Miami Grand Prix Preview: Get up to Speed with Formula 1
Auto racing has had a long and successful history in the United States. For most of the 20th century, open wheel race cars, like those seen in the IndyCar series, attracted the most attention. In the mid-1990s, stock cars, like those seen in the NASCAR series, overtook open wheel cars in popularity in the US.
For as much success as homegrown auto racing has had in the United States, Americans have long tended to ignore international competitions like Formula 1 racing – until recently. With domestic interest in the sport at an all-time high and the inaugural Miami Grand Prix this weekend, there’s no better time to get up to speed with Formula 1.
Read on to learn more about the history, physics, and finances behind Formula 1.
This weekend’s Miami Grand Prix is a significant milestone for Formula 1 racing in the United States. It’s the first time the country will hold two races in a single season since 1984, reflecting Americans’ rapidly-growing interest in the sport.
Next season, the league will look to capitalize on Americans’ current F1 frenzy with a third race in the United States: a primetime race under the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip.
1950 – 2021: Formula 1 History
Formula 1 is the highest class of international open-wheel single-seater formula car racing. Unlike NASCAR stock cars, which have wheels underneath the cars’ chassis, open wheel formula racing cars have wheels outside of the car’s main body.
Drivers compete individually and as teams of two, driving for a constructor. Constructors are teams that design and build the cars that drivers race with. The Drivers’ Championship and Constructors’ Championships are decided with a points based system, with drivers accumulating points across 20 or more races, known as Grands Prix, held all over the world.
The first F1 World Championship, then known as the World Drivers’ Championship, was held in 1950 and has been held every year since. Over the 72 years since the sports inception, 771 drivers and 171 different constructors have competed in more than 1,050 races. The most successful team in F1 history is Ferrari, which holds the records for most Constructors’ Championships (16) and Drivers’ Championships (15).
For more than a decade now, F1 has been dominated by two teams – Red Bull and Mercedes – that have won every Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship since 2010. Mercedes has been particularly dominant, winning the last eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships.
On a per-race basis over the last five seasons, the top three teams (Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari) have seen significantly more success than the rest of the field. Some of this can be attributed to driver talent. But in F1 racing, the car itself plays a big role in a driver’s success, and constructors with higher budgets can often afford to build much better cars.
Between 2017 and 2019, the top three constructors accounted for half of the money spent by all ten teams in the field combined – over $2.2 billion annually on average. The spending disparity has long contributed to the success disparity between teams.
Since last season, the FIA (F1’s governing body) has tried to rectify this and create a more competitive landscape by instituting cost caps. In 2021, constructors were limited to spending $145 million (not including driver salaries and some other expenses), a significant budget reduction for the top-spending teams.
Despite the new cost cap, the 2021 season resulted in victories for Red Bull and Mercedes once again. Because each constructor’s car is the product of multiple years of development and iterative improvements, the advantages gained from years of high spending were baked into each team’s performance.
2021: A Championship Battle for the Ages
Disparities aside, F1 can still produce nail-biting championship battles. Last season’s title fight between Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton – a seven time world champion – was one of the closest and fiercest battles in F1 history. The two drivers quickly opened up a lead over the rest of the field, but remained locked in a back and forth fight for the top spot throughout the season.
Verstappen and Hamilton were separated by an average of just 8.9 points over the entire season, and after 21 of 22 rounds, were tied at 369.5 championship points apiece heading into the final race of the season.
With the frontrunners tied and only one race to go, December’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix became a winner-take-all contest for the Drivers’ Championship title. Verstappen began the race in pole position, but quickly fell to second place on the first lap and Hamilton took the lead. Hamilton remained ahead of Verstappen for most of the 58-lap race and appeared all but certain to retain his title.
On lap 53, a yellow flag safety incident forced the field to slow down and queue behind a safety car. Hamilton’s lead over Verstappen and the rest of the field evaporated. At the end of lap 57, the penultimate lap of the race, the drivers were allowed to race at full speed again.
On the fifth turn of the final lap of the race, Verstappen overtook Hamilton and held his lead for the rest of the lap, giving him the race win and the championship title.
Although the safety car incident was marred by controversy and Hamilton’s Mercedes team lodged a protest, the race result – and Verstappen’s championship title – stood.
After more than 6,600 kilometers of racing across 22 rounds over 10 months and with billions of dollars spent along the way, the entire Drivers’ Championship was settled on a single maneuver on the final lap of the final race of the season.
2022: The Next Generation
The 2022 season has seen a significant change for F1: the introduction of next-generation cars with more aerodynamic chassis designs. The new cars are still open wheel models as they always have been, but almost all of the individual components – from the front and rear wings to the floor and wheels – have been redesigned to meet new regulations issued by the FIA.
With more downforce, cars can follow more closely behind one another for longer periods of time without losing speed, increasing the likelihood of overtakes and making for more dynamic racing for drivers and spectators.
The new chassis design forced each constructor to go back to the drawing board in developing their cars for 2022 and beyond. Along with the salary cap imposed on teams, the new regulations should somewhat level the playing field and provide more opportunities for long-struggling constructors like Williams and Haas to compete with the top of the field.
But through the first four races of the season, the picture at the top of the standings looks rather familiar.
There’s plenty of racing to go this year and each team’s fortunes can change on the turn of a dime, but for now, the big three – Ferrari, Red Bull, and Mercedes – are sitting comfortably atop the leaderboards for both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.
Dive Deeper into Formula 1
Want to take a closer look at recent F1 history? Dive into our Formula 1 (2017 - 2022) workbook, where you can view detailed information about every race in the past five seasons – including individual race results and pit stop information – and view maps of every F1 circuit.
With Related rows, the workbook acts like a database. Expand a row in the Races worksheet by double-clicking on the row number to view information about the race in a table record format. Explore each record to drill down into more detailed information about the drivers and circuits.
Or, explore the charts included in the Drivers, Constructors, and Constructor Finances sheet to visualize each driver’s and constructor’s recent success. The Drivers and Constructors sheets use Related row rollups to aggregate information from two hidden sheets – Driver Results and Constructor Results – that contain information about every driver and constructor’s result in every race from 2017 to the current season.
Learn more about Related rows, Charts, Grouping, and more of Spreadsheet.com’s unique features in our Help Center. And catch the Miami Grand Prix airing this Sunday, May 8, at 12:30PM PST on ESPN3 and ABC.