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What is Formula 1?

Formula One is a series of races held around the world sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). It is one of the most technologically advanced formats of racing. The series differs from other automobile races in the style of tracks raced and most importantly, the regulations of the cars that can race. A Formula One season consists of a series of races held at numerous international venues in which the drivers are awarded points based on pole position.

The cars that race Formula One are the fastest classification of road-racing in existence and utilize key technologies in achieving their speeds. The cars must be open wheeled and cabin, single seated, and a maximum of four wheels (though in the past, six wheels has been allowed). Additionally, the engines are 4 stroke, turbocharged 1.6L V6’s that have a max RPM of 15,000 [1]. These cars will average 1000 horsepower and be able to achieve top speeds of 360km/h.

Funding and Revenue

The F1 organizing body receives the bulk of their revenues from two sources. First, they receive over $580 million USD a year in television broadcasting rights contracts. And while undisclosed, they receive a significant amount in track fees which are paid by the venues to host an F1 race. In 2016, it was reported at $654 million[2].

Teams receive a base amount of funding from the F1 organization and can receive additional cash from previous season placements and other bonuses. Teams also generate revenue from sponsorships.

The base payment for teams is $35 million USD which is awarded to all teams. There is then the placement prize pool. For first place in 2019, Mercedes received $61 million USD. There is also the Long-Standing Team Bonus of $68 million. As of now, Ferrari is the only team to have qualified for this bonus. There is also the Constructor Championship bonus where constructors compete for a share of a prize pool ($143 million in 2019)[3].

Teams can also sign sponsorships for additional funding. Teams such as Ferrari have accepted sponsorships as large as $150 million per year to have company logos on the car or in the name of the team.

The Money Pit

Many F1 teams operate on razor thin margins. In 2019, the top 10 teams collectively lost $200 million with $137 million of that total from Mclaren alone [4]. Teams are forced to spend significant amounts on research and development in order to gain a marginal advantage over the other teams.

Spending in the sport is a necessary endeavor as the technology developed becomes an asset for future performance. The Mercedes team spent $285 million USD in 2014 [5], up 23% from the year before, and ended up winning the season. While they took a $150M loss that year, they have been a top contender since and have gone on to report $22M operational profit in 2019.

Formula 1 Automotive Innovations

Naturally, as time progresses, formula one cars have gotten faster thanks to innovations of clever engineers, taking advantage of grey areas in the FIA regulations and improvements to data gathering with car sensors. All this has resulted in some of the fastest cars on earth around certain tracks. For example, in 2020 Mercedes Lewis Hamilton set the lap record in Spa Francorchamps with a qualifying lap of 1:41.252s [1], in comparison, the LMP1 lap record sits at 1:57.394s [2]

Development of cars from inception to 2021

Cars initially began as a big boxed cars, eventually adding aerodynamic elements to create downforce and increase grip around corners. The improvements to cars have come in the forms of braking systems, engines, suspensions, control electronics, and advanced aerodynamics. With all these improvements, F1 cars have rapidly increased in cornering speeds, straightline speeds, and safety all cars having to meet minimum safety requirements as set by the FIA. [3]

Ferrari F1 Cars from 1960s to 2020s
Progression of F1 Cars over the years with Ferrari cars

Braking Systems

In its inception, F1 cars would have top speeds of up to 300km/h with 240hp engines [4], but by 2020, modern f1 cars have top speeds of 336km/h [5]. To safely brake at such high speeds, F1 cars needed to have brakes that operated at very high temperatures and could stop safely within a couple hundred meters of a braking zone.

Initial braking systems were drum brakes, that were activated with a pump of a brake pedal which then pushed braking fluid to a caliper that expanded inside the wheel itself. The friction caused by the caliper would slow the car down. [6]

gif of a drum brake being applied
Drum brakes in action

As the braking forces increased in F1 cars due to increasing car weights, engineers needed a better way to safely brake, and thus F1 teams introduced steel disc rotors that would be slowed down with calipers in the 1980s [7]. However, this was still not enough for F1 and soon enough teams were using carbon rotors instead of steel.

