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F1 vs F2: Top speed, car sizes, race weekends and more compared

Formula 2 is the final step for drivers before reaching Formula 1, but how do the cars and race weekends compare to the top flight? Click here to find out.

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Formula 1 has always relied on junior categories to feed it with the next generation of drivers, and its teams are eager to snap up the brightest talents within them.

The “old” Formula 2, a ruleset rather than its own separate entity, would sometimes share grids with F1, before a change in regulations made the two their own distinct championships.

The second-tier category was rebranded in 1985 as F3000, as the series switched to a naturally aspirated engine formula and prolonged the life of the Cosworth DFV lineage in the early years. Different engine and chassis suppliers came and went throughout F3000’s lifespan, with the likes of Reynard, Lola, Ralt, and March all producing cars before the championship became a single-spec formula.

When the F3000 championship started to fade away amid reducing interest from teams and a drop in quality on the grid, the second tier was reborn in 2005. Bernie Ecclestone had sought to bring a junior championship onto the F1 undercard and, with Flavio Briatore and Bruno Michel, helped produce the GP2 Series.

GP2 became the FIA Formula 2 Championship in 2017, but many of the key hallmarks of the series from the early GP2 days have stood the test of time. The GP3 Series, a third-tier category designed to compete with the myriad Formula 3 championships around, joined the F1 bill in 2010 and became FIA Formula 3 in 2019.

There are key differences in the way that F2 is run relative to F1, with subtle variations in format and larger disparities in overall car performance. Here’s a look at the key areas where F1 and F2 contrast.

F1 vs F2 – the main differences

Car

Formula 1

Formula 2

Top speed

220mph+

208mph

Minimum weight including driver

798kg

788kg

DRS?

Yes

Yes

Engine size

1.6-litre V6

3.4-litre V6

Approximate power

1,000bhp

620bhp

Car size

5.63m x 2m x 0.95m

5.22m x 1.9m x 1.09m

Tyre size

18-inch

18-inch

Races per weekend

One (two on sprint weekends)

Two (one sprint, one feature)

Race length

305km/190 miles

Sprint - 120km/74.5 miles

Feature - 170km / 105.6 miles

Teams

10

11

Drivers

20

22

2023 pole time - Red Bull Ring

1m04.391

1m14.643

2023 pole time - Monaco

1m11.365

1m21.053

2023 pole time - Silverstone

1m26.720

1m39.832

The current single-spec F2 cars could be considered as simpler and smaller versions of F1 cars

The current single-spec F2 cars could be considered as simpler and smaller versions of F1 cars

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

What’s the difference between F1 and F2 cars?

In F1, each team designs their own chassis to a defined series of technical regulations produced by the FIA. For the 2022 ruleset, the FIA updated the wording of the regulations to better define the bounding boxes that the bodywork could be developed within, and built a system more congruent with the proliferation of CAD products available.

This features a range of safety systems such as the roll hoop, the halo, and anti-intrusion panels that fit around the monocoque. There are also impact structures on the sides, front, and rear of the car to minimise the effect on the driver inside the car.

F2 is a single-spec series, and all teams use the Dallara F2 2018 model. The minimum weight of the car and driver must be 788kg and is kitted out with F1-standard safety features such as the aforementioned crash structures and the halo. Only parts provided by Dallara, Hewland, or those sold by the F2 promoter, can be used.

The F2 car features underfloor Venturi tunnels, which F1 adopted in 2022 after a 40-year ban on ground-effect aerodynamics. These are not as extreme as the designs seen in F1 but work in the same way, and the car is also augmented by its front and rear wings to generate downforce. Like F1, the F2 car has a drag reduction system (DRS) which works to the same parameters as its parent series.

F1 cars regularly go above 220mph during the course of a race, while an F2 car can theoretically hit 208mph in full low-downforce trim, with DRS open.

What’s the difference between F1 and F2 tyres?

Pirelli supplies all championships on the official ladder to F1, with F2 and F3 also using the Italian company’s rubber.  

Two years before they were employed in F1, F2 began to use 18-inch tyres in 2020. The tyres in F2 are marginally narrower than their F1 counterparts, offering less grip overall as speeds are naturally lower for the junior-series car. 

F2 has four dry-weather compounds of tyre: the hard, medium, soft, and supersoft – the first three using the same white, yellow, and red colour coding as in F1. The supersoft is denoted by purple text on the sidewall. Five sets of dry-weather tyres are supplied for each round per car, consisting of two of those defined compounds, and one set of “prime” tyres is to be handed back after practice. Three sets of wet-weather tyres are also supplied – F2 does not have an intermediate compound. 

Tyre blankets are banned in F2, which means that drivers must warm up their tyres naturally. This often creates a larger offset during the pitstop phases, where drivers leaving the pits are vulnerable to those who have already completed laps on a new set. 

Both “prime” and “option” compounds – the harder tyre being the prime, and softer being the option – must be used during the feature race and require a pitstop to change them. Tyre stops are permitted in the sprint but are not mandatory. As only two compounds of dry tyre are used per weekend, Pirelli and F2 decide which tyres will be used ahead of the weekend. There may be a single step in compound (eg. medium and soft), or a greater step to create a larger offset (eg. medium and supersoft).

The 620bhp Mecachrome F2 engine

The 620bhp Mecachrome F2 engine

Photo by: Sutton Images

What’s the difference between F1 and F2 powertrains?

