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The terminology used in Formula One motor racing can be intimidating to those not intimately familiar with the sport. Hopefully this glossary will help. Adapted in part from the BBC’s h2g2 Formula 1 vocabulary, Formula 1’s official glossary and ESPN F1’s glossary.

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  • 107% Rule — This rule is used to set the maximum lap time a car must set in qualifying in order to start a race. All cars must post a qualifying time within 107% of the pole-sitter’s best lap in Q1 or, unless the stewards decide otherwise, they will be precluded from starting the GP race.
  • Active Cars — Formula One race car engineering advances, comprising traction control, semi-automatic gearboxes, computer-adjusted suspension, launch control, automatic braking systems (ABS), fly-by-wire throttle and other so-called “driver’s aids.” banned by FIA after the 1993 F1 season. Active suspension was pioneered by Team Lotus in 1987, the final in a long series of technical revolutions introduced by Colin Chapman and his successors dating to the monocoque chassis in 1962. Active cars reached their pinnacle with the Williams-Renault FW14 and FW15 in 1992-93, which propelled first Nigel Mansell and then Alain Prost to dominant Formula One driving World Championships.
  • senna_mansell-1680x720

    Active Cars—Monaco 1992

  • 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 airplane 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. This is designed to force air downwards, creating a better flow of oxygen for the engine. Also known as “air boxes,” a term originated in the mid-1970s (when they were massive), air intakes are generally not needed with turbocharged engines, which were outlawed by the Formula 1 technical regulations until reverting to 1.6-liter V6 turbo hybrid specifications in 2014.
  • Anteater — A pejorative term applied to the rather ugly noses on 2014-specification Formula One cars, resulting from changes to the sport’s technical regulations further reducing nose height and a radical switch to a complex, 1.6 liter V6 hybrid engine formula. See Platypus Nose.
  • Apex — A racing car takes a corner in three stages: turn-in, apex and exit. Weight transfer under braking, moving the effective mass of the car from the rear axle to the front, encourages oversteer during the turn-in phase, helping make the turn. 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 long corners have more than one apex.
  • Aquaplaning — Loss of road holding (traction and steering capabilities) caused by tires skimming over the surface of a wet track. Aquaplaning occurs when an intermediate or wet tire’s tread pattern is unable to disperse sufficient water from the road surface.
  • Armco — 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, making visibility around corners difficult. Armco is a generic UK phrase popularized by Murray Walker, legendary, self-effacing British Formula One television announcer. It is also a brand name for the company that produced the product in England.
  • armco14


  • Balaclava — 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 and are most often, but not always, white.
  • Balance — 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, adjusted by tuning a car’s suspension, tires and wing settings. If a car is set up for fast straights, using low downforce settings, for instance, it will tend to be slower in corners due to a relative lack of grip, and conversely. See Set Up.
  • Ballast — Weights fixed around the car to maximize its balance and bring it up to the minimum weight limit.
  • Bargeboard — A piece of bodywork mounted vertically between the front wheels and the start of the sidepods to help smooth the airflow around the sides of the car. Their shape and size are influenced by the F1 technical regulations and aerodynamic design, with current rules all but eliminating bargeboards in favor of sleek, high-nosed designs that funnel airflow under the car.
  • bargeboard


  • 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 — The consequence of the core of a tire overheating. Excess heat can cause rubber to soften and break away in chunks from the body of the tire. Blistering is typically caused by the selection of an inappropriate tire compound (for example, one that is too soft for circuit grip and abrasion conditions), too high tire pressure, or an improperly set up car. See Graining.
  • Blown Diffuser — A controversial technology introduced to F1 for 2010-11, and promptly banned, by which a car’s exhaust was directed across the diffuser, under braking or when the driver lifted off the throttle, in order to increase downforce. See Off-Throttle Blown Diffusers.
  • 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.
  • Bodywork — The carbon fiber sections fitted onto the monocoque before the cars leave the pits, such as the engine cover, the cockpit top and the nose cone.
  • 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 < a href=””>push in order to gain enough time to make a pit stop and still maintain his position in the race order.
  • Bottoming — When a car’s chassis hits the track surface as it runs through a sharp compression and reaches the bottom of its suspension travel.
  • Box — F1 parlance for “pit.” Also used as a verb, as in the common “box this lap” and “box, box, box” radio directives to Formula One drivers. See Pit Stop.
  • Brake Balance — A precisely calibrated toggle switch in the cockpit, usually located on or to the side left of the steering wheel, with which to alter the split of the car’s braking power between the front and the rear wheels according to a driver’s wishes. Under normal operation about 60% of braking power goes to the front wheels which, because of load transfer under deceleration, take the brunt of the retardation duties. Although traditional F1 technical regulations specified that brake balance, also called brake bias, could only be adjusted manually, in 2014 an electronic rear brake control system was allowed as a result of the new turbocharged hybrid power unit specifications. Electronic braking is used to offset the effect of the power unit’s Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) by aiding the braking effort at the rear, negating the need for the driver to constantly alter the brake bias. All the F1 teams now have their own systems, about which they are very secretive, that change the brake bias from front to rear as downforce bleeds off the car as it slows down during braking and feeds kinetic energy to the ERS.
  • Camber — Camber is the angle of the wheels in relation to the ground if you look from the front of the car. Teams adjust camber 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 (1 to 2 degrees of negative camber) during cornering. Camber allows the weight of the car lean on the outer, more loaded tires, providing additional contact in a corner. However, on level ground and straights, the more camber it has the less contact patch area between a tire and the track surface, hence less speed.
  • camber


