Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

What makes an F1 car special // The noise, the speed, the technological joy of Formula One

Published by Christine

This article was originally written for BellaOnline, but is republished here for posterity.

If you've never seen an F1 Grand Prix before, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Admittedly, it can come across as a row of noisy, colourful cars just following each other around a track. But what you need to do is dig down beneath the surface of those cars to really appreciate the skills involved in the sport.

The most obvious thing that separates an F1 car from your regular road car is the speed. At top speeds, in a straight line, an F1 car can do almost 190mph, but obviously around a track they are limited by the corners. Still, they are much faster than any other motorsport.

Another important thing about the car is that it's a single seater, with the driver very low to the ground. This means, there is little separating the driver from the track, except his own skill. The cars are specially designed so they have as little wind resistance as possible. Many manufacturers have wind tunnels at their development factories so they can focus on that exact aspect of design. That's why some of the cars look a bit odd, with holes in the sides, and wings sticking up at the back.

The tyres in F1 are very different to the ones you'll find on your roadcar. They are not built to last - just 300km for one race - and have to meet strict regulations on width and the amount of grooves they have. There are three different types of tyres allowed - wets, intermediates and slicks (for dry conditions) - the main identifying feature being the depth of grooves in the tyre.

When you're watching an F1 race, the main way to distinguish between the cars is their colours, with each team being painted to match the team branding and also incorporate the colours of their sponsors. But each car has more than just paint to identify it from the others, there are subtle differences that are often quite fun to look out for. Like the fact that last year's McLaren had little wings sticking out above the driver so that it looked like a Viking's helmet. Or some of the new 2007 cars that appear to have their wing mirrors in a much more wobbly place.

The main difference between competitors is, of course, the engines. The tiny differences in speed of an engine can mean the difference between pole position and starting back a few rows on the grid. In recent years, the engines have had to withstand two race weekends in one go, otherwise the team suffers a penalty. Quite often, they can't manage this and on weekends when many teams are on their second race - blowouts are quite frequent. This again makes F1 different to normal racecars. They are so finely tuned with such precision that they cannot be relied upon to last for too long. Plus, they go really, really fast!

So, with such precision instrumentation, and such attention to detail in design, there is always something to look out for on an F1 car. Now, if you look at those noisy, colourful cars just following each other around a track, it starts to make a little bit more sense, and be a little bit more appealing.