The A-Z of Formula One

🕐 06 August 2020

The first official Formula One race took place at Silverstone on the 13th May 1950, and this weekend’s Grand Prix at Silverstone is officially recognised as the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. 

After success in motorcycle racing, Honda threw its hat in to the Formula One ring in the 1964 season at the German Grand Prix with the RA272, and in 1965 achieved its first victory at the Mexican Grand Prix. After further success with John Surtees, who finished 4th in the championship in 1967, Honda withdrew at the end of the 1968 season to pursue new global opportunities in motoring. 

Honda’s return to F1 in 1983 was in the form of an engine supplier, which started a very triumphant period. After winning races with Williams in 1984 and 1985, Honda won the Constructors' Championship every year between 1986 and 1991 with Williams and McLaren. Honda’s cars also led it to win the Drivers' Championship every year from 1987 to 1991 with Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, with the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 dominating the 1988 season in a way no other car has done to date. Honda withdrew at the end of 1992 after having achieved its targets, the end of what would come to be known as Honda’s golden age Formula One. 

2000 saw Honda return, providing engines for British American Racing (BAR), and later with Mugen tuned engines for Jordan. BAR-Honda finished second in the Constructors' Championship in 2004, with drivers Jenson Button and Takuma Sato finishing 3rd and 8th respectively.

By the end of 2005, Honda bought out the BAR team, which became the Honda Racing F1 team for 2006. After a good 2006 season, where Jenson Button won the Hungarian Grand Prix, Honda announced in December 2008 that it would be exiting Formula One with immediate effect due to the global financial crisis. 

In May 2013, Honda announced its intention to return to the sport in the 2015 season under a works agreement with McLaren to supply power units, as F1 moved into the hybrid era.

Having already gained significant headway with hybrid cars, starting with the Insight in 1999, and now pushing hybrid technology to new heights with the CR-V Hybrid and all-new Jazz and Jazz Crosstar variant, Honda felt it was more than up to the job. 

Despite the best efforts of both parties, McLaren and Honda split after three years. However, Scuderia Toro Rosso (now Scuderia AlphaTauri) agreed to use Honda power units for the 2018 season as a works outfit. 

Following a promising season with Scuderia Toro Rosso, with Honda’s power unit showing fast and potent development, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing agreed to also take on Honda power units for the 2019 season. Honda’s first victory of the hybrid era was at the Austrian Grand Prix with Max Verstappen, and, after several strong performances, including further wins in Germany and Brazil, the Honda power unit is now considered to be one of the front runners. 

As an engine manufacturer, Honda has won six World Constructors' Championships, five World Drivers' Championships and over 70 Grands Prix, ranking 5th in Formula One history. In addition to Honda’s success as an engine manufacturer, its three Grand Prix wins as a team make it the only Asian, or specifically Japanese, team to win in Formula One. 

In honour of the 70th Anniversary of F1, we bust through some of the jargon to help you have a better understanding of the common terminology used in the popular motor sport. 


The purpose of aerodynamics in Formula One is to generate downforce using the various wings and body shaping to push the car into the ground. It has been argued that F1 cars generate enough downforce that they could conceivably drive upside-down if the situation ever arose! 



Ceramic brake pads originated in F1, and this innovation made its way to road cars and is still in use today. Today’s F1 cars use carbon discs with aluminium callipers as they are lighter and can better withstand the intense heat generated under braking. F1 brakes can heat up to around 1000°C, and in some conditions, you can see the discs glowing red hot. 



The main part of an F1 car, which the power unit and suspension are attached, is called the chassis. If the power unit is the heart of a Formula One car, the chassis is the spine. The chassis needs to be strong enough to not only support every element connected to it but also be structurally sound enough to protect the driver in the event of a crash. 



Downforce is the force acting on an F1 car that pushes it down into the track, assisting the car with mechanical grip, cornering stability and traction. The aerodynamics of an F1 car generates the approximate downforce of five times the car’s actual weight. The combination of downforce and braking efficiency is the reason F1 cars are able to take corners at extremely high speeds, making them faster overall than any other vehicle around a given track.


