As the name suggests, Formula One refers to a set of formulae or, to be more specific, sporting and technical rules and regulations in compliance with which cars race in a championship approved by the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile), the apex body of world motorsport.

Though other branches of motorsport — such as the NASCAR and IndyCar, which are quite popular in the United States, and the 24-hour LeMans, the oldest endurance racing event — may lay claim to the top spot in the auto racing hierarchy, for its sheer glamour, opulence and the technical finesse that the participating teams bring to the championship, F1 is unmatched.

The fact that the F1 championship last year registered a total global television audience of nearly 527 million people speaks for the popularity of the sport in which man and machine make a perfect match.

The man

A walking patchwork of logos, the F1 driver is like a modern-day gladiator entering a joust. He has to fight battles on many fronts: against his opponents, against nature and against himself.

For all the glamour associated with his job, the task of a F1 driver is unenviable.

Enduring very high G-forces and temperatures in the cockpit that rise to over 50 degrees Celsius is one of the greatest challenges — apart from winning races — that a F1 driver faces.

A driver, reportedly, loses nearly three to four litres of body fluids and nearly five kilos of body-weight after a Grand Prix race. Dehydration is a big threat too, so cockpits have the facility to carry drinking water which the driver sips out of a tube.

The machine

The F1 car is a low-slung, open cockpit and open wheel monster that relies heavily on aerodynamics for speed and performance.

Made of carbon fibre and other such ultra-light components, it weighs about 650 kg, including its ballast and fuel load. The car's 2.4-litre V8 power plant that cranks up a maximum of 18,000 rpm is said to unleash in excess of 900 horses. It is capable of touching speeds of over 310 kph.

Weighing only 1.3kg, the steering wheel is one of the lightest components of a F1 car. With its baffling array of buttons and knobs, it is the nerve centre of the vehicle. It is a driver's guide too — the mini screen at the top of the steering flashes crucial information such as lap speed and the right gear shifts. It also posts warnings of hazards ahead in the event of an accident.

The Grand Prix weekend

The qualifiers are run over three rounds. The top 16 drivers from the first round (20 minutes) move into the next, while the last eight fill up 17-24 places on the starting grid. At the end of the second round (15 minutes), the last six drivers drop out to fill up 11-16 places on the grid.

In the final round (10 minutes), the remaining 10 drivers zip off on a flying lap to decide the pole position.

To obviate the slower cars from choking up the track during a race, the FIA introduced the 107% rule this year whereby drivers who clock more than 107 per cent of the fastest time set in the first qualifier will not be allowed to race.

The Championship

The F1 championship consists of a series of Grands Prix and the 2011 season is the longest in history with 19 races.

Points in the order of 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 are allotted to the first 10 drivers in a Grand Prix. The one who accumulates the maximum points at the end of the season is adjudged the world champion.

Penalties

‘Drive through' and ‘stop go' penalties are the most common punishments meted out to drivers committing infringements such as false starts, causing accidents that could have been avoided, jamming a fellow driver and running him off the track etc.

In the case of the ‘drive through', the driver in question must enter the pits, drive through the pit lane at the speed specified — which is 60 kph — and then join the race.

As for the ‘stop go' penalty, the erring driver has to enter the pits, halt for 10 seconds, then drive through the pit lane at 60 kph and join the race.

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