Formula one (F1), just like any Motorsport, is as technical as it is interesting and exciting. For those new to the sport, the terms and technicalities can be a chore. Getting to know the history of F1, the teams and the drivers may help but it sure doesn’t make it easier to understand the commentators and pundits when they converse.

For the regular fans, the new formula one season starts in four weeks and promises to be an interesting one. Not just because it’s the first season with no defending champion, nor because the enigmatic and mercurial Bernie Ecclestone won’t be in charge of things for the first time in decades (Chase Carey now runs things), but mainly because of the massive changes to the car architecture and the tyre engineering which theoretically will make racing more exciting, quicker (up to 5 seconds), more physically demanding for the drivers.

This #, A-Z arranged guide attempts to better your understanding of the sport with simple definitions and illustrations of the commonly used and important terminologies in the sport. It’s one to have handy during races (bookmark it) to look up terms and make sense of all that’s going on.

107% Rule

 During the first phase of qualifying, any driver whose best qualifying lap exceeds 107% of the fastest time set during that session, or who fails to set a time, will not be allowed to take part in the race.

Under exceptional circumstances however, which may include setting a suitable lap time in a free practice session, the stewards may permit the car to start the race.


The science of manipulating the flow of air over the car to produce downforce.

Air Intake (air box)

The open region above the driver’s head that is built into the roll hoop. This is designed to force air downwards, creating a better flow of oxygen for the engine. Also known as “air boxes,” a term that originated in the mid-1970s (when they were massive).


Air box (arrows)


A racing car takes a corner in three stages: turn-in, apex and exit. The apex or “clipping” point is the corner’s neutral point, the place where the transition between entry and exit is made.

The apex is the point of a corner that in most cases, not all, the driver will aim to put his car through. The apex of a corner is generally on the fastest racing line. Some corners can have more than one apex.




Term employed for corrugated steel guard rails, or crash barriers, used to protect cars and crowds in dangerous corners or on street circuits, most prominently Monaco. Armco barriers are three-rowed and extend above the top of the F1 cars’ roll hoops and air intakes.


A mandatory cloth head covering made of fire-retardant material won underneath drivers’ helmets in order to improve protection in case the car catches fire. Balaclavas commonly cover the nose and mouth to reduce inhalation of smoke or fumes.


A compromise among grip, drag, straight line speed and acceleration that permits a driver to achieve maximum performance from a car on a circuit’s corners and straights in order to make quick laps.

Black Flag

Used to signal to a driver and team that a penalty has been incurred or that the car has a mechanical problem that the race stewards feel needs investigating immediately.

Drivers must pull into the pits when shown a black flag.


Blistering occurs when a tyre, or part of a tyre, overheats. The excess causes the rubber to soften and break away in chunks from the body of the tyre.

Blistering can be caused by the selection of an inappropriate tyre compound (for example, one that is too soft for circuit conditions), an excessively high tyre pressure, or an improperly set up car.



Blue Flag

This flag is waved when a slower car is requested to let a faster car pass. The blue flag is used primarily when the lead cars are lapping the field, not when drivers are fighting for position.

Bogey Time

The time required for a car to make a full pit stop, including time traversing pit entrance and exit under the applicable pit speed limit.

Required to calculate how much a driver must push in order to gain enough time to make a pit stop and still maintain his position in the race order.


During a race, you will often hear pit crew and drivers alike use the term “box”. This refers to the pit box, which is a team’s garage in the pit lane.

When a radio message is sent to the driver saying “Box this lap”, (or more commonly “Box box box”) it means the team is asking the driver to make a pit stop during their current lap.


Camber is the angle of the wheels in relation to the ground if you look from the front of the car. Teams adjust it to improve a car’s handling characteristics. The tire’s relationship with the road changes as the suspension moves through its travel.

Ideally, car designers want a camber curve that keeps the tire straight up and down when the car is driven straight, and leans the tire in slightly (negative camber) during cornering.



Chequered Flag

This signals the end of the race at either the determined distance or the two-hour time limit for a Formula One event.


A chicane is a tight sequence of corners in alternate directions. They are usually inserted into a circuit to slow the cars, often just before where there had previously been a high-speed or dangerous corner.


A Chicane

Clean air

Air that isn’t turbulent is known as clean air. It offers optimum aerodynamic conditions, and is experienced by a car at the head of the field, as there are no cars in front of him creating turbulence.


Tread compound is the part of any tyre in contact with the road and therefore one of the major factors in deciding tyre performance. The ideal compound is one with maximum grip but which still maintains durability and heat resistance.

A typical Formula One race compound will have more than ten ingredients such as rubbers, polymers, sulphur, carbon black, oil and other curatives. 


Tire compounds

Delta time

A term used to describe the time difference between two different laps or two different cars. 

For example, there is usually a negative delta between a driver’s best practice lap time and his best qualifying lap time because he uses a low fuel load and new tires.

Dirty air

The disturbed air left behind an F1 car, which negatively affects the aerodynamics of the following car.


The aerodynamic force that is applied in a downwards direction as a car travels forwards. This is harnessed to improve a car’s traction and its handling through corners.

