Formula racing, or open-wheel racing, is one of the most exciting forms of motorsport. Open-wheel racing is a complex sport with so many different classes that it can be hard for people to tell the difference. The cars look very similar across the classes and the races don’t differ too much.
It may not be obvious at first, but there are significant differences among the different levels of formula racing. Most obvious differences can be seen in the performance of each class. Formula 1 is the fastest and most expensive, while Formula 4 has the slowest, and least expensive.
We’ll cover everything you need to know about formula racing. We will give you an overview of the cars and races as well as any other information you may be interested in. Let’s get started!
Formula 1 is the highest level of formula racing. Formula 1 cars are far more powerful than other levels of formula racing and they are also the fastest.
Formula 1 is also considered the oldest form of formula racing. It hosted the first Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1946, or 1947 depending on whether you consider it to be the first true Grand Prix. The 1950 world championship was also established.
Formula One Car Lukas Raich, CC BY-SA 4.0via Wikimedia Commons
Over the years Formula 1 cars have used many engines, including inline 4s and V10s. Formula 1 cars now use a single-turbo V6 of 1.6 liters. But don’t let its size fool you. These engines can produce around 1,000 horsepower depending on how they are tuned.
Cars are made mostly from carbon fiber and lightweight but strong materials. Every car must meet a minimum dry mass requirement. This requirement is subject to change frequently. However, as of the 2021 Formula 1 season the minimum weight of any F1 car cannot be lower than 790 kg (which includes the weight the driver).
Each Formula 1 team designs its own chassis. The regulations must be followed, but teams are free to design whatever they like.
Although teams can’t create their engines, they can purchase an engine from any of the four suppliers. Formula 1 currently has four engine suppliers: Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Renault.
Formula 1 cars use hybrid powerplants to achieve greater performance and lower fuel consumption. Formula 1 cars of today are equipped with a small electric motor, which can provide an additional 160 horsepower when required.
Formula 1 cars also use a kinetic-energy recovery system, known by ERSK. This system can save kinetic energy during braking and provide it later to the wheels when more speed is required.
Modern Formula 1 cars also have a drag-reduction system (or DRS). It is essentially a panel that can be moved up or down on the rear wing to increase or decrease drag. The DRS can only be used by drivers on specific sections of each track.
Formula 1 is an international racing series. Races are held at various locations around the world. Each Formula 1 Grand Prix is held over the course of a weekend and includes three practice sessions, one qualifying and the race itself.
Friday is the start of the race weekend. There are two practice sessions on Friday. Saturday is the final practice session. The qualifying session is on Saturday. Sunday is the actual race.
Drivers compete for the fastest lap time during the qualifying session. This is crucial because drivers’ qualifying results directly affect where they will start on the grid. It is obvious that being in the first row of the grid is best, as it gives you a headstart.
Formula 2 is the second-highest tier in formula racing. Formula 2 is not as popular than Formula 1 and although it has existed for almost as long as Formula 1, its existence was somewhat limited. Formula 2 was retired and replaced multiple times by other race series over the years.
Formula 2 is currently in its current form. It was created to replace the GP2 Series that had been discontinued in 2012. The GP2 series was initially a distinct series from Formula 2, but was discontinued in 2012. The GP2 cars were basically the same chassis and had stronger engines than Formula 2.
Don’t be alarmed if all of this seems confusing. You need to understand that Formula 2 has seen a lot of changes over the years but has always been the penultimate level of racing before Formula 1.
Formula 2 teams do not have as much freedom than Formula 1, which allows each team to choose their own engine and design their chassis. Formula 2 teams must use the same engine and chassis.
Dallara has been the chassis designer for the Haas Formula 1 Team since 2007 and the chassis supplier for IndyCar Series since 2007. All Formula 2 cars use a 3.4-liter turbo V6 engine that produces about 620 horsepower.
Formula 2 cars lack some of the technology Formula 1 cars have. Formula 2 cars also lack the hybrid and ERSK technology that Formula 1 cars use to make them as fast as possible. Formula 2 cars have DRS since 2015.
Formula 2 cars may weigh less than Formula 1, but they are usually 10 seconds slower on any given track than Formula 1 vehicles.
Formula 2 races are also very different than Formula 1. Formula 2 races take place over the course a weekend. But the schedule is very different.
