Formula One Vocabulary Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Formula One Vocabulary

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The Minardi Ford of Luis Sala during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1989

This Entry is intended to only be a basic listing of Formula One terms to acquaint those not familiar with the sport.

  • 107% Rule - This rule is used to set the pace a car must run in qualifying in order to start a race. All cars must run a qualifying time within 107% of the pole-sitter's time or they will be unable to start the race, unless the Race Stewards (qv) decide otherwise.

  • Aerodynamics - The science of manipulating the flow of air over the car to produce downforce. Downforce is, logically, the force pressed upon the car from the air, resulting in the car being pushed onto the road. High downforce gives increased traction and road holding abilities which results in lower lap times. Racing aerodynamics are much like reverse aeroplane wings, designed not to lift up but to push down.

  • Air Intake - The open region above the driver's head that is built into the roll hoop (qv). This is designed to force air downwards, creating a better flow of oxygen for the engine.

  • Apex - 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 long corners have more than one apex.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Chassis - The main structural component of a car that everything else is attached to. The chassis provides the rigidity and strength that holds the car together and also protects the driver. To compete in Formula One, each team must make their own chassis, hence every team ends up with cars that look and handle differently.

  • 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.

  • DRS - DRS stands for Drag Reduction System comprising an adjustable rear wing that allows drivers to overtake more easily, only to be used within one second of the car in front and only on certain designated parts of the track.

  • Green Flag - This used to be used for starting the races but with the current light system the green flag is now used to signal when a yellow flag (qv) area is over and drivers may resume overtaking.

  • Monocoque - A design pioneered by Lotus in the 1960s but now used by all, the monocoque involves casting a large part of the chassis, if not the whole thing, in one piece for extra strength and rigidity while saving on weight. This is what the driver sits in and what the rest of the car is attached to; think of it as the main body of the car.

  • Oversteer - Oversteer occurs when a car, due to imperfect design, set-up or damage, responds excessively to the driver's input when he turns the wheel. This makes it very easy to spin the car when entering corners. If the situation is bad enough, drivers must slow down in order to control their car.

  • Parc Fermé - The place where the cars are parked immediately after a race so they may be inspected by the officials without any chance of tampering by the teams.

  • Pit Road - A separate part of the track where work can be done on the car by the crew. A maximum speed limit on the 'pit lane', as it is also known, is enforced to ensure mechanics' and other people's safety. A violation of this speed limit results in a ten-second penalty, a fine for the team, or both.

  • Pit Stop - A procedure carried out during a race to change tyres, add fuel, and in some cases repair damage. Pit Stop strategy has become very important in determining the winner of a race.

  • Podium - Where the top three finishers are awarded their trophies. A 'podium finish' is a placing in the top three at the end of a Grand Prix.

  • Pole Position - The number one starting position on the grid, achieved by setting the fastest time in qualifying.

  • Race Stewards - The officials who run the race and arbitrate on such things as penalties, leniency on the 107% Rule, speeding violations in the pits, and other such things.

  • 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.

  • Roll Hoop - The somewhat-triangular shape above the drivers head that protects the driver from being crushed in the event of a roll over.

  • 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.

  • Sidepods - These are the two lower areas on either side of the car that house the electronics and radiators in the car.

  • Skirts - Legal in the 1970s and 1980s, skirts were long strips of material that hung down off the side of the cars and actually rubbed the ground during some seasons, before rules specified minimum heights. The presence of these devices greatly affected airflow over the underside of the car and would create almost a vacuum underneath, sucking it down to the road.

  • Slipstream - 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, a driver can gain speed over the preceding car, setting them up for a overtaking manoeuvre.

  • Tear-off - A thin layer of perspex, multiply layered upon the visor of a drivers helmet. Each layer can be removed by the driver one at a time when it becomes too dirty to see clearly what is ahead.

  • Tyre Compounds - Tyres that use softer rubber, for example, will not last as long as medium or hard tyres under race conditions but will provide the best grip, resulting in faster lap times but possibly more pit stops. Tyre choice is important for determining the pit stop strategy of a car.

  • Traction Control - The use of onboard computers in the car to synchronise the movement of the suspension with the engine controls to maximize speed and prevent the car from losing grip. It is also called 'launch control' because it eliminates wheelspin at the start of the race.

  • Understeer - The opposite of Oversteer (qv), understeer occurs when a car is unresponsive to a driver's movements of the steering wheel.

  • White Flag - Signals one lap left in the event.

  • Wing Car - A term originated during the eras of aerodynamic experimentation to describe a well-designed car that took into full effect aerodynamic principles, giving it superior capabilities on the track.

  • 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.

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