What is Formula 1
Between races and rules
Up to 500 million viewers worldwide hold their breath today when Formula 1 drivers accelerate to maximum speed within a few seconds and race towards the tight corners at over 300 kilometers per hour.
It all started at a leisurely pace: at the end of the 19th century, automobiles were considered loud, smelly - and unreliable. The manufacturers soon wanted to prove that longer distances could be covered with the smoking boxes and organized so-called endurance tests, trips on which they wanted to demonstrate the stability of their engines. "Paris - Rouen", for example, was one of the first routes on which motorists tested their skills.
The tests quickly turned into races and soon there were separate circuits for car races: In the 1920s, tracks such as the Nürburgring or the Le Mans circuit were built. After the war, the Grand Prix of the 1920s and 1930s became Formula 1, the premier class of automotive racing. The name should be an expression of the importance of the races.
Even then, the various racing classes were defined by complex technical regulations. In the early years of Formula 1, it was primarily the displacement that was decisive for belonging to the respective racing class: while in the early years of Formula 1 racing cars with a displacement of up to 4.5 liters were allowed to compete, the smaller Formula 2 engines had two Liters limited.
To this day, the international umbrella organization of automobile sports, the "Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile" (FIA), changes the technical requirements that make a racing car a regular Formula 1 car almost every year.
Death on the line
In 1950 the first official Formula 1 race was started in Silverstone, UK. Since then, world championships have been held in this racing class every year. Several Grand Prix are held each season in different countries, where the drivers can collect World Championship points: nobody was as busy as Michael Schumacher. The racing driver from Kerpen is the most successful driver of all time with seven world championships.
But the men in the fast cars were heroes long before Schumacher, also because the premier class was considered extremely dangerous until the 1990s. More than two dozen drivers were killed during Formula 1 races.
The last driver to have a fatal accident on the course was the Brazilian Ayrton Senna. The multiple world champion died in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix. Since then, the safety for Formula 1 drivers has improved enormously: The construction of the cars has been changed in favor of safety, routes and safety limits have been adapted to the high speeds.
At top speeds well in excess of 300 kilometers per hour, however, fatal accidents cannot be ruled out in the future either.
Technology at the limit
But it is not the top speed that makes Formula 1 an outstanding racing class. In the 1960s there were production vehicles that had significantly more power than a Formula 1 car, and even today sports cars are available that achieve similar top speeds and horsepower (horsepower) figures.
But unlike normal sports cars, the Formula 1 engines allow extreme acceleration and deceleration: a Formula 1 car accelerates to 100 kilometers per hour in two seconds.
The braking effect is even more dramatic: the car can be brought from speed 200 to zero in less than two seconds. Such performances demand both the material and the driver: no racing driver can cope with a Formula 1 race without excellent physical condition - and no racing team can drive to the top without massive investments in technology.
Curves and chicanes
Formula 1 is primarily a European racing class. Although Grand Prix are also driven outside of Europe, Formula 1, for example in the USA, never really established itself. The top class of American racing is driven with the so-called "Champ Cars". Racing cars that look very similar to a Formula 1 car, but are technically much simpler - although they reach higher top speeds.
Champ-car races such as the famous "Indy 500" in Indianapolis are often held on oval courses, while the Formula 1 tracks present significantly more challenges for the car and driver. The cars have to be braked heavily in hairpin bends and chicanes, the feeling for the latest braking point is an essential factor for the lap times.
But the difficulty of some courses is also a problem in Formula 1 races: overtaking maneuvers are difficult and only possible if the differences in acceleration and top speed of the cars are relatively large. On some tracks, such as the famous Monaco street circuit, gripping duels are the exception.
The routing also results in numerous accidents and failures: If a driver miscalculates by just a fraction of a second when approaching a curve, he can no longer keep the car on the route and slips into the gravel bed. Such involuntary excursions into the outside area of the racing facilities are generally harmless today: Run-off and safety zones give the drivers so much protection that not every mistake has to be paid for with life-threatening accidents.
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