The non-race-fan's Primer to F1



Formula One is a simple sport. Twenty drivers race around a track for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.

Formula 1 primer time! TL;DR: Just give it a watch! Motor Racing is simple at the core and F1 is vastly entertaining.

League structure

  • 21 races this season, but the number can vary a little bit season to season. March - December, about every two weeks, with a break in August.
  • 10 teams compete with two cars each.
  • There are two championships: Driver’s and Constructor’s. (aka the team)
  • Points are rewarded each race for finishing position. 25,18,15 for the top 3 and then down to 1 point for 10th.
  • This year, you can also get a point for the fastest lap if you are in that top 10.
  • Points are totaled at the end of the year, and that decides the winner!

The Teams and Drivers:

  • Mercedes is currently dominant. Won the last 5 Constructor’s championships thanks to the switch to the “Turbo-Hybrid Era” (more later). Lewis Hamilton has won the Driver’s Championship 4 of those years, excluding 2016. He also won in 2008.
  • Ferrari are the most successful team, and also offer us hope for a real title race this year; they have two strong drivers in Vettel (4 time champion) and Leclerc (extremely good young driver)
  • Red Bull could offer a challenge as well; they’ve made a gamble on Honda engines.
  • Further teams include Renault (who have their own engine), Alfa Romeo, Haas (:us:), Toro Rossi (Red Bull’s Italian B-Team), Racing Point, McLaren, and Williams. Here is a a great guide to telling them all apart and what engines they are running.
  • Lots of young rookies this year, which should be fun! It’s the youngest field since the 1950s.
  • Robert Kubica (:poland:) returns to F1 after many years off due to an injury in Rally racing that severed part of his arm.

Things to notice when you watch:

  • Turbo-Hybrid Era and Power Units: These speedy race cars have gas engines (V6) and electric motors that work together for some extra horsepower. They use KERS to regain battery in braking, and then can use that battery for extra speed.
  • DRS: Drag Reduction System - To promote passing (“overtaking”) there are zones on the track where the back wing can be collapsed to reduce drag and speed the car up. Must only be used when behind an opponent by less than 1 second.
  • Pit Stops! Generally one or two a race. No refueling needed, but they must switch tires at some point and also use two different types of tire compounds, which are graded on softness vs longevity. Hard compounds last longer, but has less grip and thus less cornering speed.


  • Podcasts to listen to weekly:

    • @shiftf1podcast - Their latest two pods are also great primers, and they preview each race which has been invaluable.
    • @BackOfTheGridF1 - Another great podcast and they make fun predictions to watch for.
    • Beyond the Grid - Official Podcast from F1 with interviews with personalities in the sport.
  • Documentaries:

    • “Drive to Survive” on Netflix will give you a great review of last season for all of the teams not named Mercedes or Ferrari. Makes the whole field interesting.
    • “Grand Prix Driver” on Prime - a deep dive into McLaren a few years ago. Covers offseason F1.
  • “Senna” - One of the greatest drivers in F1 history tragically passed away on the track. It used to be an extremely deadly sport, and this is a sobering look at the history of safety in the sport and the career of Ayrton Senna.

  • Books:

    • “How To Build A Car” - Adrian Newey | Autobiography from Red Bull’s chief car designer, and great amount of history.
    • “Total Competition” - Ross Brawn and Adam Pass | Part leadership book, part strategy, part history.

How To Watch:

  • Sky Sports in the UK, ESPN in the US, or F1TV for Mobile or Web streaming (No Roku/AppleTV yet). They have two different subs; the expensive one allows for live streaming, the cheaper one lets you watch the race a few days later.

  • The Race Weekend is split into three days:

    • Free Practice on Friday
    • Qualifying on Saturday
    • Race on Sunday
  • Remember that these races are global, so check your time zone. Australia this weekend, so the race will be on Saturday night in the US.

  • There’s also IndyCar (US league) which is much easier to catch for Americans, and I believe they have full replays on YouTube so that may be a good way to start as well.

Lights out, and away we go!

Formula 1 a fascinating combination of technical challenge, analytics, and human skill, emotion & drama. (Plus there’s only 21 races to watch, instead of 82/162 games a year plus playoffs, so that’s refreshing.)

For analytics folks, definitely check out this site for great articles and stats:
And if you want raw data to work with: - CSV, MySQL, and other formats.