Carbon rotors have a much higher operating window and can withstand much higher temperatures than traditional steel disk rotors and are much lighter. In comparison, a single disc can be up to 15kg in a regular road car, compared to 1-1.2kg in an F1 car. [8]. Moreover, the operating window for road cars is up to 350 degrees Celcius compared to 1,000 degrees Celcius on an F1 car. The heat is so intense, that during night circuits the carbon disk rotors can be seen 'glowing' as cars exit braking zones.

glowing hot carbon rotors
Haas F1 Car in Bahrain Grand Prix with glowing brakes

Carbon brakes can now be found in high performance applications such as performance cars and airplanes. [9]

F1 Technologies in Other Industries

Banned F1 technologies being used in mainstream automotive

Active suspension

This technology modifies the car’s suspension settings automatically based on a real-time analysis of the road’s surface change. Despite being widely used in production cars now, this technology was banned from F1 because the FIA ruled that it makes F1 cars easier to drive and replaces the skills required by professional drivers resulting in unfair advantage [6].

Traction control

Another safety technology found in almost all modern production cars, which uses electronics to control the slipping of the wheels — especially on slippery surfaces such as sand or water — to help the car accelerate or when moving up or down hill. This technology was ultimately banned from F1 in 2008 when the FIA “ instituted a standardized electronic control unit to prevent teams from using illegal software” [6].

CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission by Williams)

CVT uses a belt instead of gears to provide smoother transmission during acceleration with a continuous range of gear ratios, which also improve fuel economy. It is used by many major car manufacturers such as Nissan, Subaro and Honda. Newer versions of it are also being predominantly used in hybrid and electric cars.

Williams first used this technology in 1993, which they believed would shave off split seconds from lap times. However, as the FIA attempted to reduce the use of high-tech tools in F1, they banned CVT in 1994 by specifying a number of fixed gear ratios [6].

F1 in Other Sports and Industries

KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System)

KERSS utilizes energy produced from braking and returns it into the machine’s powertrain. It was developed around 2006, and it was regulated in F1 in 2009, adding about 80 horsepower to an F1 car, which is roughly 10% of the entire power [7]. Use of KERS has now bridged into hybrid and electric production cars, as well as some public transportation vehicles such as buses. By improving energy efficiency and lowering emissions, KERS helps make cities greener [7].

Use of KERS to Power Urban Areas

On the Isle of Eigg – which isn’t connected to the UK’s power grid – the “flywheel” energy storage systems are used. By using KERS the brake energy from cranes, hoists, lifts, pumps and other machinery is harnessed into these energy storage units, which is then used to power houses and businesses [7].

F1 Technology in Other Sports

Advancements of F1 teams in aerodynamics and carbon fibre technology is actively used in other sports such as sailing, bobsleigh and cycling. For example, McLaren assisted with the bicycle company ‘Specialized’ in designing ‘Venge’, a lightweight carbon fibre racing bike. Venge was both lighter and stiffer than most other racing bikes, allowing it to win races immediately after its launch. Engineers from McLaren & Red Bull teams have also helped top sailing teams increase the hydrodynamics efficiency of their sailboats by applying knowledge of aerodynamics from F1 [7].

F1 and IoT (Internet of Things)

F1 is a very connected sport, so IoT has become an important aspect of it, just as much as engine development.

F1 IoT in Reliable High-Bandwidth Data Transfer

ATLAS, or the Advanced Telemetry Linked Acquisition System, is developed by McLaren Applied Technologies. ATLAS is used in processing real-time F1 telemetry data. The same technology has been extended to optimize emergency response times in hospitals; collecting telemetry data on patients helps provide medical care more efficiently [8].

