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Formula One racing

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Formula One cars wind through the infield section of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the 2003 United States Grand Prix
This article focuses on a specific subtopic of Formula One.


A Formula One race takes place over an entire weekend, with two free practice sessions on Friday, a practice session and a qualifying session on Saturday, and the race on Sunday. There are typically races in other FIA series (such as the GP2 Series) over the weekend to keep crowds entertained.

Free practice sessions

The event usually begins on Friday (except in Monaco where it begins on Thursday) with two free practice sessions, from 11:00 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 15:00, for the drivers to learn the circuit and for the teams to experiment with their cars to figure out the best settings for the particular track. Third drivers for teams that finished outside the top four of the previous season's World Constructors' Championship are allowed to take part in Friday's free practice sessions. Another free practice session will take place on Saturday from 11:00 to 12:00.

Qualifying sessions

On Saturday at 14:00 the qualifying session takes place to determine the running order at the beginning of the race. For 2006, the single-lap qualifying system used in recent years is replaced by a three-part knockout format, with multiple cars on track. The qualifying hour is split into three 15-minute sessions, with seven-minute breaks in between. During the first session, all 22 cars run laps at any time. The six slowest cars are assigned grid places 17 through 22. Lap times are reset for the second session, which sees the remaining 16 cars on track together. Again, the six slowest of those cars are assigned grid places 11 through 16. The final qualifying session is a shootout among the final ten competitors to determine the final 10 grid places. To add an additional strategic challenge to the race engineers, the top-ten drivers must begin the final 15-minute session with the fuel load on which they plan to start the race. They will be weighed before they leave the pits, and whatever fuel they use in the 15 minutes may be replaced at the end of the session. The number of laps run during any session is uncontrolled.

A driver or car that sets the fastest time qualifies at the front of the grid and is said to be on pole position.

DNQ

As of 2007 only 11 teams are entered for the Formula One world championship, each entering two cars for a total of 22 cars, while the regulations place a limit of 24 entries for the championship. At some periods in the history of Formula One the number of cars entered for each race has exceeded the number permitted, which historically would vary from race to race according to the circuit used. Monaco, for example, for many years allowed only 20 cars to compete because of the restricted space available. The slowest cars excess to the circuit limit would not qualify for the race and would be list as 'Did not Qualify' (DNQ) in race results.

Pre-Qualifying

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the number of cars attempting to enter each race was as high as 38 for some races. Because of the dangers of having so many cars on the track at the same time, a pre-qualifying session was introduced for the teams with the worst record over the previous 6 months, including all new teams. Only the four fastest cars from this session were then allowed into the qualifying session proper, where 30 cars competed for 26 places on the starting grid for the race. The slowest cars from the pre-qualifying session were listed in race results as 'Did Not Pre-Qualify' (DNPQ). Pre-qualifying ended after a period in the early 1990s when many small teams withdrew from the sport.

107% Rule

As the number of cars entered in the world championship fell below 26, a situation arose in which any car entered would automatically qualify for the race, no matter how slowly it had been driven. The 107% rule was introduced in 1996 to prevent completely uncompetitive cars being entered in the championship. If a car's qualifying time was not within 107% of the pole sitter's time, that car would not qualify for the race, unless at the discretion of the race stewards. There are now only 11 teams in F1 so the 107% rule has been removed since the FIA's rules indicate that 24 cars can take the start of an F1 race, and a minimum of 20 cars must enter a race. The qualifying format has also changed several times since the 107% rule was introduced, rendering the rule inoperable. Each team has two cars, and currently, if two teams were to drop out the remaining teams would have to figure out how to maintain the 20 car rule. The current Concorde Agreement expires at the end of the 2007 season.

Race

See Formula One regulations for detailed information on the race start procedure.

