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Formula 1 - is it just cars going round in circles?

Ross Urquhart

Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry

Copyright The Guardian

In short, no. No, it is not. Formula 1 (F1) is so much more than that and I am going to tell you why. When I think of the sport and all it entails, I can split it up into 5 different parts which in some ways are more distinct or more interlinked than they may seem. These five parts are (in no particular order) the fans, the teams, the cars, the drivers, and the tracks. Let us start with the teams.

In F1, as of 2022, there are 10 teams on the grid. Some of these you may have heard of like Mercedes-Petronas, Ferrari, and Red Bull Racing but there are “smaller teams” too such as HAAS F1 and Alfa Romeo racing. These teams are very diverse in a range of things. For example, Mercedes is a giant of the modern car industry, whereas Red Bull Racing are a spinoff of an energy drinks company and their location -HAAS are the only team based in the United States, whereas there are quite a few teams with headquarters in England, particularly surrounding the Silverstone area. Other things include car design philosophy and the staff at the team like mechanics, social media teams and race engineers. Numerous other jobs are just as important to the team as the driver and the car on the track. Make no mistake, there may be only one person driving the car but F1 is a team sport. The teams are every bit as fine-tuned and well-greased as the cars are.

Well, what about the drivers? I hear you ask. Aren’t they more important than the behind-the-scenes staff since they actually do the driving? Yes, they are, and also no, they are not. The driver on the track can only do so much if the car beneath them isn’t up to scratch. Beyond driving, drivers these days bring a lot more to a race day. F1 is filled with drivers from increasingly diverse backgrounds (although it is easily argued not diverse enough) who most importantly bring their own sense of personality, style and (often huge) egos. Often these drivers become household names like Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen and can have a loyal following similar to those enjoyed by the teams themselves. They can bring joy and also anguish, because after all, once the car has left the pit there are only two hands on that steering wheel.

Which brings us to the cars themselves. Here is where my interest was piqued when I was starting my fan journey in the sport. There are different design philosophies that teams, engineers, and designers can entertain and that a cursory glance of the cars on race day can easily distinguish. Unlike what I thought circa 3 years ago, no, the cars do not all look the same and no, the cars beyond the pretty colours do not all look the same. Okay they might look similar, but they are not the same. It is very easy (and I also highly recommend) to fall into the rabbit hole of learning about how F1 cars work and how very, very slight changes to a car can make enormous differences during a race. Tyres come in different varieties, the choice of which can win or lose you the race. There are *a lot* of small changes that can be made to a car at the last minute that I won’t go into here (but highly encourage that you do).

So, we now have the teams, the drivers, and the cars but what about where they race? As opposed to certain North American sports *cough* baseball *cough*, F1’s world championship truly is a world championship. As of this year there are 23 races on the calendar spread over a total of 21 different countries. This is obviously where fans get involved in a big way. The diversity in the F1 calendar allows fans from across the globe to come along and cheer for their favourite teams and drivers. The race weekend brings lots of activity along with it. Friday has two practise sessions, Saturday has one practise session followed by qualifying, and Sunday is race day. In between these sessions there are usually lots of activities to get involved with not to mention greeting fellow fans and possibly meeting your favourite drivers. The fans are the lifeblood of any sport and F1 is no different. Take away the fans and you almost just have cars going round in circles. Not without its own problems, there is a large F1 following willing and eager to engage with anyone on most social media platforms and highlights some of the best parts of being an F1 fan - the sense of community is, bar a few exceptions, fantastic. Different tracks introduce diversity to races in the same way new cities and countries bring diversity in culture and people. Good? No, it is great!

Overall, F1 is a fantastic sport as you can get involved to any level you want! Interested in the cars themselves? Great, go and learn about how suspension works in F1 compared to road cars. Not so interested in the technical aspect? No problem! Just tune in for the racing and get excited about the battles on track. Don’t actually care about the racing? Okay, well I’m almost out of ideas but there must be a reason for so many celebrities to show up to selects Grand Prix’s such as the Monaco GP, right? F1 at first glance can look boring and technical, and trust me, I get that, but the joy of it is you can be as involved as much or as little as you want. Arguably, one of the best things for the sport recently has been Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” series. This series has introduced millions to the excitement of F1 and a sort of team politics which is exciting and interesting in a way British politics has never seemed to me. It is the perfect entry to a sport that at first glance may seem difficult to get into, but I can assure you, it is not, and it is more than worth it. So why not have a look in? You never know this could be the gateway to a new hobby, new friends, and perhaps even new ideas? Go on, get involved!

Author retains copyright to text. Image Copyright of The Guardian.

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