An A-Z Guide for New F1 Fans (Pt. 1: A-M)

Hi, everyone!

First off, I want to apologise for the lack of posts published these last few months. I’ve just finished off Year 10 and with end-of-year exams, things have been incredibly hectic. However, with the summer holidays now, I can’t wait to get back to posting regularly again.

This post is one I’m thrilled to share with you all. I remember how lost I was when I first got into Formula 1, over a year ago now. If you’re feeling like I was then, well, I hope this helps!

Remember to follow @otpwblog on Instagram for more content like this!

A – Austin, Texas (the United States Grand Prix)

Okay, okay, “A” was a tricky one. But it’ll be a fun one. The US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, is one many drivers look forward to, especially a certain Mr Daniel Ricciardo. It’s held at the Circuit of the Americas track (commonly referred to as COTA). At the track’s inaugural race in 2012, 7-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton took the win. The track record is currently Charles Leclerc’s from the 2019 US Grand Prix, with a time of 1 minute, 36.169 seconds.

The track. Credit: F1

B – Backmarker

In a typical F1 race, you’ll hear the phrase “backmarker” used often. But what does it mean? A backmarker is a driver who has been going much slower than the faster cars which are now so far ahead they are about the lap the slow cars. Blue flags are waved as a signal to the slower car, asking them to briefly move off the racing line to make it easier for the leading cars to overtake. Most of the time this system works okay, but sometimes the slower car does not act in the way the faster car expects, or they meet at a part of the track where passing is difficult and they can hold up the leading cars. The stewards can issue penalties if a driver disregards the flags.

C – Clean Air (as opposed to dirty air)

Clean air is referring to when racers do not have cars near them on track. It is prefered by the driver, as they are free to race without any hindrance to the aerodynamics. McLaren’s website states that “Dirty air does. . . hamper the efficiency of the following car’s own aerodynamic surfaces, reducing downforce, making it slower in the turns, and limiting the effectiveness of the cooling system.” This makes it a common complaint by drivers on their radios because it takes away from their competitiveness in the race. The new 2022 cars were redesigned to try and reduce the amount of dirty air produced.


DRS (Drag Reduction System) is an extremely common term in an F1 race. It is a device designed to aid overtaking and is seen when a driver’s rear wing opens. It’s activated at a particular place on the track called a ‘detection zone’ but only when the car is less than a second behind the one in front.

The speed gained using DRS varies greatly from track to track depending on the length of the straight, the downforce on the cars and many other factors.

Drivers can find themselves in a ‘DRS train’, which is when multiple cars are within a second of each other. This means they all (except the lead car in the group) get DRS, which effectively cancels out its benefit for most of the cars in the ‘train’. 

More information on that in the video below!

E – Engine (I know it’s power unit now, but let me have this one!) Change/Replacement

Each driver can replace their power unit four times a season. A penalty (such as a grid drop) is the punishment if the total used goes over four. The severity of that penalty depends on a number of issues, namely the number of times that driver has gone over the four power unit swaps. According to the website Jalopnik, it can be anything from a five-place grid drop to a back-of-race start. The article explains why it varies so drastically;

“. . . according to the rules, the first time an additional element of the power unit is fitted to a car, the driver incurs a 10-place grid drop. The next time “an additional element of the same type is used”, the driver will drop five places. That’s why Hamilton’s penalty was a 10-place drop in Turkey and just five places in Brazil.”

The McLaren Racing website states; “In modern Formula 1 car design, the engine acts as a stressed component, rigidly connected to the back of the monocoque to form the spine of the car, with the rear suspension and rear wing hung from it. With the power unit comprising six separate major elements, the engine is now frequently referred to by the abbreviation ICE (Internal Combustion Engine).”

F – Formation Lap

A formation lap takes place at the beginning of every race. It gives the drivers an opportunity to warm their tyres up, crucial to their ability to perform the quickest getaway at the start. You’ll often see the drivers in an almost snake-like movement, swerving to create friction which generates heat. Another reason formation laps are essential is for safety reasons. It allows the FIA to make sure the race can go on and helps the teams make sure the drivers’ cars are fit to race.

G – Grid Penalty

Many different reasons for grid penalties exist, one of which includes the aforementioned “power unit swap” grid penalty. Grid penalties could also be enacted when two drivers have a particularly dangerous incident. The driver(s) at fault could be met with a grid place penalty for the next race.

H – Harvesting

The red light on the back of the Formula 1 car in a dry race signals “harvesting”. Nope, not the gathering of crops but rather the Energy Recovery System (ERS) recovering energy generated under deceleration, that would otherwise be wasted. The lights are simply flashing as a heads up to the driver behind as it could cause the car to slow. This isn’t to be confused with the red lights on the rear end of the car in a wet race, which flashes due to a lack of visibility in the rain.

Formula 1 to use new rear wing rain lights in 2019 - F1 ...

I – Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)

Power units, which I covered earlier in this post are six different parts together, one of which is the Internal Combustion Engine, or ICE. This part of the power unit is most like the engine found in normal road cars. In F1 cars though, not only is the ICE a lot more powerful for its size, but F1Chronicle states that the ICE is structural “connecting the chassis to the gearbox”.

J – Jump Start

The term ‘jumpstart’, included in Formula 1’s own glossary, is when a driver leaves their grid position before the race officially starts (all the red lights out). Disciplinary actions are taken accordingly if this occurs.

K – Kerbs

Ever wondered what the typically stripey red-and-white lines are on a race track? Those are kerbs! Drivers go over kerbs because they are faster utilising them, as it makes the corner wider.

Kerbs come in several different forms; smooth, serrated, and sausage, to name a few.

In this post, I’m going to touch on sausage kerbs. This type of kerb is highly controversial as they have created many highly dangerous incidents in which drivers’ lives have been risked. An example includes Sophia Floersch’s horrific accident in Macau, resulting in a fractured spine.

Penalties can be issued by stewards if a racer surpasses the kerb by a great enough distance.

L – Lap Record

In Formula 1, each track has a “lap record” – the fastest time recorded in the series during a race lap. For example, earlier I mentioned that Charles Leclerc holds the lap record in Austin. Another is in Bahrain, where Pedro de la Rosa still has the lap record, even after 15+ years.

r/formula1 - Pedro de la Rosa celebrates proudly he keeps his lap record at Bahrain Circuit
Pedro de la Rosa with his lap record. It never gets old.

M – Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic (MGU-K)

The very same F1Chronicle article states that the MGU-K “harnesses kinetic energy when the car is braking”, hence the “k”. It charges the car’s battery so that the driver can deploy it at another point in the race. This can be done to aid in overtaking/defending against another driver.

A grid penalty is issued if a driver uses more than three MGU-K’s in a season. The MGU-K (part of the previously mentioned ERS) is both a motor and electric generator according to its name.

Thanks so much for reading this post! Some of the more technical aspects of the sport were difficult to write about but it ended up answering lots of my questions. I hope you guys learned something and that the beginners out there feel a bit more confident discussing these topics!

Stay tuned for my next post! 🙂