  • Chassis — The main component of a car that everything else is attached to. The principal structural part of a racing car to which the engine and suspension are mounted is called the chassis. The chassis provides the rigidity and strength that holds the car together and also protects the driver. To compete in Formula 1, each team must make their own chassis, hence every team ends up with cars that look and handle differently.
  • Checkered Flag — This signals the end of the race at either the determined distance or the two-hour time limit for a Formula One event.
  • Chicane — A very tight sequence of corners in alternate directions. Usually inserted into a circuit to slow the cars, often just before what had been a high-speed corner.
  • Bus Stop Chicane—Spa

    Bus Stop Chicane—Spa

  • Circus — The insider’s term for the traveling swarm of teams, equipment, drivers, sponsors and media that moves from race to race during an F1 season.
  • Clag — Colorful word used by NBC Sports (formerly Speed TV) announcer David Hobbes in the U.S. to describe the buildup of marbles and debris off the racing line of a circuit. See Blistering, Graining, Marbles.
  • Clean Air — Air that isn’t turbulent, and thus offers optimum aerodynamic conditions, as experienced by a car at the head of the field. With the tremendous downforce produced by today’s F1 cars, following closely behind another driver leads to “dirty air” that reduces downforce, and thus grip, and undermines overtaking.
  • Coanda Effect — The tendency of a fluid jet, such as airflow, to be attracted to a nearby surface. In 2010-13 F1 aerodynamicists used the effect to help divert airflow to specific areas of the car, for example from the exhaust exit to the rear diffuser, but 2014 rules changes requiring a single exhaust outlet that exits centrally behind the rear wheels have all but eliminated its current applicability.
  • Cockpit — The section of the chassis, or monocoque tub, in which the driver sits. Cockpits have been strengthened with higher surrounds to protect the drivers’ heads since Ayrton Senna’s death during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
  • Compound — Tread compound is the part of any tire in contact with the road and therefore one of the major factors in deciding tire 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. Each of these includes a vast number of derivatives any of which can be used to a greater or lesser degree. Very small changes to the mix can change compound performance.
  • Compounds


  • Concorde Agreement — A contract between the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the Formula One teams (currently represented by the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA)) and Formula One Management Ltd. which dictates the terms by which the teams compete in races and take their share of the television revenues and prize money. There have been six separate Concorde Agreements since 1981, all of whose terms were kept strictly secret.
  • Curbs — The correct (American) way to spell “kerbs.” See Kerbs.
  • 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.
  • Designer — Modern name for the chief racing team engineer, principal architect of a car’s chassis, aerodynamic and suspension design. F1 designers like Adrian Newey and John Barnard have achieved particular notoriety in the past several decades.
  • Diffuser — The rear section of the car’s floor or undertray where the air flowing under the car exits. The design of the diffuser is crucial as it controls the speed at which the air exits. The faster its exit, the lower the air pressure beneath the car, and hence the more aerodynamic downforce the car generates. Diffuser design includes vertical fences, some of which are curved, some stepped and some angled, but all are developed through constant tweaking and evolution in the wind tunnel. In 2009, Brawn GP and later other F1 teams exploited rule loopholes to create additional underbody inlets feeding larger exit areas, known as the “double diffuser,” now outlawed of course.
  • diffuser