Modern F1 cars produce enough downforce that they could drive upside-down on the ceiling.


 The aerodynamic resistance experienced as a car travels forwards. High-speed circuits require low-downforce settings on wings to reduce drag and achieve higher top-end performance.

Drag Reduction System (DRS)

It’s the mechanism that allows a “flap” on the rear wing to open. This reduces wind resistance and increases the car’s top speed at the expense of downforce (Which keeps the car on track). It was introduced as an incentive to overtake opponents and is primarily used as such.

DRS is only allowed in certain sections of the track referred to as DRS-enabled zones. For DRS to be enabled, they must be within one second of the driver ahead of them as they enter the DRS zone. DRS zones are typically straight sections of the track, since the reduced wind resistance makes navigating corners significantly more difficult.

Drive-Through-Penalty (& stop-and-go penalty)

One of two penalties that can be handed out at the discretion of the stewards while the race is running. Drivers must enter the pit lane, drive through it complying with the speed limit, and re-join the race without stopping.

A more rare but harsher penalty is the stop-and-go, where a driver must remain stationary for 10 seconds at the head of pit lane, without changing tires or other work being performed on his car.


Fédération International de l’Automobile, the sanctioning body responsible for establishing and enforcing both the sporting and technical regulations governing the Formula One World Championship series. 

Flat spot

This is caused when a driver locks his brakes, causing the tyre to be dragged along the surface without turning. This creates a flat spot on an otherwise round surface, and although normally only the size of a small coin, it can cause huge vibrations in the car.


Flat spot

Formation lap

It’s sometimes referred to as the warm up, green flag or parade lap, when cars complete one full lap from their grid spot immediately before the start of the race.


A physical force equal to one unit of gravity which is multiplied during changes of speed or direction. Drivers experience serious G-Force when they corner, brake or accelerate.


When a car slides on a race track, the motion can cause little bits or rubber, or ‘grains’, to tear away from the tyre’s grooves. These grains then stick to the treading of the tyre, which has the effect of separating the tyre from the track surface very slightly.

For the driver, the feel of this effect is like driving on ball bearings. It need not be a huge problem, as careful driving can clear the graining within a few laps, but the graining has an effect on the driver’s pace.



Green Flag

In the past, the green flag was used for starting races but under the current F1 light system the green flag is now employed principally to signal where a yellow flag local caution area is over and drivers may thus resume full speed and overtaking.


The amount of traction a car has at any given point, affecting how easy it is for the driver to keep control through corners. Grip is affected by such factors as downforce settings, tire degradation, track conditions and the like.


A term used to describe a car’s responsiveness to driver input and its ability to negotiate corners effectively. A car that handles well will typically be well-balanced and not understeer or oversteer to any great degree.

HANS Device

Short for Head and Neck Support Device, a mandatory safety device that fits over the driver’s shoulders and connects to the back of the helmet to prevent excessive head and neck movement in the event of an accident.

Hot Lap (Flying Lap)

A lap where a driver pushes at 100 percent to set his fast possible time, typically used to describe qualifying laps.

In Lap

The lap immediately preceding a pit stop, in which drivers frequently push hard to open a time gap so they can exit the pits ahead of rivals, essentially passing during the pit stop. The opposite of “out lap.”

Installation Lap

Also known as a “reconnaissance lap,” a lap done on arrival at a circuit, or before the formation lap on a Grand Prix race afternoon, testing functions such as throttle, brakes and steering before heading back through pit lane without crossing the start-finish line.


Kerbs are the raised red and white sections that edge out corners on a circuit. They are indicators of a corner’s apex and exits, in addition to preventing drivers from cutting corners. Instead of driving on grass to cut a corner as close as possible, they instead driver over kerbs to maintain their grip and speed through a corner.

They are generally avoided in wet conditions, however, since the rain makes the kerbs’ surfaces quite slippery.


A Kerb


The Kinetic Energy Recovery System, or KERS, became legal (but not mandatory) from 2009 onwards. KERS recovers waste kinetic energy from the car during braking, storing that energy and then later making it available to propel the car.

The driver has access to the additional power for limited periods per lap, via a “boost button” on the steering wheel, until the car’s KERS is replenished.


The term used to describe a driver braking sharply and ‘locking’ one or more tyres whilst the others continue rotating. Tyre smoke and flat spots are common side effects.


Front-right tire Lock-up


Small bits of rubber thrown off by racing tires as they degrade over the course of a stint, typically found on the outside of corners off the racing line. Also known as “grains.”

Moving off the racing line (offline) is thus termed going “into the marbles,” and typically results in a reduction in traction, oversteer and a more difficult to control, slower race car. 


Marbles on the track


A course official, chosen by local race organizers, who oversees the safe running of the Grand Prix and supporting races. Marshals have several roles to fill, including observing spectators to ensure they do not endanger themselves or the competitors, acting as fire wardens, helping to remove stranded cars/drivers from the track and waving flags to signal the condition of the track to drivers.


The single-piece tub in which the cockpit is located, with the engine fixed behind it and the front suspension on either side at the front.


