC regulations, rather than to Formula One regulations.
    • From 1952 to 1953, all races counting towards the World Championship (except the Indianapolis 500) were run to Formula Two regulations. Note that Formula One was not "changed to Formula Two" during this period; the Formula One regulations remained the same, and numerous Formula One races were staged during this time.

The distinction is most relevant when considering career summaries and "all time lists". For example, in the List of Formula One drivers, Clemente Biondetti is shown with 1 race against his name. Biondetti actually competed in four Formula One races in 1950, but only one of these counted for the World Championship. Similarly, several Indy 500 winners technically won their first world championship race, though most record books choose to ignore this and instead only record regular participants.

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