  • Dirty Air — The disturbed air left behind an F1 car, which negatively affects the aerodynamics of the following car.
  • Downforce — 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. See Aerodynamics.
  • DRS — Drag Reduction System. A moveable rear wing component (flap) that, when opened, reduces drag permitting higher straight-line speed. For years adjustable bodywork was banned in F1 until DRS was introduced in 2011 as a technology for increasing overtaking. The system is activated electronically such that only a car following another car by less than 1s at a specific point on the track is able to “stall” downforce on the rear wing by using the DRS.
  • Drag — 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.
  • Drift — Allowing a car to slide across a corner, steering with the throttle, as used to be employed by F1 drivers in the pre-downforce era, i.e., until about 1969 — but is now confined principally to teen movies such as Tokyo Drift and would-be race drivers like Tanner Foust.
  • Drive-Through 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. Drive-throughs used to be confined to extreme rules-breaking driving, but have in more recent years been assessed for such trivial reasons as crossing a white line on the track at pit exit and for racing incidents caused by unintentional driver error. (Can you tell what this author thinks of F1 officiating?) In practical terms, a drive-through penalty almost, but not always, guarantees loss of position, as the field continues at race speed.
  • Endplate — The vertical panels that form the outer edges of a car’s front and rear wings and to which the main wing elements are attached. In current F1 configuration, with a wide and low front wing, it is the front endplates that most frequently are broken off in close wheel-to-wheel racing.
  • Engine Mapping — Use of the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) to adjust the torque, horsepower, ignition timing and related operating characteristics of the engine to maximize performance. After a few laps the computer has a good idea of the shape of the track. From that baseline the ECU builds up a memory of what the engine has to do at each point of the circuit to maintain peak efficiency. In this way, the engine can “learn” the circuit and the engine settings can be “mapped” for all operating conditions to produce maximum power. Changes in engine mapping during parc fermé conditions — such as between qualifying and a GP race start — were banned by the FIA in 2011 and again (after a Red Bull Racing controversy) in 2012.
  • ECUElectronic Control Unit. The computer that controls, among other things, the performance of an F1 car’s engine. ECUs are collectively supplied by FIA (although all manufactured by McLaren Electronics) in order to limit the teams’ use of software technology to gain a performance advantage. The ECU monitors all aspects of the power train and gathers data from 150 to 300 sensors located on each car. Generating between 100KB and 0.5MB of data per second, one car’s ECU will potentially gather more than 1GB of information from the sensors during a Grand Prix race, with all of it continuously broadcast in real time back to systems located in the track-side garage of each Formula One car.
  • ecu


  • ERSEnergy Recovery System. The radical new technical regulations introduced for the 2014 F1 season saw the debut of a new power unit consisting of a 1.6-liter V6 turbo engine and two Energy Recovery Systems. The 2.4-liter normally-aspirated V8 engines of 2013 produced around 750bhp, with an additional 80 bhp available for around 6s per lap from KERS. The 2014 V6s put out around 600 bhp. However, two new ERS systems — ERS-K and ERS-H — give drivers an additional 160 bhp or so for approximately 33s per lap, compared to 6s earlier. ERS-H (H for heat) generates electricity back into the car’s battery using exhaust fumes, which also keep the turbos spinning at 120,000 RPM to eliminate turbo lag. The twin ERS components replaced KERS. the major difference being that the latter was driver initiated with a steering wheel button, while the new units kick in automatically via the throttle. See KERS.
  • FIAFédération 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. Its predecessor was the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA), at the time an autonomous subcommittee of the FIA. Appeals from protests of stewards or Race Director decisions are taken to the FIA International Court of Appeal.
  • F-Duct — A technology developed and deployed during the 2010 Formula One season, also termed a “blown rear wing,” for funneling air under the rear wing in order to reduce downforce (known as “stalling” the wing) and increase speed. F-ducts were first introduced by McLaren and were promptly banned for 2011, replaced with DRS.They represent a classic case of race engineers finding ways around the FIA technical regulations to gain an advantage. F-ducts resulted in ugly car designs featuring high spines running all the way from the air intake to the rear wing.
  • F-Duct


  • Flag-to-Flag — The term given to a Grand Prix victory won from start to finish in P1, harkening back to days when the start of an F1 race was signaled by a waving flag (initially the host country’s) instead of today’s array of red lights. More recent usage has occasionally been “light-to-flag” as a result.
  • Flat Spot — The term given to the area of a tire that is worn heavily on one spot after a moment of extreme braking, involving locking of the wheels, or in the course of a spin. This ruins its handling, often causing severe vibration, and may force a driver to pit for a replacement set of tires.
  • Flying Lap — Synonym for “hot lap.” Also the name of Peter Windsor’s F1 podcast.
  • Formation Lap — The lap before the start of a Grand Prix when the cars are driven round from the grid to form up on the grid again for the start of the race. Sometimes referred to as the warm-up or parade lap.
  • Formula One Commission — A subcommittee of the FIA, the Commission is responsible for approving any changes to the sporting and technical regulations proposed by the Sporting and Technical Working Groups, and then putting them forward to the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council for ratification. The F1 Commission is composed of representatives from some of the teams, race promoters, FOM and an FIA representative. See FIA.
  • Formula One Mgmt.Formula One Management Ltd., known as FOM, is one of several companies (including Formula One Administration, Ltd. and Formula One Licensing BV) formed by Bernie Ecclestone to hold the commercial rights to F1 and to divide revenues among the teams, a confidential process governed by the Concorde Agreement. FOM has actually trademarked the term “Formula 1” and asserts its copyrights aggressively against YouTube race clips and the like.
  • Formula One Teams Association

