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Core Characteristics of Formula One: Speed

Written by Alex Anderson, Edited Janvi Unni

(Photo by Michael Cooper/Getty Images)

This upcoming series "Core characteristics of Formula One" seeks to take a look at the qualities that lie at the essence of the pinnacle of motorsport. Through past instances and famous quotes, writers will aim to explain why each characteristic forms a part of the essence of Formula One. Continuing our series is Alex Anderson on speed in the pinnacle of motorsport. Speed is the founding ideal when it comes to motorsport. The why of racing. The true speed of racing comes from the motor racing categories seen across the globe. Between cars and motorbikes, these two machines not only produce the fastest land racing but also the most exciting. To some, the categories of drag racing provide the type of excitement and speed that fits their fancy. But if you’re like me, circuit racing is what grabs you and locks you to the track. From Nascar, Indy car, Enduro, and F1, these top categories are the best of the best, especially in speed, for circuit racing. Formula One is especially fast and by far the quickest circuit cars in the world today. Formula One doesn’t quite share the top speeds that Indy cars have but what the Indy cars lack is the aerodynamic forces to carry the speed through the corners. Due to this, F1 cars are superior in lap times, although they fall behind in a straight line.

The pinnacle of motorsport provides twenty unique, quick, and lucky drivers an opportunity to showcase not only their remarkable talent, but the talents of the engineers and teams as they produce the most high tech and advanced cars of the 21st century and beyond. Only one every season gets the title of being the quickest driver on the grid, who ends up being the World Champion at the end of every season. As soon as this title is presented to/won by a driver, it forever cements their place in the top tier of racing history. A few become legendary. These few all shared the same characteristic of being extremely fast. Their reflexes and senses are on the absolute edge of what the human mind can endure. The speed, fighter jet like G-forces and heat that the cars produce, all were mastered by a select few to become a multi time-grand prix winner and for the very select, multi time-world champion.

The greats such as Aryton Senna, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, and Fernando Alonso are some who have managed to master the modern F1 machinery that these engineers and multi-million dollar manufacturers can produce. Showing off the true bond between man and machine, these drivers are just some of the legends of speed. These cars produce remarkable racing at incredible speeds. But how are these cars specifically designed to be unmatched, and unbelievably quick?

The truth lies within each component of the car; the aerodynamics, engine, and chassis. These cars are designed by the best of the best mechanical and electrical engineers. Aerodynamicists are vital members within the team to help make the car quick. The key principle behind the aerodynamics of an F1 car is to manage the airflow around the car, ensuring that the air travels smoothly and evenly over the surface of the car, thus reducing drag and increasing downforce. The downforce of the car makes the car agile enough to carry the speed generated on the straight or entry of the turn, through the turn and through the exit to provide minimum lap times.

The lightweight durable chassis of an F1 car not only allows the car to be more agile in the corners, but also affects the safety of each car as well. For the weight of the chassis, the cars perform best with a balance of weight throughout the car, meaning that the car isn’t heavier in the front or the back. The balance is important to provide the driver with the best opportunity to get the maximum out of the car. Lastly, a lightweight chassis can allow the car to go faster, as the power unit of the cars have to push less for the car to go faster down the straights and out of the corners.

Finally the power units in these cars are extremely high tech and powerful. Throughout the history of Formula One, rule changes and regulation changes have not only tried to improve the engines, but have also tried to make them more efficient. A big talking point among fans is the V10 engine vs. the V8 engine vs. the V6 engine debate, over sound and power. Formula One introduced the V10 engines in 1996 to be lighter and smaller than the remarkable V12 engines used in the great cars of the 80’s and early 90’s. The V10 quickly became a monster, especially in the hands of the Ferrari team. In the hands of Michael Schumacher, the Ferrari and its V10 engine went on to produce one of the most dominant eras in the history of F1.

Ferrari’s 3.0 litre V-10 engine from 1996 to 2005 is still marvelled today and will continue to be one of the greatest engines ever produced.

In 2006, the FIA took to a newer engine regulation that brought down the power of these lightning fast cars once again. After deeming that the V10 engines were too powerful and wasteful, the V8 was introduced. The V8 and V10 engines are staples of the F1 grid and history of racing. These two engines produced the amazing high pitched scream that resonates with F1 fans around the globe. Finally, the V6 engines became the forefront of the grid in 2014. This switch was due to the efficiency that the V6 engines had. It tried to provide a way towards a new sustainable power unit to be introduced in 2026. For now, the V6 turbo engines have produced great racing, but will never hit the right spot for F1 fans yearning for the screams of the legendary cars.

(Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

In conclusion, speed is the essence of Formula One racing, and it has always been a key component of the sport's excitement and attractiveness. From the early days of the championship to the present day, teams and drivers have been pushing the limits of technology and skill to achieve ever greater speeds and lap times. However, this quest for speed also brings with it the potential for danger, and safety has become an increasingly important aspect of the sport in recent years. As the sport continues to evolve and grow, it will be fascinating to see how teams and drivers continue to balance the need for speed with the importance of safety, and how new technological advancements will shape the future of Formula One racing/



Apr 24, 2023

Good points about the RB second seat... its pretty much a one car team most of the time. My feeling is but yet to really prove it, Perez has good experience in F1 across a few different rule eras and is quite good at adapting his style (I think). It makes him a brilliant number 2 to Max as the car can be fundamentally a Max car that Checo can 'put up with'. I suspect that it gives Horner and team a far easier time than if they had say, Lewis or Charles, or Fernando in the other car demanding changes. A good study on the engineering side of how teams/drivers adapt would be to look at Alonso's fixation wit…


Apr 24, 2023

Just a couple of points of order here Alex, very small details 😉.

The person who is awarded the drivers championship is not necessarily always the fastest, often they are the most consistent points scorer. Lots of years the fastest driver will drop scores due to an on track incident or unreliability... its worth looking at Keke Rosbergs 1982 title year for clear evidence of this, the late 80s turbo era is another good example where perhaps those acknowledged as outright fastest that year lost, 1986 and 1987 are good examples and its no surprise that thinking and shrewd drivers Prost and Piquet nabbed those years titles.

The point on car design is intricate in detail but again worth mentioning…

Apr 24, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for the feedback! I think I am going to dive deeper in to the specific setups of the drivers and engineers next or if not soon. I totally agree with those points. I am also fascinated especially in the relationship between the way the teams develop the car to their drivers or how the drivers are able to adapt to a teams car with their own setups. I really am wondering about Red Bull and their haunted 2nd seat. I think more of the deficit right off the jump for some of the drivers that have come and gone is the way Red Bull develops the car to Max's preferences.

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