How Fast Is A Formula 1 Car?

How Fast Is A Formula 1 Car?

Have you ever asked yourself ‘how fast is a Formula 1 car?’ especially in relation to other categories? Speed is the key factor when it comes to racing, and as we’ve seen from previous articles about how a Formula 1 car works, there is a lot of complex work that goes into perfecting the elements to milk every nanosecond possible on the track.

But how quick is an F1 car really? And how do their numbers compare to other moto racing competitions like Nascar, IndyCar, Rally and Le Mans?

Of course, all motorsport fans want to see cars drive as fast as possible, but there are a heap of factors that can stop that from happening.

  • Track conditions
  • Safety regulations
  • Compliance regulations
  • The sport itself defines how fast a car can go

For example, F1 race cars have a high top speed but are relatively slow in initial acceleration, because their performance depends on aerodynamics and it takes time for that to build to optimal pressure.

At the same time, rally cars see uneven terrain that can be slippery and completely lacking anything like grip, making it hard to pinpoint exactly what they can do in a straight line (what’s a straight line?) as well as how fast they are off the line.

In the case of World Rally Championship (WRC) safety regulations are tight because with trees, rocks and spectators at every turn, it’s just not okay to really let them fly as fast as they can, so they are held back from what their top speeds would be, if performance were the number one priority.

When it comes to safety, sacrifices must be made and in a lot of cases, that sacrifice is speed. 

How fast is a Formula 1 car?

Because of the vast differences between racing conditions and racing regulations, there is no perfectly accurate way to go head to head across racing disciples. What we can and do see every time race cars take to their territory is them being driven to the fastest possible capacity in that environment under those regulations… which is still pretty cool.

As you can see in the stats we have for you below, the top speed and acceleration of each racing vehicle is different but necessary for them to do their particular job, on their particular track, exceptionally well. 

RaceTop Track Speed (km/h)0-100km/h in seconds 
Formula 13602.6*
IndyCar3803
MotoGP3562.6
NASCAR3213.4*
Formula 23212.9
Formula 33003.1
Formula E2802.8
DTM3003
WTCR2604.5
WRC 200
V8 Supercars300
WEC345
Super Trofeo3253.2
Isle of Man TT322
Top Fuel5303.7^
* these are 0-96km/h
^ this is 0-550
(blank) Some do not have acceleration data given

Formula 1 cars are about agility, Top Fuel dragsters are all about speed for the short term – but they wouldn’t stand a chance of making it past the start line in Le Mans. Every car has its strengths and every organisation has its own restrictions, power caps and limitations in order to make racing as equal as possible for drivers and safe for all involved.

In this article, we’ll walk you through who does what best and nut out a little bit of why for you as well.

What is the speed of a Formula 1 car?

Race speed = 360km/h

Track record = 372.5km/h

Fastest recorded speed = 397.36km/h

Currently, Valtteri Bottas holds the fastest ever track speed with a run of 372.5km/h at the Mexican Grand Prix in 2016 (during the hybrid era).

While there have been attempts to break 400km/h, F1 have yet to get there. Honda came close, setting the fastest ever land speed for F1 in the US on the Bonneville Salt Flats, way back in 2006, when F1 cars were powered by a V10 engine. The car achieved a ripping 397.36km/h and set the land speed record for Formula 1 cars that stands today. There were some slight modifications; the rear wing was replaced with a fin and a parachute was needed to help slow the car quickly for the next run.

Every track is different, although you can find top speeds on most straights hitting 360km/h.

Given how fast that is, it can be surprising that the F1 car acceleration is as much as 2.6 seconds to get from 0-60mph (0- 96km/h). While that isn’t a woeful time, the power to weight ratio should result in more umph. The sluggishness comes down to aerodynamics, which takes some time and distance to accumulate the right pressure. The few moments of time lost getting off the line is worth it for agility and handling the downforce gives Formula 1 cars into the corners (and out again).

