F1 Simplified – Guide to the Race Weekend

F1 simplified logo with guide to the race weekend underneath it.

Welcome to F1 simplified, the easy explanation of the complicated parts of F1 that everyone can understand. This week, we will look at the race weekend and how the system works. The structure of a Formula 1 weekend is hard to understand when you first tune in, but when simply explained, it is easy to get your head around. This article will help you to get started.

F1 race weekend round-up:

Thursday: Media Day

Friday: FP1 / FP2

Saturday: FP3 and Qualifying

Sunday: Race


For many, Thursday is not thought of as part of the race weekend, with no on-track action occurring on the day. Despite this, it must be looked at as the first day of the ‘event’ with media duties for drivers and teams. This gives us the first opportunity to see what the team and driver targets for the weekend will be. For teams such as Haas and Williams this may be reaching Q2 after upgrades. Red Bull and Mercedes however are more focussed on pole and a consistent performance throughout the weekend to take the win. This gives the media and fans a good opportunity to speak to and support the drivers on a more personal level.


Following a long and busy Thursday of media, Friday is the first day of on-track action for the weekend. Friday practice gives us insight into which car is best suited to the track. This indicates who to watch in qualifying and in the race over the weekend. The drivers are timed throughout both sessions and each ends with a full list of everyone’s best timed lap. In current times, these sessions are often topped by the same drivers (Red Bull and Mercedes). Despite this, it is still an interesting insight into the car and driver abilities in the mid-field. The drivers have two opportunities on Friday to test the cars and get fully acquainted with the track. Teams adjust the car to perfectly set them up for Qualifying. These adjustments largely occur in FP1, with FP2 used for longer runs which are useful for establishing the best tyre options.

In previous years, the drivers have had 90 minutes per session. This will change in 2021 though, with each Friday session being cut to just 60 minutes each. This was done to ensure that drivers were consistently on track. There have often been extended periods of limited activity in these longer sessions in previous years. These shorter sessions will also hopefully lead to more exciting racing over the weekend overall. This is because teams will have less time to attain data about different strategies and may therefore make riskier decisions. This is good for the fans and drivers, with more dramatic racing ahead of the major changes in the sport in 2022.


Saturday is quite often the most exciting day of an F1 weekend. We see FP3 and Qualifying for the race. FP3 is the final chance for drivers and teams to prepare their car and fix any problems that arise. This session is also an hour and is largely used for the same purposes, giving the drivers another chance to test the track. This is particularly useful if they had crashed out on the previous day, or there are noticeable weather changes.

Qualifying round-up:

Q1: 20 minutes – top 15 continue

Q2: 15 minutes – top 10 continue

Q3: 10 minutes – fight for pole position

Qualifying is the part of the weekend that most drivers say is their most nerve-racking. It is normally the most eventful and exciting to watch as an F1 fan. It is split into 3 parts, with the number of drivers taking part reducing every time. All 20 drivers take part in Q1, with 20 minutes to produce the best timed lap in their car. The 5 drivers with the slowest times (usually the backmarker teams) are out, forming the back of the grid.

After a 7 minute break, Q2 starts, with the same process occuring, this time with 15 minutes to do so. Again, 5 drivers who produce the slowest times are knocked out and form places 11-15 on the grid. Finally, after an 8 minute break, Q3 begins. The top 10 drivers fight for pole position in the race, again fighting for the best time on track. They have 10 minutes to complete this and it is thrilling to watch.


Sunday is of course race day. All 20 drivers start on the grid somewhat in the order they qualified in. Often drivers get penalties which mean they get a grid penalty and the order changes. This will be explained more in a future post. The race starts at different times depending on the country. In 2021 these times will be on the hour, rather than 10 past the hour as it was previously. At this point, with all drivers on the track, they complete a formation lap to warm up the tyres. Following this, the race begins.

The race:

Drivers fight at the start to improve their position, often leading to crashes and a lot of overtaking. Once the race is underway, strategy comes into play. The number of laps and length of the races is dependent on the circuit. Therefore the tyre choice and pit timings are up to the teams themselves. The top 10 drivers must start on the tyre they set their fastest time with, while the other 10 drivers have free choice. This leads to many different options and strategies being discussed and used for different teams. These strategies and tyres are very confusing and deserve full focus in a seperate post to understand.

Drivers are given penalties for disobeying track limits or poor driving during the race. These are served either during a pit stop, or added to the driver’s time at the finish. This may affect the order of the finishing drivers and occasionally, the podium. The three fastest drivers take part in the podium, getting trophies and spraying each other with champagne. In recent F1 races, it is very common to see at least one of three drivers on every podium. These are of course Verstappen, Bottas and Hamilton. Despite this, often a different driver finishes in the top 3. Supporting a variety of drivers to their first win or podium is part of what makes the sport so exciting.

That’s a start!

Explaining how the races work is so difficult that it will take longer than one post. Despite this, understanding the basic structure of the weekend is very important. While it is confusing to start with, it quickly becomes easy as you watch more. The commentators during the races are always clear and keep you updated constantly, explaining penalties and their impact. Nothing will beat watching and listening to this when it comes to F1.

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