Deadspin published an essay yesterday claiming to explain How Formula One Actually Works: A Guide For Confused Americans. It did not, and it wasn’t, although it did explain how Formula One isn’t really a sport, and the guy who runs it is an actual comic book villain. Why The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Is This Year’s Must-Watch Formula One Race does a better job, although it assumes you know what Formula One is in the first place.
I’m not from a NASCAR family, I don’t really care about baseball or basketball, and my team is the Eagles, but I won’t fight you if you trash talk ’em (although inside my head might be a different story). So I was pretty surprised to discover that after a few years in the UK, I do enjoy Formula One.
Formula One is all about the strategy. A lot of it’s not even on the track, although there’s plenty of good driving to watch. The teams have to build their own cars’ chassis (each team must have two cars in each race) and comply with a very specific set of rules when they do so, which is hugely expensive (hundreds of millions of dollars, not even counting the fifty million to register your team). On the track, a lot of it is about deciding which tires to change when (you only get a certain number to use over the course of the season, and are penalized for going over).
Oh, and there’s also a fair amount of racing.
But I will admit that Formula One is ridiculous. Just to give you an example, it’s the last race of the season and the stakes are super high: we know that one of two drivers is going to win the Drivers Championship, and they’re both from the same team. Each race gets a driver points as long as they place in the top ten (with more points depending on how high they finish), but for this final race the powers that be decided to award double points (there’s a lot of money tied up in this), so it could go either way.
If you want to know more, Discovery Channel has a good documentary about F1:
Or you could just watch the race on Sunday.