How much race cars drive

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A recurring discussion between people who are passionate about motorsport, but also frequent among those who do not normally follow racing, revolves around the question of which cars are ever the fastest, considering all the categories of the world. The short answer is quite familiar: those from Formula 1, which is also the most popular and followed category, especially in Europe.

The long answer contains clarifications and clarifications regarding the criteria that are taken into account when it is said that no race car can currently drive faster than a Formula 1. Typically, the reference to the average speed in a single lap on a non-oval track: none another car manages to cover it in less time than what a Formula 1 needs. However, this does not mean that there are no categories that are capable of reaching higher top speeds.

IndyCar machines, the most important American championship for open-wheel drive cars, reaching maximum speeds of 380 kilometers per hour: the highest ever, among those achieved in any category of four-wheeled machines. In fact, these measurements generally exclude Top Fuel dragsters, the long and conical vehicles built for acceleration races on short straight distances, which can exceed 500 kilometers per hour, but which do not actually run laps.


One of the early stages of the Indianapolis 500 race, Sunday, May 30, 2021 (AP Photo / Darron Cummings)

The fastest racing speed ever for Formula 1 is 372.5 kilometers per hour, achieved in the Mexican Grand Prix in 2016 by the Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas, who drove a Williams. But in general, it is quite rare for Formula 1 cars to exceed 360 kilometers per hour on straight stretches, which is 20 less than an IndyCar car. The biggest difference is that a Formula 1 car is generally faster, and more importantly, it is faster in corners.

The reasons do not only concern the engine power, which in Formula 1 cars exceeds a thousand horsepower, while in IndyCars it does not exceed 750 horsepower: a very important thing is aerodynamic efficiency.

Despite some severe constraints imposed by a new regulation in force this year, Formula 1 cars are the result of decades of fierce competition in the development of rudders, diverters, exhaust systems and other means necessary to utilize the air currents. the adhesion of the machines to the road surface and consequently higher speed. The IndyCar championship, on the other hand, has historically evolved towards a greater sharing of setups and parameters between the various machines, which has led to a greater smoothing of performance.

The typical IndyCar tracks, because they are more suitable for that type of car and instead completely absent in the Formula 1 championship, are the oval circuits: On that type of track, the cars can actually use very “unloaded” setups – the ones they allow less resistance to air currents – and spends more time in higher gears. But there are also IndyCar races on non-oval tracks.

A useful example is the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, where both an IndyCar and a Formula 1 race were held in 2019. 186,349 kilometers per hour, while the pole position time in Formula 1 was 1: 32,029 – about 14 seconds faster – and with an average lap speed of 206,374 kilometers per hour. On the other hand, on IndyCar’s oval tracks, such as the famous Indianapolis 500, the pole position (established at the best travel time of 4 consecutive laps) exceeds an average speed of 320 kilometers per hour.

The fastest lap ever in qualifying for a Formula 1 car was achieved in 2020 by the Mercedes driven by British driver Lewis Hamilton in the Italian Grand Prix, a track known for its high average travel speed (the time he holds foot pressed on) the accelerator in other words). Hamilton kept an average speed of 264,363 kilometers per hour: he covered a track of almost six kilometers (5,793) in a 1: 18,887.

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British driver Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes W11 during the qualification for the Italian Grand Prix in Monza on September 5, 2020 (Miguel Medina / Getty Images)

In addition to numbers and data, the perception of how fast Formula 1 cars are in curves and harassment is easily achieved, even by observing them closely, as spectators to a Grand Prix, and much more efficiently than is possible through film. television, where the perspective appears more squeezed.

A recent article on Autosport, one of the most authoritative motoring magazines in the world, has tried to compile a ranking of the most important motorsport categories using a large amount of data regarding lap times obtained in 2021 on tracks where cars of different categories, including North American and Japanese, compete. A significant part of the data relates to tracks in Europe: Catalonia’s circuit in Spain, the Monza circuit, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, the “Paul Ricard” in France, the Red Bull Ring in Austria and the Zandvoort circuit. in Holland.

Based on the calculations of Autosport, the category that was fastest ever after Formula 1 – albeit with a significant gap, estimated at about eight seconds per. round – was Super Formula. It is the most important Japanese open wheel car championship, long known as Formula 3000 and then as Formula Nippon. It is a category that leaves the teams limited freedom in the development of the chassis, all produced by the Italian company Dallara, which is also the sole supplier of the cars for, among others, IndyCar, Formula 2, Formula 3 and Formula E championships. .

After IndyCar, which is in third place, but with a delay of almost 12 seconds per. compared to Formula 1, the fastest Formula 2 was a “one-make” championship: the chassis is supplied by Dallara and the engines by the French company Mecachrome, which between the 1980s and 2000s also participated in several versions of Formula 1 championship.

Formula 2 cars can reach top speeds of around 335 kilometers per hour: This is a category also known as the transition phase for many of the strongest drivers, who then arrive in Formula 1.

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German driver Mick Schumacher during Formula 2 Tuscany Grand Prix at Mugello track on 13 September 2020 (AP Photo / Luca Bruno)

The fastest cars after Formula 2, according to the ranking of Autosport, were those of 500 horsepower of the Super GT, a Japanese category dominated by Nissan, Honda and Toyota (but McLaren, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin also compete), and where the ability to not carry the tires counts a lot. It is the main category of Gran Turismo, cars derived from models approved for road use – therefore suitable for traveling long distances – but designed to reach much higher speeds.

The first North American category in the rankings – Daytona Prototype International – is also the first to include Le Mans Prototype (LMP) cars, two-seater prototype machines built solely to compete in endurance races (endurance) as the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans.


A Mazda prototype car in free practice before Daytona 24 Hours in Daytona Beach, Florida on January 29, 2016 (AP Photo / John Raoux)

Compared to a similar placement in 2016, the difference between the Formula 1 cars and all the others, he points out. Autosporthas risen sharply: one of the reasons is the remarkable development of performance in Formula 1, which is favored by the introduction of some new features in the 2017 Regulation.

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