top of page

Unique Terms Used In F1: Part II

Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Ishani Aziz

Image credits - Jared C. Tilton

Every sport comes with its own jargon and terminology that are unique to it. Formula One and its feeder series are no exception. These intriguing terms have been used throughout the history of Formula One, and have spread to other branches of motorsport as well.

In Part One of this two-part series, we looked at some terms used across the sport on a wider scale, such as Grand Prix, Pole Position, why the sport is called Formula 1, and so on. Part Two of this series dives into some of the terminology used during a race weekend, and some that the commentators tend to mention during a race weekend.

Free Practice

These are the first on-track sessions of an F1 weekend; when we see drivers learn the track by driving around it in their cars. The three Free Practice sessions for every weekend are vital for every driver and team to be quick on a track when it matters. It is not hard to see why they are called “Free” practice sessions; while it is mandatory for a driver to take part in one Free Practice session, it isn’t mandatory for a driver to take part in all the practice sessions of a weekend. The lap times set by drivers in these sessions generally don't influence the race weekend. There is an exception to this: in the event of qualifying not being able to take place on a race weekend, the order from the Free Practice three session on Saturday morning shall determine the order for the race. This was the case for the US Grand Prix in 2015, when qualifying couldn’t be hosted due to torrential weather conditions on the Saturday of the weekend.

While it may not be mandatory for the drivers, any driver would want to make use of these sessions to do some representative running which would be crucial to their race weekend. Teams and drivers plan for short stints, long runs, and qualifying laps, in order to evaluate how well the car fares on which tyres. Two of these sessions are held on Friday, and the third on Saturday morning. Teams are allowed to make set-up changes to the cars during these sessions, to squeeze out every millisecond of lap time. They crunch the data earned from Friday practice sessions and make decisions regarding the set-up of the car, and the best possible tyre strategy for the race on Sunday.

Image credits - Jun Qian

Speed Trap

An important stat-measuring mechanism, speed traps are usually set at the fastest point on the track. These help measure the fastest speed of every car passing by it, and provide important data to viewers and teams alike. Speed traps are usually set just before the braking point on a straight, or even in the middle of a straight, where the cars usually reach their highest speed on the track. For instance, the speed trap is set in the middle of the long speed run to the line at the Baku City Circuit, or at the end of the long main straight at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, in Italy.

Speed traps give us information about how much performance a driver is extracting from a car. Teams can also use it to see how their car fares in comparison to their rival cars’ straight line speed.

Racing Flags

One of the most vital elements of a race weekend. Flags are used to convey certain important commands to drivers about the status of the racetrack. A green flag tells the drivers that normal running resumes on the track. A red flag indicates the stoppage of a session or the race, due to an incident on track, inclement weather under which it is difficult to go ahead with running on the track. A yellow flag or double-yellow flag indicates an incident at that zone, or a slow-moving car on the track. The blue flag indicates to a driver to move aside for faster cars approaching behind in qualifying or practice, or when a car a lap down must move aside to let the leaders pass, during the race. Ignoring three consecutive blue flags can result in a penalty for a driver. And finally, the chequered flag is waved at the end of a race or session, signalling the end of running on track for cars.

While these flags are the prominent ones, there are other, lesser-known flags used too. Black flags are used to signal disqualification of a driver from a race. Black-and-white flags indicate a warning to a driver, not to do a particular action again. One that has been a topic of debate this season, the black-and-orange flag with car number indicates to a team about a part of their car being damaged, and their continued participation would be unsafe. The team must instruct their driver to come into the pits and change the part within two laps from the warning. A white flag is waved when there is a recovery vehicle on the track. Finally, the yellow-and-red striped flag indicates a slippery track surface, due to oil, water, or loose debris on track, and when rocked from side-to-side, indicates a small animal on the track.