With points available for fastest lap, you can usually see cars not in contention for a podium put in a bid for a fast lap towards the end of a race when fuel weight is at its lowest. Cars out of contention for a podium are more likely to aim for the fastest lap title as they don’t have to face risks of losing out at the last minute to a rival, who might be preserving tires or fuel for a final run, meaning that the cars that win, don’t necessarily have to put in the fastest times, it’s more about consistent speed and handling throughout the race as well as racing and team strategy. 

Is a F1 car the fastest car on track?

The fastest single-seater race car is the IndyCar, not Formula 1. IndyCar’s Top track speed is 380km/h (20km/h faster than F1). 

IndyCars are faster than Formula 1 cars in a straight line, however, Formula 1 cars are typically faster over a standard track lap, since the F1 downforce is better set up to utilise cornering speeds.

Both IndyCar and F1 are similar off the line, with IndyCars getting from 0-100km/h in 3s, so while they are faster, it takes just as long (if not longer than F1) to reach that top speed. That’s why the best performance tracks for IndyCar is the oval type circuit (speedways) where they can run a set up with low downforce and spend more time in top gear. 

A great example of this is the Circuit of the Americas where both F1 and IndyCars raced in 2019. 

IndyCar pole time was 1m46.018s, averaging 186.349km/h

While the F1 pole was 1m32.029s, averaging 206.374km/h

Compare this to Speedway circuits. Pole position for the Indy 500 is determined in four laps. In 2020 Marco Andretti nabbed pole with an average speed of 327.32km/h. 

The fastest Indy 500 qualifying time was back in 1996, when Aerie Luyendyk competed the four laps in 2m31.908s, which is an average speed of 381.391km/h, which hasn’t been touched since.

It stands to reason that road circuits and street circuits require more downforce which will significantly impact the top speed of IndyCar racing but give them that extra edge in the corners, just like F1.

What is the fastest type of motor?

Top Fuel racers are the fastest of all race cars, but only over short distances since the fuel they guzzle is almost as mind boggling as the speeds they set.

Drag racers hit a top speed of 530km/h and manage to do this in under 4 seconds. Going from 0 to top (530km/h) in only 3.7.

When the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) began back in 1951, cars were considered quick when they managed 225km/h over nine seconds, which is a pretty comfortable reach for most elite road cars these days.

Of course they now have technology behind them, with absolutely everything packed in for maximum acceleration, which is how they manage to reach those speeds so easily, they just aren’t designed to do anything else.

NHRA’s Drag Racing Series showcases the fastest-accelerating cars in the world. 

Top Fuel is the highest category. Cars in this league are built on Chrysler’s Hemi design engines, fuel injected and supercharged. They are fuelled by nitromethane and will burn through 70 litres of it in their 3 second sprint.

The fastest sprint in NHRA history was in 2019 when Brittany Force clocked 544.23km/h and reached the finish line in 3.569 seconds.

Even in the second class category, Funny Cars can reach the same speeds as Top Fuel racers reaching 530km/h in 3.8 seconds in a car body that looks similar to most production vehicles, proving it’s the nitromethane fuel source and not the aerodynamics that make these speeds possible. 

Are NASCAR cars faster than F1 cars?

Top speed: 321km/h (199mph)

Acceleration: 0-96km/h in 3.4s

NASCAR is a great example of cars that have had brakes put on. They run at 321km/h but that isn’t to say that’s their top speed. The problem is safety. With a horrific history of accidents and fatalities, for both spectator and drivers, safety regulations put in place have reduced the power and performance of NASCAR in modern racing.

No matter how much you love racing, no one wants to lose their life at a racetrack.

The other factor that affects the speed of NASCAR racing is the sheer weight of them.  

F1 cars currently have a minimum weight of 752 kilograms, which is set to be increased to 790 kilos in the 2022 season. As much as teams are going to hate that weight increase, it’s nothing compared to the standard NASCAR weight of 1,452 kilos, and that’s excluding fuel and driver. Which is why it takes almost a second longer for them to hit 96 kilometers in acceleration, taking 3.4 seconds to F1’s 2.6.

Basically, NASCAR are double the weight of F1 cars which explains why their top speed and acceleration is slower than IndyCar and F1.