Also known as adjustable rear wings, DRS (Drag Reduction System) allows the driver to open a flap on the rear wing from the cockpit. The effect is a reduction in downforce and an increase in speed and acceleration caused by a reduction in the car’s effective weight. Drivers can only use it in specified areas of the track, usually long straights, at any time in practice and qualifying. But during the race, it can only be activated when a driver is less than one second behind another car. DRS is not available during wet conditions. 



Part of the F1 car’s hybrid power unit, ERS (energy recovery system) is the method of harvesting energy derived from motion, such as braking and heat. This stored energy can then be deployed at the driver’s control, giving the car up to an extra 160hp when needed, such as during overtaking manoeuvres or in qualifying to set the fastest possible lap times. Honda’s hybrid line-up uses a similar system to make the cars more fuel-efficient and reduce overall emissions. 



Formula One uses a system of flags to signal drivers, giving them an indication of track conditions or notifying them of any imposed penalties. Some of the more common flags are: 

  • Yellow flag – waved to indicate a hazard on a portion of the track and instructs cars to reduce speeds and prohibits overtaking.
  • Green flag – indicates normal racing conditions and is usually waved after a yellow flag.
  • Blue flag – indicates that the driver in front who is one or more laps down must let faster cars behind pass.
  • Red flag – indicates that a session is suspended or stopped to due hazardous conditions 
  • Chequered flag – indicates the end of the session or race.

There are also half black and white flags, which indicate an infringement or unsportsmanlike conduct, and a black flag which means a driver is disqualified from the session. 



Formula One cars use semi-automatic sequential gearboxes with paddle-shifters, with regulations stating that eight forward gears and one reverse gear must be used. All teams use seamless shift transmissions, which allow almost instantaneous changing of gears with minimum loss of drive. Due to the fact that a driver can make an average of 47 gear shifts per lap, they are highly prone to wear over time. In order to keep costs low in Formula One, gearboxes must last five consecutive events. Changing a gearbox before the allowed time will cause a grid penalty. 


The halo is a driver crash protection system used in open-wheel racing series, which consists of a curved bar placed to protect the driver's head. The system was introduced in 2015 and became mandatory from 2018. It is made of titanium and weighs 9kg. The teams don't develop the halo, but three approved external manufacturers chosen by the FIA manufacture it. It is the same specification for all vehicles; however, the teams may add their aerodynamic components to the halo if they see fit. 

Hybrid era 

2014 ushered in the most significant rule changes in F1 history, with normally aspirated 2.4-litre V8 engines replaced by new 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 power units (no longer officially called engines). These are integrated with complex, hybrid energy recovery systems to give the sport a much cleaner and greener image – more relevant to developing road car technologies, such as those seen in the CR-V, all-new Jazz and NSX. Since the dawn of the hybrid era, F1 cars use around 30% less fuel than in 2013 and, despite criticism, are faster than they have ever been. 


Jump start 

A jump start is when a driver moves off his grid position before the five red lights have been switched off to signal the start (similar to a false start in athletics). Sensors detect premature movement and a jump start earns a driver a penalty. 



Simply put, a lap is one complete circuit of the track. It is broken down in to three timing sectors based on approximate distance. A Formula One race must cover a distance of at least 305km (or, in the case of Monaco, 260km). So, it can be anything from 44-78 laps depending on the length of the circuit. 



Marshals are course officials who oversee the safe running of the race. They usually wear orange high visibility uniforms, and in some cases, they also wear protective helmets. Marshals have several roles to fill, including observing the spectators, ensuring both their safety and a pleasant atmosphere – acting as fire wardens, helping to remove stranded cars or drivers from the track, and using waving flags to signal the condition of the track to drivers. 


An overtake can be defined as safely passing the car in front to gain position. There are several rules in Formula One dictating the conduct of overtaking – way too many to mention here! But in short, the overtaking manoeuvre must be carried out in a manner that is safe for both drivers. In some instances, a slower car is required by the regulations to purposely slow down for a faster car, such as when cars are being lapped under a blue flag. 

