The Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix: the world’s fastest sport

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Photo courtesy of Joseph Bremer

In 2018, 103.4 million people tuned in to see the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots battle it out in the famous Super Bowl. What many Americans don’t realize is that every year an event just as popular occurs just south of Austin: The Formula 1 United States Grand Prix.

Gathering just over 96 million viewers, the U.S. Grand Prix is a spectacle all across the world. With such a large event occurring in the United States every year, it is surprising that most Americans have barely heard of the sport. When most Americans think of racing, they usually think of the huge ovals of Nascar or the Indianapolis 500, so for those of you who don’t know much about the sport, here’s a quick crash course.

Formula 1 has been the premier series for racing all around the world ever since its creation in 1950. Its tracks have been the testing ground for auto manufacturers like Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren for decades as it has traveled the world.

Every two weeks, 10 teams with two drivers each travel to a different country and race on a completely different track. Some of these tracks are specifically designed for racing, such as those in the United States or Abu Dhabi. Some tracks, however, are carved out of the streets of popular cities like the twists and turns of the famous Monte Carlo, or the night race through the lit up streets of Singapore. 

While racing, the drivers undergo speeds of up to 200 mph and undergo more G-force than a space shuttle launch multiple times every lap, for about 50 to 80 laps. Needless to say, these drivers are highly trained athletes who can undergo intense pressure for hours at a time. 

At the end of the race drivers who place in the top 10 score points. The team with the most points is crowned Constructors’ Champion, and the driver with the most points is crowned World Champion. It was this championship that was being decided at the United States Grand Prix, with the two Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton fighting it out on track. 

Every race weekend starts with practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning followed by a qualifying round on Saturday afternoon. In qualifying, drivers go out onto the track, each attempting to set the fastest lap. The driver who sets the fastest lap is rewarded with “pole position” which means they start at the front of the grid on race day, followed by the driver with the next fastest lap, and so on.

It was the Finnish Mercedes driver Bottas who achieved pole position, putting him in a good spot to win the race. He was followed by German Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel. Although championship contender Hamilton started fifth on the grid, he only needed to place eighth or better in the race to accumulate enough points to be unbeatable in the championship.

The race began with immediate problems for Vettel, the driver most likely to challenge Bottas for the race win. Vettel suffered monumental engine problems, with Bottas flying past him in turn one, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc. He retired from the race shortly afterwards due to problems coming from his suspension. 

A similar engine problem later haunted Leclerc as he dropped back after being passed by Hamilton hunting down his Mercedes teammate. After the first stint of pit stops, Bottas was still ahead. However, he was set to stop twice, whereas Hamilton was due to only stop once. While the strategy battle between the two Mercedes drivers took place, Verstappen  was catching up to them. After his second stop, Bottas caught up to Hamilton and passed him for the win, with Hamilton placing second, and Verstappen third.

Hamilton won his sixth world championship as he accumulated enough points to make himself unbeatable, even though Bottas won the race. Soon the stands emptied out onto the track for the podium celebration, and the race weekend was concluded. 

If you are interested in learning more about Formula 1, Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive series is a great introduction to newcomers. 

The 2019 Formula 1 season will conclude at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 1.

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