A Guide to Formula One

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What You Need to Know

  1. Formula One began life in 1946 and has grown to become a multi-billion pound industry with legions of fans worldwide.
  2. Both a Drivers’ Championship and a Manufacturers’ Championship are up for grabs, though the point-scoring system is relatively complicated.
  3. Drivers are able to take the points they have gained with them if they switch teams mid-season.
  4. The 2012 season will see teams compete in 20 Grand Prix around the world, beginning in Australia and ending in Italy.
  5. Most races take place on special tracks, though the Monaco, Valencia and Melbourne Grand Prix run through normal streets, making them some of the most incredible motoring events in the world.
  6. Ferrari can claim to be the most successful team in Formula One history, with Michael Schumacher the top driver.

History of Formula One

While motor racing was an organised sport as early as the 1920s, Formula One was not established up until 1946, when various racing organisations came together to draw up a new set of rules – or ‘Formula – for a new world championship. The first proper race of the new-look sport was held at Silverstone, England, in 1950, with the Constructors’ Championship subsequently set up in 1958.

Over the years, the cars have been modified and the sport has gone from being the hobby for a few wealthy gentlemen to a multi-billion pound industry enjoyed by millions at tracks and on TV screens the world over. The biggest shift in fortunes came in the 1970s when Bernie Ecclestone led the Formula One Constructors’ Association on a campaign that would eventually see teams wrest control from track owners, paving the way for the modern version of the sport.

Other notable dates in the history of Formula One include 1968, the year which marked the start of the corporate sponsorship of teams, and 1998 when strict new rules geared towards making the sport safer came into effect.


The qualification process for each Grand Prix can attract just as much attention as the race itself, with drivers under immense pressure to improve their chances by securing a favourable spot on the starting grid.

Since the start of the 2006 season, a ‘knockout’ qualifying system is used ahead of every race. Over three rounds, drivers complete as many laps of a circuit as they wish, with the slowest knocked out. This process is repeated until there are just ten drivers left to fight it out for pole position in the third and final round. The drivers knocked out in the first round will take up the last seven places on the grid (18 to 24), with those eliminated in the second taking up grid positions 11 to 17. The final round determines who will be placed where in the front section of the starting grid.

Additionally, as of 2011, the ‘107 per cent rule’ is enforced in qualifying. This states that any driver who fails to set a lap within 107 per cent of the fastest time recorded in the first qualifying session will not be allowed to start the race. This rule is aimed at ensuring high standards are maintained within the sport, though drivers can, in “exceptional circumstances” still be allowed to race if they fail to make the cut.

Grand Prix

Since the inaugural world championship season in 1950, when there were just seven races, the Formula One calendar has continually grown and evolved, with races now held right across the world.

The 2011 season was scheduled to have 20 races, though this was revised down to 19 following the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix. As of 2012, just two races have been held each year since the start of modern F1, namely the British Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix.

Generally speaking, races are held on specially-constructed tracks, though venues are permitted to design their courses as they wish. However, there are some notable exceptions to this, with street circuits used in Melbourne, Singapore, Valencia and, most famously, Monaco.

The 2012 season will comprise 20 Grand Prix, starting with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and ending with the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo. The official race schedule is available here.

Points Scoring Systems



Since the 1950s, a points system has been in place to determine who wins a Formula One championship. As of 2010, the winning driver receives 25 points, with second-place winning a driver 18, third place 15, right the way down to the single point won with a tenth placed finish. Quite simply, the driver with the most points at the end of a season is declared with champion. Notably, should less than 75 per cent of the total race laps be completed – for instance in the event of a race being stopped due to bad weather – then the value of points awarded to drivers will be half the normal amount.

In the unlikely event of a driver switching teams mid-season, they will take all their points with them.


Alongside the Drivers’ Championship runs the Formula One World Constructors’ Championship. All teams are required to build their own chassis – hence the term ‘constructor’- though they are permitted to use a third-party engine, with all cars to be kept within set specifications to ensure as level a playing field as possible.

Constructors are awarded points if both of their two drivers earn points in a race and, as before, they are able to use points their drivers might have earned with another team should they switch mid-season.

Notable Records

  • Ferrari has competed in 828 races (up to the end of the 2011 season), more than any other team.
  • Ferrari also has the record for most Grand Prix victories, with 216 over the same period.
  • Michael Schumacher boasts the greatest number of wins, with 91 victories over the course of his career.
  • Sebastian Vettel holds the record for the youngest-ever Grand Prix winner, taking his first title aged just 21 years and 73 days.
  • Stirling Moss is widely regarded as the finest driver to have never won a World Championship.

Further Reading


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