Instead of two practice sessions there will only be one on Friday and then a qualifying. Although the racing begins on Saturday, the full race event will not be held until Sunday. Instead, there are two sprint races.
It is quite unusual how the sprint race starting grid is set up. The starting grid is determined based on the positions of drivers during qualifying. However, the order of the top 10 drivers in each race is reversed. If a driver finishes 10th in qualifying, they will start on pole for the first race.
For the actual race of Saturday (the feature), the starting grid will be determined by the drivers’ qualifying positions.
Formula 3 is one level below Formula 2. You might be wondering why there are so many tiers to formula racing. Most of them serve as “feeder Series” for Formula 1. These tiers provide drivers with the necessary skills and experience to be successful in Formula 1. However, they are only a fraction the price of Formula 1.
Formula 2 or Formula 3 is essentially just training to get into Formula 1.
Formula 3 cars look almost identical to Formula 2 cars. However, they do differ slightly in how they appear. Dallara also builds the Formula 3 chassis. Formula 3 cars also use the 3.4-liter V6 engine found in Formula 2.
Formula 3 cars are powered by a naturally aspirated engine that does not require turbocharging. Formula 3 cars are capable of producing between 380 to 400 horsepower. Formula 3 cars are equipped since 2017 with DRS, but they don’t use any hybrid technology.
Formula 3 cars weigh less than Formula 1 or Formula 2, with a minimum weight of 670 kg (including the driver) and fluids.
Formula 3 race weekends are very similar to Formula 2 races. Friday begins with a practice session followed by a qualifying session. Saturday features two sprint races and Sunday hosts the feature race.
Formula 2 and Formula 3 are only slightly different. Formula 3 races use the top 12 drivers to determine the order of their starting grid.
It is the exact same for all other races. For the first sprint race, the order of the top 12 qualifying drivers will be reversed. In the feature race, the original standings for qualification are used to determine which driver gets what position on the grid.
Formula 4 is the newest level of formula racing, and was the first Formula 4 race to be held in 2014. Formula 4 was designed to bridge the gap between Formula 3 kart racing (and Formula E) and Formula 3. It is also the most affordable type of formula racing.
Formula 4 does not have a global championship, unlike other types of formula racing. Each country hosts its own championships. But, every championship must follow the same rules.
Although Formula 4 cars may look very similar to Formula 2 or Formula 3, they are actually very different. One, Formula 4 drivers don’t have to use the same engine and chassis as everyone else. They can choose from four different chassis and six engines.
Formula 4 has six engine suppliers and four chassis suppliers. For Formula 4, teams can purchase a chassis from Tatuus or Dome, Ligier or Mygale and engines from Abarth, Ford or Geely, Honda or Renault.
Formula 4 cars are limited to 4-cylinder engines that produce a maximum power output of 160 horsepower. However, anything is possible. There is no limit to the engine’s displacement (although current Formula 4 engines range from 1.4 to 2 Liters), and they can either be turbocharged, naturally aspirated, or turbocharged.
Formula 4 championships are held in different countries so there can be differences in the format of race weekends. The format of the Formula 4 championships is fairly standard. Practice sessions are held on Fridays, while qualifying sessions take place either late on Friday night or early Saturday morning.
It is quite common to have three races on a Formula 4 race weekend. The length of all three races is the same as in Formula 2/3.
Formula E is the last but not least. It’s a new series of racing, and its inaugural championship race was held in 2014. Formula E is fully electric, as the name suggests.
Formula E Car Kevinbeets1995, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia.
Formula E cars are the most unique formula cars. Their design is more IndyCar-like than Formula Racers. Dallara was the only chassis builder for Formula E between 2014 and 2021.
Formula E’s first season saw all teams using the same electric motor. Since the second season, each team has been able to choose from nine motor suppliers. All motors must be equal in power, and all teams need to use the exact same type of battery.
Formula E will have a power limit of 400 horsepower for races and 470 for qualifying. It will be the most powerful Formula E car yet.
Formula E race weekends are much more similar to Formula 1 than other formula races. Each weekend’s race weekend comprises two practice sessions and a qualifying session. The race itself is one.
Formula E is shorter than Formula 1. Formula 1 races can last between 2 and 3 hours, while Formula E races take only 45 minutes. Other than that, it is the same race format.