The race itself is held on Sunday afternoon. Thirty minutes prior to race time, the cars take to the track for any number of warm-up laps, after which the cars are assembled on the starting grid in the order they qualified. At the hour of the race, a green light signifies the beginning of the relatively slow formation lap during which all cars parade around the course doing a final tire warmup and system checks. The cars then return to their assigned grid spot for the standing race start. The starting light system, which consists of five pairs of lights mounted above the start/finish line, then lights up each pair at one second intervals. Once all five pairs are illuminated, after a random length of time (no more than a few seconds) the red lights are turned off by the race director, at which point the race starts. Races are 305 kilometres long (apart from the Monaco Grand Prix, which is 78 laps / 260.5 km), though occasionally some races are truncated due to special circumstances. A race can last for no longer than two hours.

Drivers usually make pitstops for fuel more than once during a race. The cars, on average, get around 2 kilometres per litre. Tire changes, after a year's absence, are once again allowed during pit stops. Timing pitstops with reference to other cars is crucial - if they are following another car but are unable to pass, drivers will pit early in the expectation that when they rejoin the race they will end up in a clear area of track where they will be able to drive as fast as they can go, and thus make up overall time and pass the other car "in the pits".

At the end of the race, the first-, second-, and third-placed drivers take their places on a podium, where they stand as the national anthem of the race winner's home country and that of his team is played. Dignitaries from the country hosting the race then present trophies to the drivers and a constructor's trophy to a representative from the winner's team, and the winning drivers spray each other and the fans with champagne. The three drivers then go to a media room for a press conference where they answer questions in English and their native languages.

Points system

Points are awarded to drivers and teams exclusively on where they finish in a race, with the winner receiving 10 points, the second place finisher 8 points, third 6, fourth 5, fifth 4 and sixth 3, seventh 2 and eighth 1. If a race has to be abandoned before 75% of the planned distance has been completed all points are halved. The winner of the annual championship is the driver (or team, for the Constructors' Championship) with the most points.

Historically, the races were scored on the basis of a six-place tally: i.e via an 8-6-4-3-2-1 scoring system, with the holder of the fastest race lap also receiving a bonus point. In 1961, the scoring was revised to give the winner nine points instead of eight, and the single point awarded for fastest lap was given for sixth place for the first time the previous year.

In 1991, the points system was again revised to give the victor 10 points, with all other scorers recording the same 6-4-3-2-1 result. This was thought to have been something of a knee-jerk reaction to the spate of drivers who had won the championship despite scoring fewer victories than their nearest challenger.

In 2003, the FIA again revised the scoring system to apportion points to the first eight classified finishers (a classified finisher must complete 90% of race distance) on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. The winner of the world championship is the driver who accumulates the most points throughout the course of the season.

At certain periods in F1's history, the world champion has been determined by virtue of the "best 7 scores" in each "half" of the world championship, meaning that drivers have been able to "discard" lower scores in either half of the season. This was done in order to equalise the footings of teams which may not have had the wherewithall to compete in all events. With the advent of the Concorde Agreements, this practice has been discontinued, though it did feature prominently in several world championships through the 1970s and 1980s.

The change in the awarding of world championship points has rendered the comparison of historical teams and drivers to current ones largely ineffective. For instance, Michael Schumacher is widely credited with being the most successful GP driver of all time. While his statistics are very impressive and easily outstrip those of his nearest competitor, it is worth noting that his points tally vs points available, and winning percentage of grands prix entered, do not significantly exceed those of Juan Manuel Fangio, whom he dethroned as "winningest" driver recently. As with most other sports, it is very difficult to compare stars of different eras owing to the changes in the sport and regulations.

Worldwide appeal

Despite being the pinnacle of racing in terms of budgets, and driver skill, Formula One racing has often been accused of being unexciting when compared to less-prestigious categories. The differences in driver ability are usually dwarfed when compared to the relative speed of the different makes of cars, and on-track overtaking is very rare due to the aerodynamics of trailing cars being adversely affected by the car in front (making overtaking only possible by very risky and thus rarely-taken chances, or a much faster car trailing a slower one).

The sport is lesser-known in the United States than either their mostly-domestic open-wheeler racing series (at the moment there are two major ones, IRL and Champ Car World Series) or NASCAR, but in terms of budgets and global TV audiences F1 is bigger than all three.

Estimates for Ferrari's racing budget in 1999 were around 240 million USD, and even tailender Minardi reportedly spent 50 million. Estimates of TV audiences are around 300 million per race.

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