Chequered flag; Image credits - Mario Renzi

Flying Lap, In-lap, Out-lap

These terms are used to indicate a drivers’ status on track during a qualifying or practice session. A driver is on an out-lap when he leaves the pit lane, and the subsequent tour of the circuit. During a race, this is the lap when a driver comes out of the pits after having changed the tyres on his car. An in-lap is the lap after a flying lap in qualifying or free practice, when the driver comes into the pits at the end of that lap. During the race, it is the lap when the driver comes into the pit lane to change tyres or damaged front wings on the car.

A driver is on a flying lap when he crosses the start/finish line without going into the pit lane after an out-lap, continues on and comes back across the start/finish line once again, thus completing a timed lap. This term is used during practice and qualifying sessions.

“Box Box”

This is a coded instruction given by the race engineer to the drivers to come into the pit lane at the end of the lap. The term is called so as the team’s designated position in the pit lane is called the pit box. The driver has to drive along the pit lane at the mandated speed limit, before entering his team’s pit box for a change of tyres or front wing, or sometimes in the event of retiring the car.

Undercut and overcut

These are two key terms used when taking into account the tyre strategy for a race, and used by commentators during the race itself (see a prior article on this topic). An undercut is when a driver makes a pit stop before his rival, fits new tyres, and then pushes to close the earlier deficit on these new tyres, in an attempt to overtake his rival after both make their pit stops.

Conversely, the overcut takes place when a driver ahead of his rival makes a pit stop after his rival does, and attempts to rejoin the track ahead of his rival. The underlying reason behind this is the new tyres requiring warming up on the out-lap, and that the driver’s old tyres have enough left in them for the driver to set a quicker lap(s) before coming into the pits. How powerful the overcut or undercut is, varies from one circuit to another, and from one tyre to another too (the undercut may not be as powerful if a driver changes to the hard tyre, as it requires plenty of warming up on the out-lap).

Safety Car (SC)/ Virtual Safety Car (VSC)

Another integral part of a race weekend, the Safety Car (SC) is called out on track by the stewards, in the event of an incident on track, or a car parked up in a position so as to be unsafe to allow normal racing to resume. The SC was first used in the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, and was a yellow Porsche 914. Since then, there have been many cars donning the role of the Safety Car, such as the Lamborghini Countach, Lamborghini Diablo, Fiat Tempra, and even an Opel Vectra being used at the infamous 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Since 1996, an agreement has been in force for Mercedes Benz to be the sole supplier of Safety Cars, a role which it has shared with Aston Martin from the 2021 F1 season.

Image credits - ANDREJ ISAKOVIC

The Safety Cars currently in use are the Mercedes AMG GT Black Series and the Aston Martin Vantage. Under SC conditions, the cars circulate around the track at a reduced pace, until the debris or stopped cars have been cleared from the track. The stewards then allow the lapped cars to overtake the Safety Car, and unlap themselves, rejoin at the back of the pack, and the SC comes in at the end of the following lap. This allows for a fair restart for all drivers.

The VSC was introduced in 2014, following Jules Bianchi’s death at that year’s Japanese GP. First used at the 2015 Monaco GP, cars circulate around the track, but at a reduced pace, and must stick to a “delta time” (35% lesser pace). The actual SC doesn’t come out onto the track, and the race resumes instantly after the debris is cleared. Pit stops made under an SC or VSC period take less time compared to a normal pit stop, and thus help some drivers get a “cheap” pit stop during the race.

Tyre Degradation/Graining

These are two important technical terms used during a race with respect to the state of tyres on a particular car, and they will often be used by commentators during a race. Tyre degradation (or “deg”) occurs when there is a performance loss from the tyre due to over, or underheating of the tyre compound. This is characterised by the marks on the tyre surface of a particular car, leading to loss of grip levels from the tyre

Graining occurs due to the excessive sliding of a tyre on the track, when bits of the tyre (grains) break away and stick to the tyre of the cars. This can be due to high fuel loads on the car, track surface, driving style, choice of tyre, and so on.

Both these factors can greatly influence the strategies undertaken by teams on race day.

Well, these are just some of the unique terms that we all hear during an F1 race weekend. Do make sure to listen to the live telecast of the sessions, in order to hear these terms being used during a race weekend.


bottom of page