The Monocoque for Mercedes

Option tyre

The second – and usually softer – of the two tyre compounds nominated by the official tyre supplier for use at each Grand Prix. Not expected in theory to be as well suited as the prime tyre to that particular circuit’s characteristics, but may provide certain advantages in terms of pace or durability.

Out brake

A term used to describe a driver braking either too late or too softly and subsequently overrunning a corner. A common mistake made during overtaking moves.


This occurs when a car, due to imperfect design, setup, damage or tire wear, responds excessively to the driver’s input when he turns the wheel, such that the rear wheels turn faster than the front wheels. This makes it easy to spin the car when entering corners. Oversteer often requires opposite-lock to correct, whereby the driver turns the front wheels into the skid.

Pit stop

 A procedure carried out during a race to change tires, add fuel (if permitted by the sporting regulations, which is not the case currently) and in some cases repair damage.

Pit stop strategy has become more important in determining the winner of a race as overtaking on the track has become more difficult as a result of aerodynamics and dirty air.


Pit stop

Pole position

Pole position is the first place on the starting grid, and is awarded to the driver who recorded the fastest lap time in the third phase of the 15-minute qualifying rounds.

Prime tyre

Of the two tyre compounds nominated by the official tyre supplier for use at each Grand Prix, the prime is the compound that is in theory best suited to that particular circuit’s characteristics. Normally harder than the option tyre.


Practice takes place on Friday and Saturday morning of a race weekend. During practice, the drivers are out on the track fine-tuning all the necessary components of their set-up in preparation for qualifying and the race on Sunday.


These are the three 15-minute sessions on Saturday which determine the order of the starting grid for the race. The positions are decided by the speed of the best lap recorded by each driver.

Racing Line

The racing line or simply “the line” is the path taken by a driver through a corner or series of corners with the typical goal of minimizing lap times.

When analyzing a single corner, the optimum line is one that minimizes the time spent in the corner and maximizes the overall speed of the car through the corner.


Racing lines

Red Flag

This flag stops the race when weather makes it impossible to continue or there is a safety situation such as a bad crash.

If a red flag is thrown due to a crash, before the first lap of the event is completed, then the race starts over, allowing all drivers involved the opportunity to start again.


This is when a car ‘retires’ from a race because of an accident or some kind of mechanical failure.

Safety Car

This is used instead of a red flag when the stewards wish to slow down the race due to safety reasons or weather. Under the safety car, the cars continue to move in their racing order (no overtaking is permitted) and when the track is safe again they have a rolling start.


For timing purposes an F1 circuit is split into three sections, each of which is roughly a third of the lap. These sections are officially known as Sector 1, Sector 2 and Sector 3.


Sectors of the Yas Marina circuit


The wake of air left behind a Formula One car when it drives is less dense than the air in front of the car. This less dense air is easier to pass through for a following car.

Thus, by riding in somebody’s slipstream (slipstreaming), a driver can gain speed over the preceding car, setting them up for an overtaking manoeuvre.


Officials who run the race and arbitrate on such things as penalties, leniency on the 107% Rule, speeding violations in the pits and others. These are the mysterious folks, never seen, who penalize drivers when they’re naughty.


A system that beams data related to the engine and chassis to computers in the pit garage so that engineers can monitor that car’s behaviour.


Literally, the turning or twisting force of an engine, torque is generally used as a measure of an engine’s flexibility. An engine may be very powerful, but if it has little torque then that power may only be available over a limited rev range, making it of limited use to the driver.

An engine with more torque – even if it has less power – may actually prove quicker on many tracks, as the power is available over a far wider rev range and hence more accessible. Good torque is particularly vital on circuits with a number of mid- to slow-speed turns, where acceleration out of the corners is essential to a good lap time.


The degree to which a car is able to transfer its power onto the track surface for forward progress.

Tyre Degradation

As tyres wear and lose rubber, reducing grip, the process is known as tire degradation, typically more pronounced with soft, option tyre.

Tyre Warmer

An electric blanket that is wrapped around racing tyres before they are fitted to the car so that they will start closer to their optimum operating temperature.


F1 Tyre warmers


The opposite of oversteer, understeer occurs when a car is unresponsive to a driver’s movement of the steering wheel and drifts to the outside of a corner.

Virtual Safety Car (VSC)

Virtual SC Freezes the race in its current state.

Virtual Safety car is imposed in case there is a double waved yellow sector, but the situation is not so bad that actual safety car needs to come out. So the cars are given a target time for each marshaling sector (usually around 30 in a circuit) and they need to stay above that time (Slower) for each of that sector. In this way ideally all cars must run at same speed and same lap times and the gaps between the cars on track remains frozen.
White Flag

Signals one lap left in the event.

Yellow Flag

This is held out when there is a slight hazard in the area, such as a car parked just off the track that has not yet been fully removed. When the yellow flag is waving then there is a more serious problem such as a lot of debris on track, or a damaged car.

For safety reasons, no overtaking is allowed under areas where the yellow flag is being displayed. All yellow flags in F1 are local; the equivalent of a full-course yellow is when the Safety Car is deployed.

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About The Author

Mark C. Nnoruka
Analyst & Sports Writer

Medic. Affable. Philomath. Sports Lover. Writer.

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