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When an infringement of the rules occurs in F1, the stewards issue penalties as a way punishment. Some of the main penalties that will be commonly issued during a race weekend include: 

  • Time penalty – A five-second penalty may be issued for infringements, such as causing a collision. The five seconds can be served when the driver next comes in for a pit stop, or it is applied to the driver’s race completion time and can influence their finishing position. 
  • Drive through penalty – Usually issued for minor infringements, such as corner cutting, a drive through penalty requires the driver to enter the pit lane and reduce to their speed limit of 40mph and drive through to the exit without stopping 
  • Stop/go Penalty – Issued for more serious offences, such as a jump start or unfair blocking, the stop/go penalty is similar to the drive through penalty, but the driver is required to stop in the pit box for 10 seconds and then exit. Mechanics are forbidden to carry out any work on the car while the penalty is being served. 
  • Grid penalty – More commonly issued for infringements pre-race, such as in qualifying or a violation of technical regulations, such as changing a gearbox before the 5-race limit. A grid penalty is when a driver’s qualifying position is knocked down to a lower position, such as the pole sitter being knocked down to 10th position. 

Power unit 

The power unit is the fully integrated hybrid system used in the modern F1 car. It is composed of the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), which is the main petrol-driven component of the power unit supplying the majority of the car’s power. The Turbocharger, the MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit – Heat) and MGU-K (Kinetic) which convert the car’s heat and motion into a usable supply of electrical energy. The energy store, which contains the electrical energy harvested and makes it available for use throughout the race, and lastly, the control electronics that keeps everything running smoothly. Click here for more information on the Honda Power Unit 


Racing start position is determined by the qualifying lap time set by the driver. There are three stages to F1 qualifying: Q1, which is an 18-minute session where the top 15 fastest drivers proceed to the next phase, with the bottom five eliminated and their qualifying positions fixed. Q2, which is a 15-minute session where the remaining top 10 drivers go through to the next phase. And lastly Q3, which is a 12-minute session where the starting order of the top 10 is decided and the pole sitter, starting in the first grid spot, is determined. 



A team’s race strategy is usually determined by the number of times they intend to pit for new tyres and the tyre compounds used. The majority of races require two stops, but one-stop strategies do exist for some racetracks. Strategy calls can be changed during the race as a result of incidents on the racetrack and changing weather. During a race, a driver must use two different tyre compounds, the only exception to this being under wet conditions. 



Apart from the electrical power-boosting of the engine from the hybrid system, further power comes from the turbo. The turbo works by taking the hot gases from the engine’s exhaust system and uses them to spin a compressor that increases the air and fuel mix going into the engine. Burning fuel needs oxygen – and burning fuel efficiently needs even more. The turbocharger helps the engine ‘breathe’ faster – it spins at roughly 100,000 times a minute and can sound like a high-pitched whistling sound on onboard cameras.


F1 tyres are where a race can be won or lost. The tyres, provided by Pirelli, are responsible for the car’s mechanical grip on track, and ultimately how the car lays down its power. Compromises tend to be made in the race strategy based on speed and durability as the tyres degrade at different rates over time, leading to less grip and slower lap times.

There are three tyre compounds used under normal conditions, known as slick tyres: 

  • Soft – A red-walled tyre that offers the most grip and, therefore, the fastest lap times, but at the expense of durability. 
  • Medium – A yellow-walled tyre which offers a good balance of grip and durability, but at a cost of up to 0.6 seconds per lap compared to the soft compound. 
  • Hard – A white-walled tyre which offers maximum durability, but the least grip. As a result, it runs up to 1.3 seconds a lap slower than the soft compound. 

There are also intermediate tyres which are for changeable wet conditions or a drying track, and full wet tyres which are grooved similar to normal car tyres that are used in falling rain and waterlogged track conditions. 



An undercut is a pit strategy when a driver, struggling to get past another car, pits early in a bid to get a performance advantage from fresh tyres that will hopefully put them ahead when their rival then pits.



The wings of an F1 car are intended to act in the much the same way as an aeroplane wing. The only difference is that aeroplane wings are designed to produce lift, whereas F1 car wings are essentially orientated upside-down to generate downforce. The two main wings are the front and rear wing. The front wing fans out from the nose of the car, and the rear wing is essentially the spoiler. These wings are sloped backward to varying degrees to redirect the force of the air on the car as it moves forwards into a downwards force pushing the car into the track. 

Hopefully, this guide will help you better understand the terms used in F1, and indeed many other motorsports. For more information on Honda F1, check out the links below.

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