F1 IoT in Transportation Systems

McLaren Applied Technologies’s F1-derived 5G technology has helped create “the 5G infrastructure for connected road, rail and underground transportation”[8]. For example, sensors and data tools that were first used in F1 are now being used in public transit systems such as the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit system [7].

F1 IoT in Air-Traffic Control

McLaren’s F1 data and modelling systems are also used for air-traffic control by running thousands of simulations every second to predict changes or delays in departure and arrival schedules, which helps streamline congestions on the runways, save time and reduce emissions [7].

F1 Tech in Health and Patient Care

McLaren’s data systems are used in hospitals for monitoring patients in intensive care, allowing doctors to monitor patients’ condition changes and trends more closely and comprehensively in real time. Additionally, F1 sensors have been “placed on surgeons elbows while they operate” to collect data for improving procedures and reducing errors [7].

F1 Pitstop Efficiency for Optimizing process

McLaren rushes to help in COVID Pandemic

When the UK government asked for the help of businesses in producing 14,000 ventilators, McLaren Group manufactured 100,000 individual components in 10 weeks, speeding the production process from 50 a week to 200 a day. This effort included contributions from McLaren Racing, home of McLaren’s F1 team [9]. ==== McLaren’s pitstop efficiency helps production of Sensodyne toothpaste==== McLaren helped GlaxoSmithKline, the company behind Sensodyne toothpaste, to double their output by improving their production processes. Through analyzing GSK’s production factors, McLaren helped them minimize the downtown when switching equipment for different products “whilst retaining and improving safety and quality”. These improvements decreased the changeover from 39 minutes to 15 minutes, increasing the factory’s output by 6.7 million extra tubes of toothpaste a year [9].

F1’s Contribution to Safety Technologies

Helmets and Body Suits[10]

Nomex fire-resistant Suits worn by F1 racers, provide protection from 600-800 ℃ for 11 seconds without warming above 41 ℃.

Helmets worn by F1 racers are made of carbon fiber, polyethylene and fire-resistant kevlar. These helmets typically weigh under 3 pounds; the goal is to make them as light as possible as any extra weight increases the g-forces drivers endure during acceleration, braking and cornering. The helmet is equipped with air intakes to keep the driver’s head cool. Also, the helmet’s visor is coated with special anti-fogging chemicals to prevent vision obstruction from sweat and breath humidity [10].

HANS (Head and Neck Support Device

HANS device is another safety tool F1 racers wear, which connects to the helmet and is worn under the seat belt/harness. The “collar absorbs and redistributes forces on the head that would otherwise hit the driver's skull and neck muscles”, and in doing so, it stabilizes the driver's head and prevents the vertebrae from stretching during an accident. While HANS was was first used in F1 in 2003, the FIA mandated its use in 2009 for all international-level races following extensive research which showed that HANS device could have prevented skull injuries and death in F1, NASCAR and Indie 500. This device is also mandated for many other major motorsport events such as The World Rally Championship and Australian V8 Supercar Series and even in many MonsterTruck events.

gif of a HANS device preventing stretching
HANS Device

Biometric Gloves[11]

Biometric gloves were introduced in F1 in 2018 and mandated from 2019. They contain 3mm thick biometric sensors, transmitting the driver's pulse and blood oxygen levels and other vital signs to race control, which allow for real-time monitoring of driver’s condition during the race and during and after a crash.

Benefits of Biometric Gloves

  • In Medical emergencies, biometric gloves will provide driver’s real-time vital signs such as heart rate and oxygen level, allowing the team to monitor if a driver is no longer able to continue in a race. Additionally, by real-time monitoring of the driver's condition in case of an accident, emergency responders will know how much time they have to prepare and what equipment they need to take for better immediate care.
  • Biometric technology can be used for advising on the quantity and type of fluid intake needed by real-time monitoring how much fluids a driver is losing, the team will be able to decide when a flail intake is necessary and prepare accordingly. Since the time during rest-stops is very limited, it’s important for the team to replenish the driver as efficiently as possible.
  • Biometric data can also be used to "improve training regimes", which can vary considerably for each driver, and even depending on the race event they’re preparing for. For example, the training for Grand Prix in Dubai’s hot and humid weather is different from the racing in England’s cooler and higher-altitude Silverstone circuit.

