Why the First Turn Is so Dangerous



  • The first corner of an F1 race can be some of the most exciting action in motorsports.
  • Former F1 champion Nico Rosberg explained why, and it is more than just the obvious traffic jam.
  • There is a mystery to the first corner in F1 races, and instincts have to take over. 

Earlier this year at Formula One’s British Grand Prix, Alfa Romeo driver Zhou Guanyu flipped upside-down, heading to the first turn of the race in one of the scarier scenes the sport has seen recently.

While Zhou’s wreck was the extreme, what is not unusual is to see chaos at the first corner of an F1 race.

In a recent video, 2016 F1 champion Nico Rosberg explained why the first corner of a race is so treacherous. While the traffic of 20 cars fighting for track position certainly plays a factor, Rosberg also notes that there is a mystery that requires a driver’s instincts to take over, and some drivers are better than others.

“When you arrive to the first corner after a start, the last time you were driving [in qualifying], you were driving and arriving there at 320 kph [200 mph] with zero fuel in the car,” Rosberg said. “With a very, very light fuel, light car means much more grip in the car.”

Contrast that against the way an F1 car is set up at the start of a race when it is holding a full tank of fuel, making it about 20% heavier.

“It’s a completely different car,” Rosberg said. “It’s like a truck. It feels like a truck. And you arrive at Turn 1 at maybe 220 kph [137 mph] instead of 320. The combination of that, it is impossible to know exactly where your braking point is, so it is like instinctive feel that you need to apply in that moment to get that braking point right.”

Now when you add to that 19 other cars trying to battle you for position, things will often go haywire.

Rosberg pointed to Max Verstappen’s start during the 2021 Mexican Grand Prix as an example of an elite driver nailing the braking point perfectly in the first corner of a race. Starting third, Verstappen was able to sling-shot past Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton to take the lead in the first turn and eventually win the race. 

That pandemonium can be even greater at this week’s Brazilian Grand Prix

Two factors can make the first turn of the Brazilian Grand Prix even more challenging than most races. 

The first is that the first turn is slightly downhill. That is the opposite of the most recent race in Austin, at the Circuit of the Americas, where the first turn is a steep 130-foot uphill climb.

The difference on the car is that Austin’s hill helps the cars brake into Turn 1, whereas Brazil’s first corner does the opposite. Drivers have an already tough braking challenge made even more perilous in Brazil.

US Grand Prix F1

The uphill climb to Turn 1 at the US Grand Prix.

Peter J Fox/Getty Images



On top of that, as Rosberg explains, Turn 1 is followed immediately by Turns 2 and 3. A driver can lose a lot of time in the first three corners.

“If you go like 10 centimeters too far over the curb, you hit that bump, and it just puts you out of control,” Rosberg said. “If you don’t use enough of the road, you’re going to be slow. Hitting the curbs in the right place is tough [in Brazil]. It’s so easy to lose loads of time [in the first three corners].”

You can see Rosberg’s full breakdown of the Interlagos Circuit in São Paulo, Brazil, here:

 



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