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What happens to F1 cars and drivers when a season finishes?

Formula 1 is set for its off-season, so what happens now and do other motorsport categories race during that period?

Scuderia Ferrari team group photo

Scuderia Ferrari team group photo

James Sutton / Motorsport Images

The 2023 Formula 1 season is drawing to a close after a dominant campaign for world champions Max Verstappen and Red Bull, but what happens now?

Teams and drivers will take some time off over the winter to recharge their batteries before the 2024 season.

How different personnel decide to recharge is up to them. In previous years drivers have been seen doing different activities whether it is Carlos Sainz spending time on the squash court, Sergio Perez cheering on Mexico in the 2022 FIFA World Cup or Mick Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel previously competing in the Race of Champions event in snowy Sweden.

However, it really is not long before teams are back working hard in the factory to prepare for the upcoming campaign.

So, what exactly happens during the off-season and does the whole of motorsport take time off over winter? Here is everything explained.

What is F1’s off-season and how long is it?

F1’s off-season is the period between the end of one season and the beginning of another. So, taking 2023-24 for example, it will begin when the post-season Abu Dhabi test finishes on the 28 November. This is when teams give their cars one last shakedown before they get stored away.

It then comes to an end with the start of pre-season testing ahead of the 2024 F1 season. This takes place in Bahrain between the 21-23 February with the season opener a week later. However, teams are back working well in advance so even though they have a few months away from the track, much work is done behind the scenes.

Press Conference, Sebastian Vettel, Mick Schumacher

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Press Conference, Sebastian Vettel, Mick Schumacher

What do F1 drivers do during the off-season?

F1 drivers all undertake different activities during the off-season. As seen in previous social media updates, some enjoy downtime in the winter snow while others escape for any form of heat that they can get.

Lewis Hamilton, for example, goes to his Colorado home to relax in the American mountains. Pictures have been posted of him riding snowmobiles, paddling in the lakes or skiing down slopes.
Other drivers like Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon and, in the past, Kimi Raikkonen have also enjoyed snowy activities in the depths of winter but not everybody is the same. Daniel Ricciardo moves back to Australia where, because it is in the southern hemisphere, it’s summer during the off-season.

Ricciardo’s family has a farm in Western Australia, so videos have previously emerged of him driving buggies across the vast, dry land. Last year Valtteri Bottas also went down under as he cycled around Australasia with partner Tiffany Cromwell, who is a professional cyclist from Australia.

Even though drivers get to enjoy downtime, they are still working to an extent over the off-season. This is because it is important to maintain fitness levels so that drivers can start the new year as sharp as possible.

To do so, drivers often undertake fitness programmes and for example Pierre Gasly visits Dubai for a training camp over the winter. Another good way to prepare is through a racing simulator which is something a lot of drivers have built into their home.

Lando Norris and Verstappen are both sim racing enthusiasts and the McLaren driver has previously said “a lot of it relates very well back to an F1 car”. The technology is so advanced now that racing simulators are relatively close to the real thing, meaning that using one can help drivers maintain some sharpness over the off-season before getting back into their actual car.

Meanwhile, go-karting is also done. Fernando Alonso owns a karting track in Asturias, Spain, the same region where he grew up, which is approved by the FIA to hold international competitions. It is renowned as one of the world’s best karting circuits and while the track is open to the public and Alonso also uses it for training.

Whether it is during the off-season, between grands prix or the summer break, the two-time F1 world champion often posts pictures of him driving it on social media. When doing so, he also has the option of different layouts as the main circuit can be divided into three secondary courses of 721, 637 and 372 metres in size.

Esteban Gutierrez, Mercedes-AMG F1 W12

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Esteban Gutierrez, Mercedes-AMG F1 W12

What happens to an F1 car when the season finishes?

When F1 cars return to their respective factory, the deconstruction begins which entails removing different car parts to leave just the chassis frame. Some of those parts may help with future designs while others get displayed in the factories.

The engine is included as one of those parts and if an F1 team has leased one from a supplier - for example McLaren run a Mercedes engine, while Haas has a Ferrari power unit - then it gets returned, which is the same for other parts that have been borrowed. Once F1 cars have been reduced to just the chassis, what happens next can vary.

Many get put in museums, for example Red Bull has the MK-7 Experience where visitors are welcomed by a fleet of past cars lined up in a room. Others get put in storage, as the McLaren Technology Centre has a top secret storage facility which has over 50 of its retired cars.

Some past machines are also used for demo runs, as many have been seen at famous events like Festival of Speed, Silverstone Festival or CarFest. Williams and Sebastian Vettel ran the 1992 world championship winning FW14B at Goodwood in 2023.

This shows another thing that can happen to F1 cars, because Vettel bought the famous Williams in 2020 and the four-time F1 world champion also tried to buy the dominant Ferrari F2004 but revealed it was “way too expensive”. However, he is just one of many collectors to have bought past F1 cars because some are put up for auction.

Hamilton’s 2013 Mercedes F1 W04 was sold for £15.1 million at the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix while another Silver Arrows car, Juan Manuel Fangio’s 1954 championship winning W196R, went for a record £19.6 million at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

While all of the above is happening, teams are already working on their car for the upcoming season. The early work, i.e. design, often begins more than a year prior but then at a certain point during a season teams will prioritise its next car.

Such work continues into the new year ahead of the car’s launch, which typically happens across January and February. Therefore, those in the factory have very brief time off over winter because they need to be back working on the new season as soon as possible.

Jenson Button, Brawn BGP001

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Jenson Button, Brawn BGP001

Do F1 drivers get to keep their car?

Although an F1 chassis can be bought, it is also possible for drivers to be gifted one of their old cars. On the site of Alonso’s karting track is his museum, which is home to the Spaniard’s two title winning Renaults from 2005 and 2006.

Alonso’s former team-mate Raikkonen is another to own a past car, as Ferrari sent the 2007 world champion the SF71H which he drove at the 2018 United States GP for the final race win of his career.

Meanwhile Nelson Piquet remarkably has the 1987 Williams FW11, which won him his third and final championship, on the wall of his home. Charles Leclerc is another driver to have kept one of his past cars, while Jenson Button faced more of a fight to keep his 2009 title winning Brawn.

As Mercedes bought Brawn GP at the end of 2009, the Silver Arrows took ownership of the several chassis’ that were made for that season. However, Button only used one - BGP 001-01 - and it was in his contract that if he were to win the championship then he takes over ownership of the chassis.

Mercedes initially refused to give it to him but then Button was officially awarded ownership of the BGP 001-01 after the legal battle, while the Silver Arrows kept the other ones made by Brawn.

What other racing happens during F1’s off-season?

Although F1 is absent over winter, that does not mean other racing categories are. The Middle East is usually a hotbed for motorsport during that time and Kevin Magnussen raced in the 2022 Gulf 12 Hours at Yas Marina Circuit with his father Jan, ex-McLaren and Stewart driver, after the F1 season finished.

The Middle East also hosts the world-famous Dakar, which is an annual, two-week rally raid across Saudi Arabia in January. This starts just a week before the new Formula E campaign, so single-seater racing still happens during F1’s off-season.

Other motorsport categories are happening over winter like Extreme E, NASCAR and the World Rally Championship, so there is plenty to whet the appetite before F1 begins again.

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

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