How fast are Australian V8 Supercars?

Top speed: 300km/h

V8 Supercars compete in The Supercars Championship and can reach speeds of 300km/h, putting them on par with F3 and the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) which is another touring car category, based in Europe. They are faster than World Rally Cars (WRC) in racing conditions (no trees and rocks on these circuits) and can outrun the production cars of World Touring Car Cup WTCR , however, as we’ll see a little further in, these cars do have a capped top speed.

What we can see when we look at the speed of V8 and their sister championship racers internationally, is that speeds are limited, not by the engine, but by the car body. 

Even NASCAR, which has an elliptical circuit allowing longer time in top gear, only reaches a few kilometers per hour more than V8s, reaching a top of 321.

The solid body and the big four door style of the four seater cars is what caps the speed more than anything else. Rules of the V8 championship require the cars to have a production body, front engine and rear wheel drive, giving spectators the sensation that they own and drive these same vehicles. Typically racing takes place between only two manufacturers Ford Mustang GTs and Holden Commodores. Originally the race pitted two production cars made locally in Australian factories against each other.

The V8 track record was set in 2019 by Scott McLaughlin at the The Bathurst 1000.  His fastest lap of the 1,000 kilometer race was 2m03.378s, making an average speed of 181.29km/h over the twisting 6.2km circuit. The Conrod straight of this track usually sees cars reach speeds of 300km/h.

What is the difference between F1 F2 and F3?

F1 race speed: 360km/h

F2 race speed: 335km/h

F3 race speed: 300km/h

The racing tier below F1 is F2, and below them F3.  Each step down does mean slower cars and slower acceleration, but the set up is very similar. Cars in lower racing levels have DRS, they race on quite similar tracks and under similar conditions, with V6 engines, so what’s the telling difference between these three sets of cars? 

…It’s actually by design.

That’s right, F2 and F3 are designed to be stepping stones for drivers as they climb the world’s premier single-seater series ladder towards F1. Drivers are introduced to fast cars in a slow way, with gentle acceleration and handling so that they work their way up to the elites.

F1 acceleration: 0-96km/h in 2.6s

F2 acceleration: 0-100km/h in 2.9s

F3 acceleration: 0-100km/h in 3.1s

F2 cars lap around 10 to 15 seconds slower than big brother F1 cars, giving drivers the full racing experience, minus the neck breaking speeds.

With F3, racing top speeds reach 300km/h with an acceleration of 0-100km/h in 3.1 seconds, which is still pretty fast. What you also need to consider with F3 is that racing is designed to be close. This one is really about letting the drivers take the stage, so you’ll see limits on performance and on budgets (no big spending allowed here) to keep the field as even as possible with the 3.4-litre, six-cylinder Mecachrome engine. And while those speeds may seem sedate compared to it’s higher rung racers, it’s still a faster experience than you’d get from a road legal supercar.

How fast are F1 E cars?

Race speed: 280km/h

Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 2.8s

These are fully electric cars with all racers using the same setup of Renault electric components, chosen for economical racing. And whew, look at that acceleration speed! While F1 have a relatively slow acceleration compared to their top race speed, formula E go the opposite way with lightning quick acceleration and a slow top speed. What’s that about?

Actually this series is limited by track. Formula E are hampered by tight (really tight) corners and twisting CBD circuits. As we have seen with IndyCar compared to F1, on a street circuit Indycar are slower overall, but they have a blistering top speed when released on an oval track.

New York, London, Cape Town, Diriyah, Berlin, Vancouver, Mexico City and Seoul Formula E electric bring racing thrills to the city

If Formula E were allowed to run on F1 tracks (or NASCAR tracks) who knows what speeds would be possible from these electric cars…but that’s not the point of them. They are about sustainable electric racing and showcasing that in the city.

Are rally cars faster than F1?

Top speed: 200km/h 

The World Rally Championship is a type of racing like no other. When we are looking at speeds across racing types, we can see that Rally Cars are one of the slowest on the list.

