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How much does an F1 car cost, and other F1 questions answered

Formula 1 is a complicated series that is founded on complex engineering, tough business negotiation and precise data. Yet F1 often struggles to convey this information to its audience

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, lead the field away for the start of the Sprint race

Especially for new fans, it can be hard to demystify F1 terms and to appreciate exactly what goes into taking part in a grand prix weekend.

In an attempt to rectify that, here's a compilation of the most frequently asked F1 questions along with their answers.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

How much does an F1 car cost?

The 2024 F1 cost cap is $135million which is the budget teams must stick to when running its car and that includes:  

  • All car parts (from the steering wheel to the wheel nuts)  
  • All the elements needed to run the car  
  • Most of the team personnel  
  • Garage equipment  
  • Spares
  • Transport costs  
  • Everything in between   

This shows that the $135million does not just go on building the car because many different things are included within the budget cap. Teams can be discreet about how much a built-up F1 car specifically costs, however parts like the gearbox are believed to be an estimated $400,000 while a set of wings (front and rear) may cost up to $200,000. The engine is an F1 car’s most expensive part and under the sporting regulations the standard fee between a manufacturer and customer team is €15,000,000 which comes to $16,416,173. 

But the cost cap has not always been around. It was introduced for the 2021 season as an attempt to level the playing field, because budgets used by top teams were approximately four times that of the backmarkers. 

So, pre-2021 F1 cars cost as much as teams were willing to spend on it. This caused a correlation between budget and performance, as those who spent more generally performed better. The cost cap has aimed to stop that and for 2021 it was $145million before being reduced by $5million each year for the following two seasons and it will stay at $135million for 2024 and 2025. 

What is DRS?

The Drag Reduction System (DRS) is a device on F1 cars aimed at helping drivers to overtake in races. It’s operated by a button on the steering wheel and, when pressed, a section of the rear wing opens to reduce drag and increase top speed.

DRS was introduced to F1 in 2011 because wheel-to-wheel racing was proving to be difficult in an aerodynamics-dominated era of the series. This is because an F1 car’s aerodynamics are designed to push a car into the track, which severely disrupts the airflow behind. Therefore, when a driver is following another car closely there is essentially less air pushing their car down which reduces downforce and makes them slower - something that is costly through corners. 

So, DRS was therefore added to aid top speed and to give the following car a speed boost compared to the defending car. However, it has been heavily criticised. DRS is often viewed as a ‘push-to-pass’ button that has made overtaking too easy and now that F1 is in a ground effect era, there is debate over how much the device is still needed.

How much does an F1 car weigh?

The minimum weight for an F1 car in 2024 is 798kg and at least 80kg of that is the driver, their helmet, race suit and shoes. This rule was added in 2019 to reduce the advantage shorter and lighter drivers had, and to allow taller drivers to have a healthier weight.

For drivers who weigh less than 80kg including their equipment, the difference is corrected by ballast which is placed in the cockpit so that teams cannot be tactical with it and try to improve car balance. There is hope that F1 cars will eventually become lighter, however plans to do that by 2kg for 2023 were dropped to factor in heavier tyres and new mandated electronic items.

The minimum weight of an F1 car is measured after a race when the car has used its fuel. An F1 car’s total fuel capacity is 110kg, which means before lights out they could weigh up to 908kg. There is also no upper limit for how much an F1 car can weigh, but no team wants its car to be overweight so they try to be as close to the minimum weight as possible.

How fast are F1 cars?

Lewis Hamilton recorded the fastest speed across the 2023 F1 season, hitting 223mph (359kph) at the Italian Grand Prix. However, the top speed of an F1 car can vary depending on the circuit because each track has different characteristics.

For example, Carlos Sainz topped the 2023 Monaco GP speed trap with a lowly 178mph (286kph) as that was done at a tight and twisty street circuit where the straights are not that long compared to Monza.

How long does an F1 race last?

F1 races finish when a distance of 190 miles is reached, except for the Monaco GP which is 160 miles due to how short the track is. The number of laps is determined by dividing 190 - or 160 - miles by the length of the lap and the resulting race distance generally takes around 90 minutes to complete. In the case of delays due to rain, red flags or safety cars, the race will end after two hours of racing regardless of the distance completed. 

Read more: How long is an F1 race? 

How does F1 qualifying work?

F1 qualifying uses a knockout format where the five slowest drivers are eliminated from the first two sessions. The third and final part then determines who will start in pole position.

Session Length Drivers
Q1 18 minutes 20
Q2 15 minutes 15
Q3 12 minutes 10

Q1 is 18 minutes long and decides who makes it through to the second qualifying session. Q2 is 15 minutes long and, similarly to Q1, the five slowest drivers are again eliminated which leaves 10 cars for the final session. Q3 lasts for 12 minutes and decides Sunday’s grid for the top 10 cars.

The drivers who exit a session then start the race in the order that they were eliminated, while the timesheet resets for the next part of qualifying. For example, if a car is 14th quickest in Q1 it could still start inside the top 10 depending on how well the second session goes. 

Sprint race qualifying uses the same format as qualifying for the grand prix, but with slight differences. The sessions are shorter: SQ1 last 12 minutes, SQ2 10 minutes and SQ3 eight minutes, while drivers are not given any flexibility with their tyres either; in sprint qualifying, drivers must partake in SQ1 and 2 on fresh medium rubber, while new softs are used for SQ3.

Session Length
SQ1 12 minutes
SQ2 10 minutes
SQ3 8 minutes

How much horsepower does an F1 car have?

F1 cars in 2024 have around 1000bhp, however this number is an approximate because teams tend to be quite secretive over its power output. In addition, power units vary team from team so not every constructor will have that much power behind its car.

How much does an F1 car cost in auction?

F1 cars are often put up for sale years after it has completed a season in the series. Sometimes a driver will keep their own car, whereas others have been put up for auction at events like Goodwood Festival of Speed and CarFest. 

Juan Manuel Fangio’s 1954 championship-winning Mercedes was sold for a record £19.6million at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed, which makes it the most expensive F1 car to ever be bought. Meanwhile, the 2023 Las Vegas GP saw Lewis Hamilton’s 2013 Mercedes sold for £15.1million and four years prior Michael Schumacher's Ferrari F2002 was bought for just over £5million. 

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