Formula 1 Top Speed

The Formula 1 top speed record during a race is 231.4 mph. However, off the race track, F1 cars can reach even higher speeds. The incredible F1 top speed is due to the cars’ power to weight ratio. A Formula 1 car makes approximately 0.635 horsepower for every pound it weighs. So the secret to F1 speeds is the Formula 1 horsepower combined with the Formula 1 car weight.

The Formula 1 car top speed

Max Verstappen leading the 2021 season in his Red Bull Honda Racing car. The Formula 1 top speed is over 200 mph. | SRDJAN SUKI/AFP via Getty Images
Max Verstappen leading the 2021 season in his Red Bull Honda Racing car | SRDJAN SUKI/AFP via Getty Images

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The Formula 1 top speed ever recorded on a track was set back in 2016 by Valtteri Bottas. Bottas is a Finnish-born F1 driver. In 2016, he was driving for the Mercedes-powered Williams racing team. The team had a car so dialed-in, Bottas set two records that stand to this day.

During the Mexican Grand Prix, the car reached 231.461 mph. This is the highest recorded speed during any F1 race. But while fighting for position with other cars on the track, Bottas had to hold back a bit. 

While practicing on an empty track, Bottas reached an even higher speed. He allegedly drove 234.9 mph while warming up for the 2016 Azerbaijan Grand Prix on the streets of Baku.

Off the track, a Formula 1 car is capable of even faster speeds. In a straight line, the car’s incredible power-to-weight ratio can shine. Jenson Button of the Honda Racing team holds the current F1 car record. He set a Formula 1 record of 256.75 mph in a retired Honda race car at the Bonneville salt flats.

Formula 1 car weight: dictated by rules

Nico Rosberg driving for Mercedes GP. The Formula 1 car weight is dictated by a minimum set by officials. | Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Nico Rosberg driving for Mercedes GP | Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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The official formula of Formula 1 levels the playing field. Rules limit teams to a specific vehicle and engine size. With the advent of lightweight alloys and carbon fibers, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) had to set a minimum weight for the F1 race cars.

For the 2021 season, the minimum weight of a Formula 1 car was 1657.88 pounds. As the cars carry more onboard technology and make more power, FIA has steadily increased the minimum car weight. The weight will increase again in 2022.

With the 2022 season rule change, the minimum weight of a Formula 1 car is 1741.65 pounds. Fully fueled up, a Formula 1 car will tip the scale at around 1,984 lbs. F1 cars are not allowed to refuel during the race. Instead, they carry enough fuel to last for the entire contest. For this reason, the cars can often be a hundred pounds heavier at the beginning of the race than they are at the end.

Formula 1 horsepower: combined electric and ICE

Lewis Hamilton racing his Mercedes GP. Formula 1 horsepower often reaches 1500 | Clive Mason/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton racing his Mercedes GP. | Clive Mason/Getty Images

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American racing fans are used to big V8 powerplants. NASCAR, for example, uses 5.86 naturally-aspirated V8s. Therefore, Americans may be surprised to hear that Formula 1 racing uses V6 engines. Even more shocking, these engines have a displacement of just 1.6-liters.

But just because Formula 1 engines are small does not mean they’re weak. On the contrary, they are high-tech units leveraging high compression, turbochargers, and incredibly high RPMs. While each team’s engine technology is a closely guarded secret, we know that most F1 engines spin between 15,000 and 22,000 revolutions per minute. 

That is not a typo. While many regular engines redline at 7,000 or 8,000 RPMs, F1 engines regularly rev up three times as fast. In addition to these high-revving V6 engines, modern Formula 1 cars have hybrid drivetrains with powerful electric motors. All-told, many Formula 1 cars make 1,500 horsepower.

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