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28th April 2023

A Formula 1 guide for beginners

If you are keen to get into F1 then this guide for beginners should provide you with all the essential information you need!
A Formula 1 guide for beginners
2010 Malaysian GP opening lap. Photo: Morio @ Wikimedia Commons

Alongside the FA Cup, the Women’s Champion’s League, and Rugby Union, the current Formula 1 season is as enthralling as ever. Now, I’m not going to spend this article discussing whether F1 should or shouldn’t be considered a sport because that’s a whole debate of its own, but if you’ve been intrigued about F1 for a while or just seen some Lewis Hamilton thirst edits on TikTok and want to know what the hype is about, this Formula 1 Guide for Beginners article should hopefully break down the basics.

From the outside, F1 seems very complicated with a multitude of terms, rules, physics, locations, and so on. But there’s also more to it than cars just racing around tracks! Coming from someone who struggled to understand the offside rule in football for several years as a child, I was continuously put off by the supposed complexity of F1. However, I’ve spent the past few months brushing up on it and asking my friends as many questions as I can, and trust me, it’s really not as hard to understand as I initially thought.

Here’s how it works: there are ten teams each with two drivers who race around tracks across the world. Points are available for drivers in the first ten positions ranging between 25 points for 1st place and one point for 10th place. Races take place on weekends and aren’t just limited to a single race; instead, there are practices, qualifying races (qualis), and the Grand Prix on Sundays.

Each Grand Prix race is around 90 minutes long. Whilst it is the main event, the qualifying races determine each driver’s position in the grid for the Grand Prix so are also important! Last but not least, there are also sprint races on select weekends which are shorter races on Saturdays, where drivers can earn more points.

We are currently approaching the 4th race of the season out of a total of 23 which is held in Baku, Azerbaijan (28-30 April) so don’t feel like you’ve missed out if you’re only just starting to watch. The first three were in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Australia – highlights for which are available on Formula 1’s YouTube channel if you want to catch up! This weekend’s race will be the first sprint race of the season with a sprint shootout too (new for 2023) which is a three-part session to set the grid for Saturday’s official sprint race. The qualifying race on Friday will still be used to determine the grid for the Grand Prix, meaning the sprint race does not affect the starting order for the Grand Prix. The Radio Times has produced a whole article on qualifying races and the new sprint format which I would recommend reading for more information.

The Baku track is what’s called a ‘street circuit’ which is pretty self-explanatory but is essentially where racers drive through the roads of the host city rather than a purpose-built track. This means there are usually loads of corners for the drivers to navigate but also amazing views for us and the fans at the event.


Fans on the streets of Baku watching the opening ceremony of the 2019 Formula-1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Photo: The Presidential Press and Information Office of Azerbaijan @Wikimedia Commons

Now, onto the part that has always baffled me the most: the teams. You’ve probably heard of the major teams like Red Bull Racing, Aston Martin, Mercedes, and Ferrari but there’s also McLaren, Alpine, Haas F1 Team, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, and Williams.

As mentioned, there are two drivers for each team so you may be wondering how does this affect scoring and standings? Essentially, there is the Drivers’ Championship and the Constructors’ Championship. The former is the ranking of all 20 drivers regardless of teams, whilst the latter is the standing of the teams themselves. So whilst we viewers will most likely have a favourite team, you may also have a favourite racer in that team that you would support and want to win the Drivers’ Championship. This means that there is competition within the teams themselves as each driver wants to win for himself as well as for his team.

But what team should you support? I would definitely recommend backing a team when you start watching Formula 1 because that’s how you become invested in a sport! When I was younger, I was initially inclined to support Aston Martin because that’s the make of James Bond’s car, but that’s not really the best method to go off. You could choose a midfield team like Aston Martin, McLaren or Alpine, or a team with a legacy in the sport like Ferrari, Mercedes or Williams. Most of my friends who watch F1 have supported the same teams for years so they didn’t necessarily choose a team per se, but a guide like this may help you make a decision.


Lewis Hamilton at the Malaysian Grand Prix. He has won a joint record 7 championships. Photo: Morio @ Wikimedia Commons

As you may have guessed, there’s a lot more to F1 than this. There are types of tyres to consider, drag reduction systems, press interviews, the cost teams can spend, pit stops, and much more, but I’ve found that these things can be picked up as you watch the races. Trust me, it’s much better to dive in and learn as you go rather than try studying up beforehand as most things make more sense the more races you’ve watched. I would recommend reading complete beginner guides (see The Radio Times’ guide here and the Chronicle’s guide here) before watching your first race or at least having one to hand as you watch just so you’re not totally lost. The F1 website has glossaries of general terms as well as slang which are definitely helpful if you’re watching solo.

Other resources I would recommend are the F1R the Girls podcast which breaks down headlines, previews, and recaps each Grand Prix of the season. I also love @i.renesu’s TikTok page which is very beginner friendly.

If you’re lucky enough to have a Netflix subscription then the documentary series Drive to Survive is very popular amongst fans as it covers the lives of the racers and team members. It helps you gain an understanding of a huge part of the F1 fan culture.

Finally, my biggest advice would be to find a friend to message or watch F1 with if you can because you’ll probably still have questions as you watch, but also it makes it more entertaining to chat and gossip about the races too!

Watching the races themselves isn’t the easiest or cheapest rather, as the full races are only available on Sky Sports or with a Now TV sports pass. That obviously isn’t the most accessible so for short rundowns (15-20 minutes) you can watch the highlights on the F1 YouTube channel, or Channel 4 does longer recaps of the qualifying and Grand Prix races, but they’re only available for a limited amount of time (about a week) so they’re best watched on the race weekends themselves.

My main point to take away from this article would be that it really isn’t as confusing or overwhelming as it can initially seem. It’s a really exciting, developing sport with an entertaining fan culture so it’s definitely worth the watch. Hopefully, this guide will make things less confusing for you and you can enjoy the rest of the season.

Imogen Mingos

Imogen Mingos

Head Fashion & Beauty Editor 2023-24 | Awarded Best Newcomer (The Mancunion) at MMG Awards 2023 | Highly Commended for Section Editor of the Year at MMG Awards 2024

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