Formula One (also Formula 1 or F1) is the highest class of single-seat auto racing that is sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The FIA Formula One World Championship has been the premier form of racing since the inaugural season in 1950, although other Formula One races were regularly held until 1983. The “formula”, designated in the name, refers to a set of rules, to which all participants’ cars must conform. The F1 season consists of a series of races, known as Grands Prix (from French, originally meaning great prizes), held throughout the world on purpose-built F1 circuits and public roads.
The results of each race are evaluated using a points system to determine two annual World Championships, one for drivers, one for constructors. The racing drivers are required to be holders of valid Super Licences, the highest class of racing licence issued by the FIA. The races are required to be held on tracks graded 1 (formerly A), the highest grade a track can receive by the FIA. Most events are held in rural locations on purpose-built tracks, but there are several events in city centres throughout the world, with theMonaco Grand Prix being the most obvious and famous example.
Formula One cars are the fastest road course racing cars in the world, owing to very high cornering speeds achieved through the generation of large amounts of aerodynamic downforce. Formula One cars race at speeds of up to 360 km/h (220 mph) with engines currently limited in performance to a maximum of 15,000 RPM. The cars are capable of lateral acceleration in excess of five g in corners. The performance of the cars is very dependent on electronics – although traction control and other driving aids have been banned since 2008 – and on aerodynamics, suspension and tyres. The formula has radically evolved and changed through the history of the sport.
While Europe is the sport’s traditional base, and hosts about half of each year’s races, the sport’s scope has expanded significantly and an increasing number of Grands Prix are held on other continents. F1 had a total global television audience of 425 million people during the course of the 2014 season. Grand Prix racing began in 1906 and became the most popular type internationally in the second half of the twentieth century. The Formula One Group is the legal holder of the commercial rights.
With the cost of designing and building mid-tier cars being of the order of $120 million, Formula One’s economic effect and creation of jobs is significant, and its financial and political battles are widely reported. Its high profile and popularity have created a major merchandising environment, which has resulted in great investments from sponsors and budgets in the hundreds of millions for the constructors. Since 2000 the sport’s spiraling expenditures and the distribution of prize money which favors established top teams have forced complaints from smaller teams and led several teams to bankruptcy.