F1 has used turbo-hybrid powertrains since 2014, featuring motor generator units on the turbocharger and at the rear axle to form the hybrid component. The internal combustion engine is in a 1.6-litre V6 arrangement. As of 2022, F1 engines use E10 fuel, where 10% of the fuel’s composition is made up of biologically sourced combustibles.

The MGU-K in an F1 car produces up to 160bhp, contributing to an overall power output of around 1000bhp. Figures vary between the four current powertrain manufacturers in F1 – Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault, and Red Bull Powertrains – but all are believed to boast over 50% efficiency.

F2’s single-spec powertrain is produced by French manufacturer Mecachrome, which was briefly involved in F1 in 1998 and 1999 having taken over Renault’s engine programme. The Mecachrome unit is a 3.4-litre V6 – effectively the same engine used by F3 but retrofitted with a turbocharger produced by Van der Lee. It produces approximately 620bhp, driven by a six-speed Hewland gearbox.

To ensure fairness in powertrain supply, the Mecachrome units are drawn randomly to teams as there is likely to be a small variation in overall power output.

Currently being used as a test bed to assist with F1’s development of more sustainable fuels, F2 uses a fuel produced by Aramco with 55% of its contents produced from sustainable biological sources with a view to raising that figure to 100% by 2026/2027. The Saudi oil brand replaced long-time supplier Elf as the sole producer of fuels for F2.

How much does F1 cost compared to F2?

Formula 1 in recent years has been subject to a cost cap, which is worth approximately $135million in 2023 with some minor adjustments for inflation and other ancillary costs. The cost cap covers most of the development and operating costs, but excludes driver salaries, the salaries of the top three earners at the team, travel costs, and marketing spend. Transgressing that cap, as Red Bull found out in 2022, comes with its own range of penalties depending on the level of overspend.

Much of this budget comes from FIA prize money, investments, and sponsorship portfolio. Some teams, like Red Bull and Mercedes, are self-sufficient with prize money and sponsors and do not require direct input from their ownership structures.

F2 teams run to far smaller budgets and, because the reach of the series is considerably more limited, teams rarely begin seasons with a full portfolio of sponsors ready to fund each entry. Thus, drivers are expected to pay for their rides, either through their own sponsors or through a driver academy.

Depending on the team, F2 driver budgets can vary from €2m-€3m, and perhaps even beyond that for a seat with the better teams. To keep costs down, F2 has limited the number of staff permitted to work on each car over a race weekend, and designed the car to be relatively cheap. A team can purchase a full F2 car, sans engine, for about €500k.

George Russell, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc are some of the recent high-profile F2 graduates to make it into F1

George Russell, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc are some of the recent high-profile F2 graduates to make it into F1

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

How do drivers go from F2 into F1?

To race in F2, drivers must hold a Grade A or B International FIA licence. They cannot conduct private tests in F2 machinery and are limited to the collective tests offered by the series. There are also restrictions on what single-seater cars a driver can test privately and, if a driver pulls double duty in another category, they must commit to F2 in the event of any clashes.

Depending on a driver’s finishing position at the end of an F2 season, they may earn superlicence points to assist with their eligibility to race in F1. To gain a superlicence to race in F1, a driver needs to earn 40 points.

The allocation of superlicence points is:

Season finishing pos.

SL points

1st

40

2nd

40

3rd

40

4th

30

5th

20

6th

10

7th

8

8th

6

9th

4

10th

3

These can be applied cumulatively over a period of three seasons.

F1 vs F2 weekend format

F1 has run with the same base format for a number of years, with FP1 and FP2 held on Fridays – each an hour long. FP3, also an hour long, is held on Saturday prior to the three-stage qualifying format that has been employed since 2006. An F1 race must be held to a minimum of 305km (excluding Monaco) and last for no longer than two hours, within a three-hour window in the event of any red flags.

Sprint weekends are different, however, and have changed for 2023. The sole practice session opens the Friday sessions, and is succeeded by qualifying for Sunday’s grand prix. Sprint qualifying and race are both situated on Saturdays, and six weekends in 2023 are to be run to the sprint format to add variation.

F2 has a single practice session on a Friday lasting 45 minutes, with a half-hour qualifying session held later that day. This is effectively a time trial session where drivers simply have to hold the quickest lap by the end of the session to gain pole for Sunday’s feature race.

Many F1 teams have junior drivers in the F2 ranks

Many F1 teams have junior drivers in the F2 ranks

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

The sprint race is held on Saturday, and uses the same grid set in qualifying but with the top 10 reversed. The lap count is "equal to the least number of complete laps which exceed a distance of 120km (Monaco 100km)”, with points handed out down to eighth place at the end to a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring system – and with a point available for fastest lap for those finishing in the top 10.

The feature race completes the F2 weekend, and “shall be equal to the least number of complete laps which exceed a distance of 170km (Monaco 140km, Budapest 160km)”. This features a mandatory pitstop, and drivers must run both prime and option compounds in the race. The mandatory stop does not count if a driver pits before completing their sixth lap. This is also not logged if a driver stops under a virtual safety car, unless they were already in the pits by the time the VSC was triggered.

F2 experimented with three-race weekends in 2021, but this was widely unpopular due to the gaps it left in the calendar and was dropped in 2022. Prior to this, the feature race was held on Saturday, with the results taken and the top eight reversed to set the sprint race grid.

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