With all the benefits, it’s only natural that this technology soon will find its way to other areas such as aviation (for fighter pilots), other motor races, and many military cases.

Data and Analytics

Partnership with Amazon Web Services

Formula 1 cars are made up of 25,000+ components that, over the course of one season, are constantly redesigned and improved. On average, a design change is made every 20 minutes[12]. To maximize efficiencies of these complex designs, F1 teamed up with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which uses machine learning to improve data tracking and race strategies[13]. The partnership had two primary objectives: Improve race performance and enrich the fan experience.

Car Sensor Data [14]
Improving Race Performance

F1 is an extremely data driven sport where hundreths of a second can make or break a win. Every F1 car has 300 sensors which generate 1.1 million data points per second transmitted from the cars to the pits[13]. Metrics include fuel usage, engine speed, and steering angle, among others. Data is also collected throughout the track, including weather conditions and position on the track. All of these are used to make split second race decisions such as adapting suspension on the fly or deciding when to take a pit stop[13].

Race Strategy

Through the use of timing data, F1 is able to create visual insights that allow fans to analyze individual team and driver performance. This helps them better understand the many tactics and strategies employed by teams and how they will impact the overall race outcome[13].

Competitor Analysis

Data analysis allows F1 to compare the performance of given cars, teams and drivers across any relevant parameter and rank them visually to educate fans[13].

Car Performance
Trackside Data [15]

F1 looks closely at aerodynamics, tyre performance, power unit, vehicle dynamics, and vehicle optimisation to offer insights to help fans understand and interpret the overall car performance[13].

Enriching the Fan Experience

While 1.1 million data points generated per second is useful for complex decision making, it is not exactly viewer-friendly, and doesn’t generally resonate with fans. Involving fans in the racing experience as much as possible has been a huge challenge for F1 in the past. The complexities of the sports are rarely communicated to fans, as they are difficult to understand without being an expert on the many technicalities of the sport. While it is fun and entertaining to watch, the average person isn’t knowledgeable about the technicalities going on behind the scenes.

By translating some of these metrics in a way that is easy for the average fan to understand, F1 allows fans to better understand the many ways that drivers and racing teams work together, as well as understand some of the reasoning behind the quick decision-making needed to succeed[13].

Business Applications

Marketing and Sponsorships

As it is extremely expensive to run a Formula 1 team, teams rely on marketing and sponsorships to bring in funds throughout the year. Apart from the many engineering advantages of the competition, marketing is one of the biggest reasons to compete in Formula 1.

Participating Brands

The series has attracted a several well-known car manufacturers, including:

  • Mercedes
  • Ferrari
  • Renault

The series is also popular with other, non-car manufacturers, most notably energy drink manufacturer Red Bull.

Red Bull

While F1 has certainly attracted the attention of large car manufacturers, it has also appealed to other brands, most notable being energy drink manufactuer Red Bull. Red Bull Racing’s participation in F1 runs almost as long as the company itself: The company was founded in 1987 and two years later became involved as a sponsor in the sport [16].

Red Bull Timeline
  • 1989: Sponsored Austrian driver Gerhard Berger.
  • 1995-2004: Sponsored Sauber Motorsport AG team
  • 2004: Purchased “Jaguar Racing” team
    • In the years prior to being purchased by Red Bull, Jaguar Racing was performing poorly and decided to sell the team. Red Bull Racing purchased the team on the very last day of the sale, paying $1 as a symbolic gesture.
  • 2010-2013: Red Bull won the world championship 4 years in a row starting in 2010
  • Present: As of 2021, the company is exploring the possibility of building their own engine [17].

F1 participation is without a doubt a very long-term investment. Even well known teams such as Red Bull most certainly didn’t see success overnight.

