The inner workings of a Formula 1 Grand Prix
Although the Sunday event is the most eagerly anticipated moment of every racing weekend, die-hard fans know that it is worth tuning into Formula 1 a few days beforehand. Action on the track is spread over three days, in a crescendo of thrill and excitement for the first and second free practice sessions on Friday, the last free practice session and the qualifying session on Saturday culminating with the actual race on Sunday. Every day offers quite a spectacle and every stage of preparation is useful to attempt to predict the winners. And of course, you don't need an excuse to enjoy watching the 20 best drivers in the world at work. Ahead of the start of the season, here is how a Formula 1 Grand Prix works to help you navigate what is happening on the track during the entire weekend.
FREE PRACTICE SESSIONS
Every Formula 1 Grand Prix opens with the free practice sessions, which are also known by the abbreviation FP. A total of three practice sessions are held over the weekend, hence the names FP1, FP2, FP3. The first two sessions take place on Friday, while the third session is on Saturday and ends two hours before the qualifying session. As the name suggests, these sessions are used by the teams as a sort of dress rehearsal for the Grand Prix. The drivers have 60 minutes to drive freely around the track to test their cars, experience the characteristics of the circuit and of course, figure out how to manage their tyres to the best.
The competition gets into full swing on Saturday, after the last free practice session with the qualifying sessions, one of the most popular moments of the weekend for fans that determines the order in which the drivers will line up on the starting grid for the race. The concept is a simple one. The faster you go during the qualifying session, the better your position will be on the grid. The fastest of all earns the pole position, that is the first position and the Pirelli Pole Position Award.
The qualifying session is divided into three stages: Q1, Q2 and Q3. During Q1, the 20 drivers in the race have 18 minutes to drive on the track and try to set a lap time that will allow them to be among the top 15. When time runs out, the five worst drivers are excluded from the next stage and will start from the last five positions on the grid. The same happens during Q2, which lasts 15 minutes and aims to exclude five more drivers, who will start between 11th and 15th position. In Q3, which lasts 12 minutes, only 10 drivers remain in the game, who, depending on their performance, will compete for the top ten positions. At this point, the starting order is established, barring any penalties, and the poleman wins the Pirelli Pole Position Award.
The new Sprint Qualifying system was introduced for some events of the session in 2021 to add an element of novelty, make the race weekend even more exciting and change the Friday and Saturday schedule. The system has been confirmed for the 2022 season and is planned for three stages, the Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna, Austria and Brazil, with some minor changes compared to the 2021 format. This year, the Sprint weekend (which is no longer called Sprint Qualifying) will consist of a single free practice session on Friday followed directly by a qualifying session, which is run in the traditional way. The qualifying ranking will determine the starting order for the Sprint event on the following day and the fastest driver in Q3 will be named poleman for statistical purposes only but will not be automatically entitled to the pole position for the Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Sprint is staged on Saturday, after the second and final free practice session. It is a race of about 100 km in which the starting order of the actual race is at stake. The Sprint ranking determines the Sunday grid and the first eight drivers classified in this mini-race earn points for the championship ranking.
The race is usually held on Sunday afternoon, except for some stages, such as Singapore, which are run at night. The cars must line up on the starting grid 15 minutes before the start. If a driver is still in the pit lane at that moment, he will start the race from there. In the minutes leading up to the start, the mechanics can move around the grid and make any necessary final tweaks and teams have until three minutes before the start to change tyres.
When one minute to go, only the drivers in their cars should be on the starting grid so that they can start with the parade lap during which they drive one lap of the track without overtaking each other and at moderate speed and have the opportunity to make a last check before the race and warm up their tyres.
Once the parade lap has been completed, the drivers take their places and wait for the start indicated by a traffic light with ten red signals, arranged in two rows of five. After turning on one at a time, they all switch off together and the Grand Prix officially begins. The time and distance of each race vary according to the track. In any case, dry races must be completed within two hours and races under heavy rain within four hours. A race must cover a distance of 305 kilometres with the least number of laps. The Monaco Grand Prix, which is 260 kilometres long, is an exception.