• F1 101

Welcome to F1 101. This article explains the basics of the sport. Newcomers and veterans alike, read here to better understand Formula 1, get familiar with the terms and technicalities, and understand more on race day.

Formula 1 — The Basics

The Formula 1 championship is held annually. The season comprises of 20 races held in various circuits across the world. There are ten teams, each with two drivers, for a total of twenty drivers. The teams are responsible for building and updating the cars, planning out strategy, picking and training drivers, and so on.

There are two trophies to be won each season — the driver’s championship, which rewards the best driver, and the constructor’s championship, which rewards the best team (measured by the performance of both their drivers).

Points are awarded as follows:

1st Place252nd Place183rd Place154th Place125th Place106th Place87th Place68th Place49th Place210th Place1

No points are awarded to drivers who finish past 10th place.

Races are typically held every alternate Sunday, and qualifying is held the day before the race.


Everyone knows about the black and white chequered flag waved when the leader zooms past the finish line, which signifies the end of a race. It doesn’t end there though: there are ten other flags drivers and fans must be aware of.

  1. YELLOW FLAG — Indicates a hazard on or near the track (waved yellows indicate a hazard on the track, frozen yellows indicate a hazard near the track). Double waved yellows inform drivers that marshals are working on or near to the track. Yellow flags may be in a certain section of the track, or on the entire track (full course yellow). Under yellow flag conditions, drivers are expected to slow down, drive cautiously, and not overtake.
  2. YELLOW AND RED STRIPED FLAG — Slippery track, due to oil, water or loose debris. Can be seen ‘rocked’ from side-to-side (not waved) to indicate a small animal on track.
  3. GREEN FLAG — Normal racing conditions apply. This is usually shown following a yellow flag to indicate that the hazard has been passed. A green flag is shown at all stations for the lap following the end of a full-course yellow (or safety car). A green flag is also shown at the start of a session.
  4. BLUE FLAG — A blue flag indicates that the driver in front must let faster cars behind pass. Generally shown to lapped cars that are more than one lap behind the leaders.
  5. WHITE FLAG — Indicates that a slow moving car is ahead. Often waved at the end of the pit lane when a car is about to leave the pits.
  6. RED FLAG — A red flag means a session has been stopped. Generally used when track conditions are too dangerous to continue, or a major accident has occurred. Depending on the situation, drivers may have to return to the pits or stop immediately.
  7. BLACK FLAG — Driver is disqualified (usually accompanied by the driver’s number). Usually used in cases of dangerous driving, or other rule violations.
  8. BLACK WITH AN ORANGE CIRCLE — Car is damaged and must pit immediately.
  9. HALF BLACK/HALF WHITE FLAG — Warns a driver for unsportsmanlike behaviour. May be followed by a black flag upon further infringement. Accompanied by the driver’s number.
  10. SC FLAG — Shown in conjunction with a yellow flag to indicate that the Safety Car is on track. A safety car is a car that regulates the pace of the drivers during a caution period. Under safety car, drivers must drive cautiously, and not overtake. Full course yellow flag applies.
  11. CHEQUERED FLAG — Session complete.


Tires are obviously one of the most important parts of any vehicle. F1 cars are no different. There 7 different types of tires, or as Pirelli (the official tire partner of F1) refers to them, compounds.

Tire compounds differ in grip and durability. Softer tires enable the drivers to corner faster, as they have higher coefficients of static friction. Thus, drivers can take turns faster without sliding. However, softer tires also wear out quicker, especially in hot conditions.

  1. Ultrasofts — These purple walled tires are the softest compound and hence the fastest tire while also offering the most grip, but have the least life among all the tires.
  2. Supersofts — These are red walled tires which offer a bit less speed but more durability then Ultrasofts but they are still focussed on performance over durability
  3. Softs — These are yellow walled tires that are harder than the super softs and compromise less on durability. They are generally used as sprint tires towards the end.
  4. Mediums — These white walled tires are the technically ideal tires, compromising equally on speed and durability and is generally used on high temperature circuits.
  5. Hards — This is the orange walled tire from Pirelli and is the hardest compound for dry conditions, making it the most durable and best tire for high track temperatures. However, it offers less grip, and lower cornering speeds.
  6. Intermediates — This is the green walled tire which used in damp conditions and its grooves can disperse up to 25 litres of water per second.
  7. Wets — This blue walled tire is used in rainy conditions and can displace up to 65 litres of water per second, hence ideal for heavy rain and wet tracks

The intermediate and wet tires are generally not used in dry conditions, and unlike the dry tires (slicks), they have grooves which help disperse the water.

Irrespective of what tires are used, they must be changed at least once during a race, as no tire is built to last an entire race. Tires are changed during pit stops. During the pit stop, the teams and drivers must work in perfect synchronization to change the 4 tires as fast as possible. The fastest recorded time for changing all 4 tires is 1.9 seconds and the average time is about 3 seconds.


Now that you all know how to read the signs on track, let’s get to the actual racing. In the days leading up to the race, there are 3 practice rounds (FP 1,2 and 3 respectively) and three qualifying rounds, typically on the Saturday before the race.

The qualifying rounds are used to determine the arrangement of the starting grid in the actual race. In other words, faster drivers in qualifying will start in the front during the actual race.

The 3 qualifying rounds are termed Q1, Q2, and Q3.

Q1 lasts for 15 mins. In this session, each driver drives a few laps, attempts to set a fast lap time. The 15 fastest drivers move on to Q2. The remaining 5 will start in increasing order of lap times from 15th place.

Q2 also lasts for 15 minutes. Seems simple right? Here’s the catch: the tires the drivers use in Q2 must be the tires they use to start the race. Due to this, drivers and teams need to have a comprehensive knowledge of the track and weather conditions for the day of the race to pick out the right tire compound in Q2. Tires are kept track of using bar codes to avoid any discrepancies is usage. The top 10 fastest drivers in Q2 move on to Q3.

Q3 is a 10 minute battle between the remaining drivers that decides the starting order of the top 10. In this round of qualification, drivers may change their tires in order to clock the fastest lap possible.

These are the basics of Formula 1. With this knowledge, you should be prepared to understand what’s going on on race day. If you have further questions or would like us to elaborate further on a particular topic, do let us know in the comments and we’ll be sure to take up your questions.

  • By — Abhinav Ramachandran and Akshay Sivakumar