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Article  •  7 March 2024

 

How well do you know Formula 1?

Author and motorsport journalist Andrew van Leeuwen shares some surprising facts (and fictions) about the sport.

Formula 1 is a unique sport in which drivers risk their lives in the planet's fastest-racing cars which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and race.

One of the most exciting names in F1 right now is Australian Oscar Piastri, who burst onto the scene with one of the most successful rookie seasons in modern memory last year.

That breakthrough season is the subject of my new book, Oscar Piastri: The Rookie, which is out now.

To celebrate both the book's release and the start of the 2024 F1 season, I've sifted through some common misconceptions and weird and wonderful F1 facts. 

No rookie has ever won the world championship

FACT

Apart from the first-ever F1 world championship season in 1950, which doesn't really count – as all drivers were technically rookies – a first-timer has never won the title.

A couple of drivers have come close, though. Back in 1996, Canadian Jacques Villeneuve joined the all-conquering Williams outfit, having cut his teeth in US open-wheel racing. 

He hit the ground running, taking pole (first place) for his debut race at the Australian Grand Prix and winning the European Grand Prix in his fourth race in an F1 car. Villeneuve went on to finish second in the standings that year behind teammate Damon Hill before winning the world championship the following year.

Even more sensational was how Lewis Hamilton burst onto the scene in 2007. While Villeneuve had runs on the board as a professional racer in the States, Hamilton was a rookie in every sense of the word when he joined McLaren. But he quickly took it to his two-time world champion teammate Fernando Alonso, and the pair ended up in a bitter feud as they battled for the title. That was good news for Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen, who took full advantage of the intra-McLaren war to nab the title, and Hamilton settled for second.

Formula 1 cars don't have a clutch

FICTION

Formula 1 cars do in fact have a clutch – although its operation is very different than what you would expect from an ordinary manual road car.

For starters, the clutch is generally finger-operated, with either a paddle (or paddles) below the gear-shift paddles on the back of the steering wheel. The positioning and sensitivity of the panels are customised to the driver. 

And as the gearboxes in Formula 1 cars are semi-automatic, manual operation of the clutch is saved for the race start and pitstops, rather than being used for every up and down shift as it is in a road car.

Formula 1 teams hate paint and stickers

FACT

Weight is a critical factor in F1, so much so that engineers find paint and stickers too heavy.

Since the hybrid era kicked off in 2014, minimum weights have sky-rocketed in F1, with the cars needing to carry several different energy harvesting and storage systems along with the V6 turbo engine. 

Drivers are under constant pressure to stay as lean and light as possible, given minimum weights are measured with both car and driver combined. 'Luxuries' like paint have been a big focus in recent years, and there has been an increase in carbon-look cars on the F1 grid as teams desperately try to save weight.

Formula 1 cars don't have power steering

FICTION

It may seem a little luxurious for F1 drivers to use a power steering system, but modern cars are fitted with the feature. It helps drivers deal with the massive g-force loads while cornering and helps limit driver fatigue.

It's a rare luxury for the drivers, but one that is necessary for managing their health and well-being – along with the onboard drink system that keeps them hydrated.

No Australian has ever won the Australian Grand Prix

FACT

This is true of the world championship era of the Australian Grand Prix. 

Before 1985, the Australian Grand Prix was a non-championship race limited to categories such as Formula 5000 and Formula Brabham/Atlantic. During that time, plenty of Aussies triumphed in the race.

But since Australia gained world championship status, there hasn't been a home hero crossing the line first. Daniel Ricciardo did finish second in 2014 but was later disqualified for a fuel flow issue with his car.

The most famous result for an Aussie at the Australian Grand Prix is still Mark Webber and his sensational fifth place for the minnow Minardi squad at Albert Park in 2001. 

The Canadian Grand Prix circuit is built on an artificial island 

FACT

Since 1978, the Canadian Grand Prix has been held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a semi-permanent track built on Notre Dame Island in Montreal. It's an artificial island in the middle of the Saint Lawrence Seaway that was originally built using rocks excavated during the construction of Montreal's metro system.

Oscar Piastri: The Rookie delves into plenty of weird F1 facts – including this one.

The San Marino Grand Prix was held in San Marino

FICTION

Seems like an obvious one, right? But no, the San Marino Grand Prix was never actually held in San Marino.

The San Marino Grand Prix debuted on the F1 calendar in 1981 and was held at the Imola circuit until 2006. The thing is, Imola is in Italy, not San Marino.

The reason for the name is that Imola initially hosted the Italian Grand Prix in 1980 while the Monza circuit was undergoing an upgrade. And when Monza returned in 1981, and Imola stayed on the calendar, there couldn't be two Italian Grands Prix.

So the landlocked microstate of San Marino was used as a replacement name.

Both Imola and Monza are still on the F1 calendar, although the Imola race is now known as the 'Gran Premio Dell'Emilia-Romagna'. 

Michael Schumacher's big break in F1 came after another driver was jailed for assault

FACT

When a run-in with a London taxi driver led to Bertrand Gachot being locked up for assault, the door opened for a young German named Michael Schumacher to debut in F1.

It was a remarkable start to one of the most remarkable careers in F1 history.

Schumacher's debut race also led to a bitter contract dispute as he jumped ship from Jordan to Benetton – and the dispute directly led to the formation of the Contract Recognition Board, which decided Oscar Piastri's fate ahead of the 2023 season.

More on that in Oscar Piastri: The Rookie!

Oscar Piastri started racing in go-karts

FICTION

Most kids start their motor racing in go-karts – but not Oscar Piastri.

His first foray into motorised sport was actually racing remote control cars. Not playing them in the backyard but racing them at organised, highly competitive events.

From there, Piastri moved into karts and then took a very conventional path all the way to F1.

Oscar Piastri had never raced a car in Australia until 2023

FACT

The likes of Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo did at least a little bit of car racing on home soil before making the big move to Europe . . . but not Oscar Piastri.

The lad from Melbourne moved to Europe while he was still in karts and didn't start racing cars until he was based in the UK.

That means he had done plenty of karting in Australia but had never raced a car in his home country until he lined up on the grid of the Australian GP in 2023.

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