By Stefan Kristensen
February 23, 2022

How Long Is a Formula 1 Race?

If you've spent a bit of time keeping up with Formula 1, you may be wondering at this point exactly how long a race is. The number of laps in each race changes depending on the circuit, so what is it exactly that determines how long a race is going to be?

Today, we're going to talk all about the length of a Formula 1 race. We'll be going over why races are the length that they are, and why it is that races are usually kept to this specific length.

How Much Time/Distance Does a Formula 1 Race Run For?

Even though each Grand Prix is a different number of laps depending on what circuit the race is being held at, the overall distance of the race and the time it takes to complete the race is always more or less the same.

Specifically, each race is set up to run as close to 190 miles (305 km) as possible. In addition, races are organized so that this distance can be consistently completed within about 2 hours. Most races are designed to be a little over 190 miles long, although there are a couple that are shorter than this (more on these races later).

Why Is This Limit In Place?

At this point, you're probably wondering why races are limited in distance to begin with, and why the FIA has gone with this distance specifically. In short, this race distance was selected to offer the best balance between entertainment value and cost-effectiveness.

Formula 1 is a spectator sport, and it relies on the excitement of the races to draw in big crowds. The length of time of the race is a big factor in how exciting and engaging the race is for fans; if the race was too short, there would not be enough tension, and if the race was too long then it would just be boring.

The length of the race also needs to be long enough to justify the associated costs of the race and the TV time that the race gets. Ensuring that the race is long enough but not too long also keeps fuel costs down and helps make sure that the cars are able to consistently complete entire races.

To this end, each race is set up so that it can be completed in two hours or less. This time limit is almost always adhered to regardless of how many laps have actually been completed, although there are exceptions. For example, if the race is suspended for a long time due to something like an accident or bad weather, this limit gets extended to 3 hours.

As for how many laps are in a race, this depends on the length of the circuit. The most laps in any Grand Prix is 78 for the Monaco Grand Prix, while the least laps in any Grand Prix is 44 at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.  

Are There Any Exceptions to This Limit?

As you might be able to guess from the fact that we're even mentioning it, yes, there are indeed a couple of exceptions to the 190-mile limit. One of them is a pretty small exception, the other a pretty big one.

The first exception to this limit is the Shanghai Grand Prix. To be honest, this is barely an exception, as the length of this race is about 189.56 miles, less than half a mile shorter than the usual limit.

However, the other exception ignores this limit by a pretty considerable margin. That exception is the Monaco Grand Prix, which only runs for a total of 161 miles (260 km).

The reason for this is that Monaco is a street circuit, meaning it takes place on public roads that are temporarily repurposed for the race. Being that this Grand Prix is run on public roads, it's considerably different from most of the other Formula 1 circuits, mainly due to the fact that the track is a lot narrower and has fewer high-speed sections.

As such, the average speed that drivers are able to reach on the Monaco circuit is a lot slower compared to basically every other circuit. The average speed on a lap of the Monaco Grand Prix is about 161 km/h. If you compare that to the fastest Formula 1 circuit, the Monza Grand Prix, the difference is obvious; 257 km/h is the average speed at Monza.

The Monaco circuit is also the shortest Formula 1 circuit of all of them. One lap of the Monaco circuit is only about 3.3 km long, which is why the Monaco Grand Prix has the most laps even though it's the shortest race in terms of actual distance. 

How Have Race Lengths Changed Over the Years?

As the decades have gone on, numerous changes have been made to all aspects of Formula 1, including the length of each race.

For example, the current time limit of 3 hours (2 hours for the race plus 1 additional hour if the race needs to be suspended) is very new, and has only existed since 2021; previously, this time limit was 4 hours (2 hours for the race and 2 additional hours if a race suspension occurs).

The minimum race distance of 190 miles has been around for quite a while longer than that, however. The standard limit of 190 miles was established in 1989. In the years previous, there was considerably more variation in terms of race lengths.

At the very beginning of the sport in 1950, races were usually 190 miles long (or more) as they are now, but typically ran for three hours or longer. Starting in 1958, race lengths could be anywhere between 190 and 310 miles long (300 to 500 km). 

In 1966, this was reduced to between 190 and 250 miles (300 to 400 km), and then in 1971, a definitive maximum race length of 321 km (200 miles exactly) was established. From 1981 to 1984, though, races got even shorter; race lengths between 160 and 200 miles were used in this period.

Written by Stefan Kristensen
I have been passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many technical features, strategic plays, humans and their stories that all together drives this amazing sport to make it as interesting as it is.
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