A coworker of mine got the chance to go see Bahrain this weekend. She came to me with the question: “So, what exactly is this Formula 1 thing all about? It’s cars, but seriously, what’s the deal?”. This is what I told her:

Apologies, this is kind of a lot. Ultimately, it’s kind of like “explain baseball”. I started typing and by the end, it was a book.

A few things you should know right off the bat:

  • It’s a boy’s club. Practically the definition of it. Horsepower, money, power, more horsepower, more power, and ego’s.
  • Race car drivers are bitches. They complain about everything and are never wrong (in their minds).
  • F1 coverage is soap opera for men. It’s basically high-price soft core porn but without the women and sex. The coverage is insanely expensive (best cameras, best technology in all of broadcast coverage).
  • Speaking of coverage, the US gets it wrong every time. They air on FOX/NBC and they stick commercials into it. Which is hilarious because the race never stops... duh.

F1 is about 3 things:

  1. Technology - the cars are cutting edge works of engineered art. For the last two years Mercedes dominated because they figured out how to twist the rules and invented a new type of engine configuration where the turbo was a part of the engine block itself. It baffled people how they were winning so much so they were accused of cheating all the time. Which they do. But that’s not actually why they were winning.
  2. Money - it’s an excuse for people (mostly men) to bring their trophy wives (or mistresses) to an epic 3 day party in a foreign country and literally eat, drink, and.... buy expensive jewelry for their wives in case they find out about the mistress. Seriously, every single event has more pop up jewelry stores than you could imagine. At the same time, they all act modest about it and totally hang out in jeans and race jackets (which are like $1k each at the team stores)
  3. Drama - like I said, the drivers are bitches. They complain about everything. The track is too warm. The track is too cold. The tires are too rubbery. My teammate isn’t letting me pass. Why do I have to let my teammate pass? That guy bumped me, he’s mean. You’re talking on the radio too much, so shut up and let me drive. You’re not giving me enough information over the radio. Blah blah blah.

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Some technical things:

  • There are teams. 2 cars per team. There’s a weird relationship between teammates. Honestly, they usually hate each other because when it comes to the standings, teams don’t matter - only individuals. It’s stupid and makes for made up drama.
  • There are 3 practice sessions. Two the first day. One the second day followed by Qualifying. The new qualifying system is wacky and it’s going away already: http://www.foxsports.com.au/motorsport/v8-…
  • There’s a driver’s parade before the race. They all stand on a float together and wave while they pretend to not hate each other. A single missile strike could take out almost 50% of the world’s collected ego but no one has ever tried it.
  • There are sections of each track called “DRS Zones”. It stands for Drag Reduction System. There’s a flap on the rear wing that can be activated in those sections. I believe it’s only if you’re not winning. The flap makes the car more aerodynamic and they go faster for a moment. Woo.
  • The cars are all hybrids. Like an angry prius. Actually, they’re incredibly advanced 4 wheel computers. They have KERS (kinetic energy recovery systems) that convert braking into energy by shunting energy to a big flywheel. They also shunt power to batteries.
  • The tires are a big deal. Every year the bitches complain about them. They can be swapped mid-race (and almost always are) but it’s tricky. If it’s warm out, rubber is softer. So they tend to use the harder tires. But harder tires can require more driving to warm up and are slick on pavement. But they last longer. Softer tires wear out faster but in the right circumstances can make the car faster. Some teams choose different tires options depending on the driver. It’s complicated. It’s actually one of the most intriguing strategies mid-race. Who will change tires and when? If they try to go too long, they can explode and that’s pretty much the end. They can also try to go long on hard tires and then switch to softs for a burst at the end. It’s a big meta-game.
  • Sometimes many cars will will fail to make it through qualifying or bow out because of technical problems. Womp womp.
  • Safety Cars - When debris or a broken car is on the track (a major hazard at 200mph), a fast street car drives out on the track and the F1 cars have to stay behind it. The funny thing is, the cars may bunch up. Which means a guy who was 20 seconds behind, is now a few seconds behind. Yay for him.
  • Virtual safety cars - a thing pops up on their steering wheels that says “VSC” and advises them on how fast to drive. This prevents the drivers from bunching up or gaining too much. They use this for less serious track problems. They also can’t pass or pit.

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Going to an F1 race:

  • Private parties are where it’s at. Most people don’t even bother to stand trackside. Especially during the race.
  • There are usually tons of events. Including other races like Porsche Cup races between qualifying sessions and practices. Every city is different. But no one really cares.
  • Sometimes there are concerts. They could be fun, but I think more people go to those than the races. 80k people showed up for Bon Jovi in Singapore. I swear 10k showed up for the race.

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Here’s a list of the teams: https://www.formula1.com/content/fom-we…

* Note: HAAS is new this year. This is the only American team. It’s happened before the in the past but meh. There’s hope for them but not much. Starting an F1 team is like starting a competitor to SpaceX. It’s hard and they’re faster than you.

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This gives you a pretty good idea of how glitzy the sport is: https://www.formula1.com/content/fom-we…

This is all about tires: http://www.pirelli.com/tires/en-us/mo…

These guys are mostly bitches: https://www.formula1.com/content/fom-we…

* except Kimi. Kimi is the freaking man. He’s hilarious:

If you want to know how dangerous F1 used to be, you can watch “Senna”. It’s no longer on Netflix but I think it’s on Amazon streaming for rental (not free).