Formula 1 Auto Racing, best known by its acronym, F1, has a deserved reputation as one of the world's most expensive and glamorous sports. F1 is the most prestigious and the best known of the motor sports regulated by the Fédération Internationale d'Automobile, the FIA. F1 is the form of automobile racing that is directly descended from the open-wheel vehicle competitions that became popular in Europe in the late 1890s. The global popularity of F1 racing is attributable to the speed and the sophisticated, high-technology development of the vehicles; the presence of competitions in every region of the world; and nature of the sport's sophisticated circuits. The individual drivers and their racing teams are internationally recognized sports figures, with each F1 race car built and maintained at a cost of over 10 million dollars. The arrival of the F1 racers and their respective entourages at an F1 venue is a large-scale media event.
The F1 race tracks, or circuits, vary in length and dimensions. Each is irregular in its format, requiring the drivers to execute a variety of different racing maneuvers in the course of the race. A typical F1 course is either a road course, which involves the use of the closed streets of a particular city as the venue; or a specially designed and constructed race course, which is a stylized version of a street layout. The race course features common in the F1 circuits are curves; hairpin curves (where the angle exceeds 90°); straightaways; and chicanes, or "S" turns, each strategically placed on the race course. No single F1 circuit is like another; the typical race course is approximately 3 mi (5 km) in length, with the race consisting of between 50 and 70 laps of the course.
An F1 competition is divided into two separate parts—qualification laps and the race. Qualification has the dual purpose of determining the starting positions of each driver, as well as providing the race team with information to make any necessary technical adjustments in the race vehicle in advance of the event. The driver with the fastest qualifying lap time begins in the lead of the starting grid; the slowest qualifying drivers are set at the rear of the starting grid.
F1 vehicles are the product of rigorous engineering and intensive testing processes. The rules of F1 provide that each vehicle must be powered by engine that does not exceed a displacement of 2.4 liter, in a V8 (eight cylinder) construction; the engines must be normally aspirated as opposed to turbocharged. The aerodynamics of the F1 race cars are is highly sophisticated, and are second only to the function of the engine and its transmission in importance to racing success. A high-powered, open-wheeled F1 racer functions in a manner that requires the application of several aerodynamic principles.
As a general rule, the faster a vehicle travels along a race course, the more it shall be inclined to lift from the surface of the roadway and therefore become unstable in its handling. Race car engineers developed means of producing down force, to counter the natural lift produced by the vehicle. Down force is achieved in the opposite direction of lift, through the utilization of wings positioned on the rear of the vehicle. Each wing is designed to operate as an aircraft wing does, but in reverse; the wing is angled into the approaching air to create airflow where the air passing over the top of the wing moves more slowly than that passing below. The physical effect of these disparate air speeds, known as the Bernoulli principle, is to create a greater pressure on the top of the wing than on the bottom, resulting in a downward force applied to the vehicle.
The F1 wings achieve down-force effect at a tactical price. The wings also interfere in the ability of the race cars to pass a vehicle ahead, as the turbulence of the lead car creates an uneven airflow over the trailing vehicle's wing, reducing the stability of the trailing vehicle at high speeds. The solution to this problem is the introduction of separate wings mounted on the rear of the race vehicles, with a space between each wing to permit the turbulent air generated by the leading vehicle to pass over the trailing car unimpeded.
In recent years, the shape of the standard race car silhouette has also evolved. Many of the racers are now very narrow in the body and low to the ground behind the driver's cockpit, so as to reduce drag and to maximize the amount of air available to make contact with the rear wing, to increase ground effect and down force. The tires of the open-wheeled F1 racers account for approximately 60% of the drag encountered by the vehicle as it moves through the air. The silhouette of the tires themselves represent a compromise between aerodynamics and ensuring that the vehicle possesses sufficient tire surface to properly corner and handle at high speeds.
All successful F1 drivers are extremely fit athletes; bravery and "nerves of steel" remain very important attributes of a driver, but these are not determinative of driver ability. It is common for the F1 driver to experience the force of gravity in the vicinity of 3.5 g of force; in races that may last 200 miles (320 km) or more, such forces may be sustained by the driver hundreds of times. These effects are felt most profoundly in the head and neck of the drivers; F1 provides for a mandatory HANS system (head and neck safety), where the head and helmet is loosely constrained by a system that permits movement independent of the internal restraint of the body by seat belt systems to reducing the risk of a whiplash injury.
Over all aerobic fitness and a well-planned hydration strategy are essential components of racing, especially in hot weather. Hydration is often only possible at pit stops, regulated by F1 race rules, when the vehicle is fueled and tires are often changed.