Here are some reasons rally cars rank low on the top speed list

  • They only do the course one time, not repeating a lap and gaining familiarity with the track over and over
  • Most of what comes next is blind. They rely on their co-pilot to give them direction with only seconds of notice
  • Terrain is rough and unpredictable
  • Little grip and no time for down forces to come into play

What we need to take into account is the rough terrain these cars navigate, the twisting, turning, sliding tracks are rarely tamed, and obstacles, like trees, rocks, gullies, rivers and spectators are just some of the hazards a driver needs to be able to dodge at the last minute to find a safe and fast way through. The same goes for acceleration times. When you are taking off on travel, sane or snow, the important thing is getting off the line, not how fast you manage it. The same goes for corners, why would you want to nimble tiptoe through a corner like an F1 car when you can drift!

As well as the terrain limiting Rally Car top speeds, the other component is safety. In fact, in 

2017, the stage set in Sweden had to be cancelled because the new car was simply too fast, making race officials concerned for the safety of spectators, drivers and their co-pilots.

Racing director Jarmo Mahonen capped racing safety at an average speed of 130km/h. The race was cancelled when special stage 9 was completed with an average speed of 137.8km/h by Ott Tanak.

The new generation of WRC had better aerodynamics with changes made to centre differentials and overall more power. It was banned from racing for safety reasons.

How fast do Le Mans cars go?

Race speed: 345km/h 

When it comes to reliability, there is no other race like the World Endurance Championship (WEC) to test the ability for cars to go the extra mile. The most famous of these being the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

While there are elite racers going around the track there are plenty of other cars competing in different categories at the same time.

How doe the World Endurance Championship work?

As of 2021 there are four categories in the World Endurance Championship:

  1. Hypercars (replacing proptypes1)
  2. LMP2 (Le Mans prototypes 2)
  3. LMGTE Pro (Grand touring cars with professional drivers)
  4. LMGTE Am. (Grand touring cars a mix of amateur adrivers)

The change from LMP1s to Hypercars was purley to gain more manufacture interest as prototypes, especially those heavily reliant on hybrid electronics, were harder to come by. Hoping to increase the range of entries and get bigger names, a decision was made to open the cup to Hypercars. Further changes are coming soon with Le Mans Daytona soon to qualify to compete and the two grand touring categories set to merge into one GT-3 category.

Until the recent introduction of the LMP1 and hybrid categories, racing has been much more about stamina than speed, the hybrid technology was able to change some of that, sweeping in with some real muscle to their endurance.

While over the course of a race the speeds aren’t necessarily high, it doesn’t mean these cars can’t move when the driver puts the foot down. 

The fastest lap was set in 2017, during qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Toyota Hybrid. Former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi completed the 13.5 km circuit in 3m14.791s for an average speed of 251.9km/h.

Other thumping times have been snapped in speed traps including

  • Bruno Senna with 347.8km/h 
  • Nicholas Foster 338.1km/h 
  • Alexander Lynn 305.6km/h 
  • Giancarlo Fisichella 303.9km/h 

These were across all four categories, proving that when allowed, times can be quick.

Apart from wanting the cars to cross the finish line at the end of an endurance race, one other factor impacts speed and that’s regulations. All classes are heavily regulated to keep racing close. A quick car could easily lap others in the first few hours of racing, making the race boring for spectators if you are watching another two hours for the same result. To keep things interesting power and performance is capped.

An example of how much this affects the cars can be seen with Porsche. They withdrew from WEC after the 2017 season and developed their own prototype car, the 919 Hybrid Evo, putting in everything they were restricted from in WEC racing.

It clinched multiple track records including a lap the Nurburgring where the previous record had stood for 35 years and setting a lap at Spa in 1m41.77s that was held until Lewis Hamilton bet it in qualifying for the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix

How fast do touring cars go?

We have already covered NASCAR and V8 Supercars but there are a number of touring car championships around the globe. 

The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters DTM is held across different circuits in Europe, completing some famous tracks including Spa, in Belgium, but generally keeping it’s roots based in Germany with predominantly local tracks.

