An Introduction to Formula One’s 70th Season


Another F1 season begins and Lewis Hamilton looks bound to lead Mercedes to yet another title. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Michael Hernandez, Contributing Writer

Formula One will start its 70th season next Sunday in Australia. This article will be an introduction and a more in depth description of the sport in preparation for the opening race. There are currently 10 teams with two drivers each, which means that there are 20 drivers in total. There are two different titles, the drivers’ and constructors’ (team) titles. The drivers’ championship is decided by which driver has the most points, and the constructors’ is determined by the total amount of points per team, which makes Formula One a team sport.

The 10 teams are Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault, Alpha Tauri, Racing Point, Haas and Williams. Before the race, there is qualifying to determine who starts where. Q1 has every driver, and the fastest 15 advance to Q2. In Q2, the fastest 10 advance, and if you advance to Q3, you must start the race on the exact same tires that you set your fastest Q2 lap on. This is a huge aspect for strategy. Every weekend, there are three different dry tires and two types for rain. The dry tires have different speeds and durability, so ensuring that you start on the right tire is essential for getting points or even winning the race. Then Q3 sets the grid for the top 10. In every race, you must use at least two different tire compounds, which makes strategy important. In a race, there may be yellow flags, which mean that something has occurred on the track, and the drivers must slow down when they see a yellow flag. There are also safety cars. A safety car is used if there is a big incident and will neutralize the race, forcing everyone to bunch up.This means that when there is a safety car, any strategy is thrown out of the window. A virtual safety car is also used if there is a big incident, but the main difference is that a virtual safety car makes everyone stay where they are. For example, if you are five seconds behind someone, you have to stay exactly five seconds behind. It makes every driver follow a certain lap time, but it keeps the drivers separated. The first 10 finishers of each race get points (25,18,15,12,10,8,6,4,2,1), and if they set the fastest lap and finish in the top ten, then they are awarded a bonus point. 

Mercedes are the reigning champion and have dominated both titles every year since 2014. Their driver pairing is Lewis Hamilton, who is a six time champion (2008, 2014, 2015, 2017-2019) and Valteri Bottas. They look like the frontrunners and are favorites to win for a consecutive year, with Hamilton winning his 7th championship.

Ferrari was last year’s runner up with four time champion Sebastian Vettel (2010-2013) and Charles Leclerc racing this year. In preseason testing, they underperformed, and it looks like it will be a year where they are not in the title fight. Red Bull Racing, who finished third, looks like Mercedes’ closest competitor with Max Verstappen and Alex Albon. Verstappen is their de facto leader and seems like the best chance to defeat Hamilton in the drivers’ championship. The three teams that I just mentioned are the top three teams, and they are usually miles ahead of the other teams, which we refer to as the midfield.

Last year, McLaren finished fourth and this year with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, it seems that they are ready to defend their “best of the rest” status against several teams. Renault, with drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon, looked quick in preseason testing, but without a clear number one driver, it may cause them to lose out on fourth place. One team that looks promising is Racing Point, whose car this year has similarities to last years Mercedes which dominated, so much so that everyone calls it the Pink Mercedes. Based on preseason testing, they could actually challenge the top three, which would be an absolute shock, and with Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll they might have a chance. Haas had a horrible last year, and with the same driver pairing as before (Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grojean), they will try to place higher and get back to normal. Alpha Tauri (formerly Toro Rosso) looks strong, and with Pierre Gasly and Daniel Kvyat, it looks like they are set to consistently gain points and make the midfield even tighter. For Alfa Romeo, with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovanizzi, they seem like a team that can compete in the midfield. As for Williams, last year was abysmal. They only scored one point. With newcomer Nicholas Latifi partnering with George Russell, their main goal is to hop on the back of the midfield and get at least more than one point, which seems possible due to their preseason testing. 

Of course, in preseason testing, times don’t mean everything, so take this with a pinch of salt. But I believe that in December, we will see Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton gain a seventh championship. I don’t want it to happen, but it seems likely. Red Bull will closely follow them but will fall short with Ferrari in third, followed by McLaren, Racing Point, Renault, Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams. I put McLaren in front of Racing Point because although Racing Point seems faster, the driver pairing of McLaren  will be more consistent and will barely beat Racing Point for fourth place. Of course, I might be wrong, but we will soon find out who is the team to beat next Sunday at the Australian Grand Prix for the season opener of Formula One’s 70th season.