Red Bull Skydiving Project
Red Bull Stratos, a high altitude skydiving project

Involvement in Extreme Sports

While the financial benefits of competing in F1 may not be apparent given the millions of dollars needed to participate, F1 is quite aligned with Red Bull’s marketing strategy and association with extreme sports. The company has sponsored numerous similar sporting events and has become quite known for its involvement in extreme sports.

One notable example includes Red Bull Stratos, a high altitude skydiving project completed on October 14, 2012. The project involved Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner and broke the world record for the highest altitude jump [18].

Netflix Series

In collaboration with Netflix, Formula 1 produced a documentary series, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, giving a behind-the-scenes look at the drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship [19].

  • Introduction to a New Audience

The series has led to increased popularity of the sport, especially with North American audiences. Viewers that otherwise wouldn’t have been interested in racing were suddenly intrigued with the behind-the-scenes drama portrayed in the series. Each episode has its own character, conflict, storylines that are quite interesting to watch, but are not necessarily related to who is winning the race. Watching the Netflix show is different from watching a race itself, and ultimately has more similarities with documentaries or even reality shows than an actual F1 race [19].

  • Controversy

Some people have questioned if the huge influx of new supposed F1 fans is necessarily a good thing. Some F1 personas don’t seem to think so. While Red Bull’s Christian Horner has said he “winced constantly” while watching the series, he recognised it was “very positive for F1”. [20]There have also been complaints from long-time fans about the show not doing F1 justice and ultimately attracting the wrong kind of people.

While the series might not be the most realistic view of the sport, it still brings in revenue, both directly through payment from Netflix but also indirectly from having a wider audience who will then engage with F1 in other ways.

Formula 1 Fantasy League

Fantasy racing acts as a way for fans to further engage with the sport. Through the F1 Fantasy League, fans create up to 3 teams with their chosen 5 drivers and 1 constructor, staying within the $100m budget. [21]


  1. https://thesportsrush.com/f1-news-f1-engines-how-powerful-are-formula-1-engines-what-are-its-components/
  2. https://www.chaseyoursport.com/Business-of-Sports/How-Formula-one-Business-Works/2263/
  3. https://www.watsonpost.com/how-does-formula-one-make-money/
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrissmith/2019/11/26/formula-one-team-values-ferrari-mercedes/?sh=4281c15c1ddb
  5. https://gtspirit.com/2015/02/08/mercedes-benz-spent-285-million-for-2014-f1-title/
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 https://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/10-craziest-technologies-banned-f1/
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.how-f1-technology-has-supercharged-the-world.6Gtk3hBxGyUGbNH0q8vDQK.html
  8. 8.0 8.1 https://www.mclaren.com/applied/blog/how-mclaren-applied-technologies-putting-5g-connectivity-ultimate-test/
  9. 9.0 9.1 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/formula-one-f1-innovation-ventilators-fridges/
  10. 10.0 10.1 https://www.wired.com/2014/07/formula-one-car-safety-comfort/
  11. https://www.redbull.com/gb-en/biometric-technology-in-motorsports
  12. https://medium.com/swlh/driving-growth-5-marketing-lessons-from-formula-1-racing-a33dbb545f0c
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 https://https://aws.amazon.com/f1/
  14. https://aws.amazon.com/f1/
  15. https://aws.amazon.com/f1/
  16. https://https://aws.amazon.com/f1/
  17. https://https://aws.amazon.com/f1/
  18. https://www.redbull.com/ca-en/projects/red-bull-stratos
  19. 19.0 19.1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/paultassi/2021/03/23/you-must-watch-netflixs-formula-1-drive-to-survive-even-if-you-hate-racing/?sh=6b6932922298
  20. https://www.autosport.com/f1/news/drive-to-survive-fans-in-defence-of-a-valuable-f1-asset/6499891/
  21. https://fantasy.formula1.com/
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