DTM

Race speed: 300km/h

Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 3s approx

It contains entries from Audi, Opel, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren and Mercedes-AMG although the previous 4-door competition has recently changed down to two door coupe (think CLK model) and have moved from V8s down to four-cylinder turbo engines. While this sounds like a step down, it;s actually increased speed with the 2020 DTM car looking to be the fastest ever (on paper anyways) giving it that 300km/h top speed where the V8s could only muster around 270km/h.

The World Touring Car Cup (WTCC)

Top speed: 260km/h 

Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 4.5s

WTCR is another type of race that is made up entirely of cars that adhere to trade certificate regulations (TCR), possibly the highest standard of touring car racing. In this case it’s four- and five-door production vehicles, selling more than 5,000 units per year, powered by 2.0-litre turbocharged engines. This sees entries from Audi, Alfa Romeo, Honda, Hyundai, Peugeot and Volkswagen. 

Like many similar series, there are regulated Balance of Performance measures to keep racing close and competitive.

WTCR falls under FIA regulations for safety and compliance, power is capped at 360bhp (365hp) effectively capping speeds at 260km/h 

Super Trofeo

Top speed: 325km/h

Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 3.2s

Why go head to head with another manufacturer when you can race against your own? Super Trofeo sees a line up of identical Lamborghini Huracans with different series running in Asia, Europe and North America. Every year a circuit is chosen to host the World Final, where top competitors from each of the series come together to find one winner.

It is based on the road legal supercar, the Lamborghini Huracan, with a 5.2-litew V10 generating around 620hp.

Are MotoGP bikes faster than F1 cars?

Race speed: 356 km/h

Track record: 362.4km/h

Acceleration: 0-100 km/h in approximately 2.6s

MotoGP bikes are lighter and have a great power to weight ratio, but they can’t quite manage to beat an F1 speed on the track. The difference is ever so slight, only a handful of kilometers but what F1 have in their favour is that downforce, which motorbikes are just too slender to reproduce.

In terms of acceleration MotoGP have just the slightest edge to that first 100ks, but they are slower to get to the 300 km/h mark, getting from 0- 300 in 11.8 seconds where F1 can do 0-300km/h in only 10.6 seconds, again, downforce comes into play as the more air a F1 car zips through, the faster they are able to go.

Let’s be honest though, MotoGP riders do an incredible amount of work to race with their machines, as they become an extension of the machine itself, especially in terms of aerodynamics and balance. Gear changes are significant too, a single lap of the Circuit of the Americas can require as many as 30 gear changes. 

The record for the fastest lap speed is held by Johann Zarco at the Losail International Circuit. He managed 362.4km/h during FP4 for the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix.

Moto2 Race speed: 295km/h

Moto3 Race speed: 245km/h

Even on tracks with only a few turns, downforce really gives F1 cars the upper hand against the world’s elite motorbikes. In 2020 both were raced at the Austrian Grand Prix, with Valtteri Bottas’s qualifying on pole in 1m02.939s in F1 and Maverick Vinales, fastest qualifier for MotoGP achieving his lap in 1m23.450s.

Isle of Man TT

Top speed: 322km/h

A unique motorbike race is the The Isle of Man TT where riders go one-by-one round round the extremely long and dangerous circuit.  The Time Trial is well known as one of the world’s most treacherous race courses, with riders regularly pushing 320km/h plus speeds along the Snaefell Mountain Course.

In 2015 James Hillier nabbed 331.5km/h at Sulby straight on his Ninja HR2, which happens to be a public road, limited to that carries a speed limit of 60km/h for regular traffic.

The full lap record is held by Peter Hickman on a BMW S 1000 RR. He completed the 60 kilometer lap with an average speed of 217.989km/h. The full race is six laps long, Hickman achieved his record on the final lap.

What all that shows us is that every speed machine is carefully designed to do what it does best, leaving little room for anything else. If we could take away safety barriers and the regulations that keep competition even, who knows how much power and speed we would actually see at these elite levels. What we can be sure of is solid entertainment and manufacturers and drivers giving it their absolute all to get to the finish line.

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