Formula 1 rules
Like all sports, Formula 1 adheres to a strict set of rules which define everything from the limits of the tracks during races to the engineering that can go into a car.
This rule set has been built on the back of numerous technical and safety improvements in the sport over decades, and the regulations can prove complex and lengthy for newcomers and long term followers of the sport alike.
Here, RacingNews365 brings a complete overview of the Formula 1 rules as they stand for the forthcoming 2021 season ahead of forthcoming changes and a brand new car for 2022.
F1 races across an international calendar of races, with 21 Grand Prix in total provisionally in place for the 2021 season which will run from March to December.
A total of ten teams have entered for the coming year, each of which will field two drivers meaning that a total of 20 will compete for the drivers’ championship.
Over the course of a race 300 kilometres plus one extra lap must be completed for it to be considered official, with exceptions made for special circumstances such as adverse weather conditions or serious accidents which require management of the track.
A race which is over 75 percent complete at the time of such an incident can be considered complete by race management with all drivers receiving full points equivalent to their position when the race was halted. Such decisions are in the hands of FIA race management as well as officials representing the particular track and race stewards.
The F1 Championships
Formula 1 is a competition which contains two distinctive and related championships within- the drivers’ trophy, for the individual driver who accumulates the most points over a season, and the constructors’ title for the manufacturer or team whose drivers cumulatively score the most in a year.
Drivers only score points if they finish in the top ten of any race, with a progressive scoring system from first to tenth. From the 2020 season, the driver who clocks the fastest lap of the race also nets one additional bonus point, but only if they also finish within the top ten.
The breakdown of points is shown below:
Points by Position in F1 Races
|Fastest Lap (while in Top 10)||1 bonus point|
What is the format of an F1 weekend?
Each Grand Prix takes place over a full three day weekend, with the sessions split between two free practice runs on the Friday, a final practice on Saturday morning ahead of three part qualifying in the afternoon to determine the starting grid and finally the race on Sunday.
The practice sessions on the Friday and Saturday morning of the Grand Prix weekends allow teams and drivers to get a feel for the track, their car and the conditions ahead of the qualifying sessions.
The first free practice session typically begins during day races at 11am on the Friday morning, with teams given one hour and 30 minutes and find their feet at the track, followed by a second session of the same length in the afternoon. During these sessions, teams can opt to run one of their test drivers to give them time in race conditions instead of one of the regular drivers. For the Saturday morning practice, the teams have one hour to get ready for the qualifying session later that afternoon.
The Saturday qualifying session is split between three separate knockout sections in which the slowest five drivers are steadily eliminated. The positions at the end of the final session determine the starting grid for the Sunday race.
Q1- All twenty drivers begin this session, during which they have eighteen minutes to complete as many laps as they can, with the slowest five drivers dropping out at the end of the time and their grid spots for Sunday locked in.
Q2- The remaining 15 drivers move into the second part of the qualifying battle, with just 15 minutes now on the clock to set the fastest lap possible and the slowest five drivers again being knocked out at the end of the session.
Q3- In this final 12 minute sprint, the remaining ten drivers shoot it out for the fastest time and pole in the points scoring positions.
Formula 1 races are typically held on a Sunday afternoon for those which take place in Europe, with some derivations from this for races on other continentes. Notably the races at Bahrain and Abu Dhabi begin the early evening while the Singapore city track has hosted night racing under floodlights with an 8.10pm local time start.
The race is held across the number of laps of the particular track equivalent to 300km plus one extra lap, with some exceptions for circuits such as Monaco where only 260km are raced due to the slow nature of the circuit.
A Grand Prix has a time limit of two hours, with the clock stopped during emergency situations such as when the track is unsafe due to weather conditions or crashes. From the 2021 season, the race must be completed within three hours of the start including stoppages, a revision down from four hours in previous years.
Pit Stops and Tyres
F1 tyres are supplied exclusively by Italian manufacturer Pirelli, which provides a range of five tyres with only three offered during a given Grand Prix weekend, in addition to an intermediate and wet tyres for damp conditions.
The dry tyre sets run from five grades of harder to softer rubber, which reflects the durability of that particular tyre compound. Harder tyres allow drivers to stay out on track for longer periods, but provide less grip and deliver slower lap times, while the soft tyres will provide more grip to the asphalt but wear out quickly.
The tyres are identifiable to viewers through their distinctive markings, with each compound given its own colour marking on the outer rim of the tyre:
Current F1 regulations require teams to use at least two different tyre compounds during a race, which forces teams to make a minimum of one pit stop during the race. The car must carry a uniform set of tyres at all times, with no allowances for mixed sets, for example softs on the front and hard tyres on the rear of the car.
Teams have been barred from refuelling cars during a race since the 2010 season, and so drivers start the race with a heavy car as they must carry sufficient fuel and manage it correctly to last the entirety of the Grand Prix.
To communicate different situations on track to drivers, officials use a flag system to warn of certain hazards on the circuit as well as to provide drivers with information about their car or others’.
Red = Race is halted
Yellow = Hazard on track, speed and overtaking restricted
Yellow/ Red Stripes = Oil or other liquid on track, caution
Green = Hazard cleared, resume racing
Blue = Indicates to a lapped car that they must let faster cars behind pass
White = Slow moving car ahead
Black = Driver disqualified, return to pits, Contains driver number.
White/ Black = Driver warning for unsportsmanlike behaviour, with number.
Chequered Flag= End of the race
SC= Safety Car deployed. A virtual safety car, where drivers must maintain a required gap to the car in front, are also used for more minor incidents.
Failure to heed the above flags, and a number of other infringements, can result in drivers being handed a penalty by race officials. These differ depending on the severity of the infraction.
Some of the more well-known penalties are the drive through penalty, which forces drivers to pass through the pit lane at the speed limit, which usually sits at 80km/h, and the more severe stop-go penalty, which stops drivers in their own garages for 10 seconds during the drive through. In extreme cases, drivers can be disqualified from races and this decision is in the hands of the stewards and race officials.
F1 also has numerous technical rules which regulate how many versions of certain components teams can use during the season.
Cars are only allowed to use a maximum of three engines throughout the course of the year and are also limited in the number of hybrid components they can use. Gearboxes must be used for six races in a row before being replaced, with teams incurring a grid penalty if they opt to switch out their transmission before that point.
Teams are also given a limited chance to test their cars before the season begins. There are eight test days prior to the season launch, with the teams in previous years congregating at Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya but heading to Bahrain ahead of the 2021 season.
Testing for drivers is permitted outside of these narrow windows, but only in cars which are at least two years old.