    Formula One Teams Association

  • FOTA — The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) is a loose collection of F1 teams that has played a role in F1 for decades. Presently suffering from the withdrawal of Ferrari and Red Bull, it is fair to say that FOTA’s remaining relevance is as formal party to the Concorde Agreement.
  • G-Force — A physical force equivalent to one unit of gravity that is multiplied during rapid changes of direction or velocity. Drivers experience severe G-forces as they corner, accelerate and brake.
  • Graining — When a car slides, it can cause little bits or rubber (“grains”) to break away from the tire’s slick surface. These may then stick to the tire, effectively separating it from the track surface. For the driver, the effect is like driving on ball bearings. Careful driving can clear graining within a few laps, but will obviously have an effect on the driver’s pace. Driving style, track conditions, car set-up, fuel load and the tire itself all play a role in graining. In essence, the more the tire moves slides about on the track surface, the more likely tires are to graining.
  • Gravel Trap — A bed of gravel on the outside of corners designed as a run-off area with the aim of bringing cars that skid or spin off the circuit to a halt safely from highly speeds. Gravel traps are now often constructed of colorfully painted concrete.
  • Green Flag — In the past a green flag (and even earlier the GP host country 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.
  • graining


  • Grid — The staggered area before the start-finish line where cars assemble, each in its painted rectangular spot, in qualifying order to start a Grand Prix race. Now set in two-by-two rows, grids in the early days of Formula 1 saw as many as four or five cars side by side at the start.
  • Grip — 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.
  • Grooves — Tires with mandatory, circular cut-outs on their tread, required by the FIA technical regulations from 1997 until a return to slicks — tires with no tread — for the 2008 season. Grooves were introduced as a means to slow the cars, which the tires achieved by having a smaller contact patch with the road for any given tire size. A smaller contact patch not only means less grip, but also that the rubber that is in contact with the road has to be harder, presenting an engineering challenge as well. See Slicks.
  • Ground Effects — A Formula One design style that used airflow under the car to create downforce. Ground effects turned the entire car into a large, inverted wing. Pioneered by Colin Chapman’s revolutionary Lotus 78, ground effects employed skirts (bodywork extending from the chassis to the ground) to establish a vacuum which, in combination with sculpted “Venturi” underbodies, sucked the car to the track. According to 1978 F1 World Champion Mario Andretti, ground effects caused F1 cars to drive “like they were on rails,” but were despised by Niki Lauda, who complained that ground effect cars were impossible to control at the limit. After advancing throughout the grid, by 1981-82 all teams were using ground effects. Yet in an effort to bring more driver control and skill to F1, ground effects — first the skirts (along with six-wheeled and four-wheel drive cars) in 1981, and then underbody Venturi tunnels in 1983 — were finally banned from Formula One.
  • andretti_lotus-1680x720-

    Lotus 78

  • Heat Cycle — A term used to describe the process by which a tire is heated through use and then cooled down. This has the effect of slightly changing the properties of the compound and can improve durability.
  • Hot Lap — A lap where a driver pushes at 100 percent to set his fast possible time, typically used to describe qualifying laps. See Flying Lap.
  • 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.” Many F1 observers consider Michael Schumacher to have been the master of fast in laps and passing in the pits.
  • 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.
  • Intermediates — Intermediate tires are a compromise between slicks and full rain or “wet” tires, with moderate tread designed for use when conditions are slightly rainy but short of a downpour. Often employed by drivers as a tactical measure to gain a competitive advantage when rain is just beginning in a race, “inters” risk significantly slowing the car’s pace if the track remains dry. Intermediate and wet racing tires both degrade very rapidly in dry circuit conditions.
  • Jump Start — When a driver moves off his grid position before the five red lights have been switched off to signal the start. Sensors detect premature movement and a jump start earns a driver a penalty.
  • KERS — 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.
  • Kerbs — Whilst Americans favour “curbs,” the British dominate F1 and so their spelling rules the programme, from bonnet and spanner to chequered flag, except here for “tyres.” (Rubbish!) Kerbs in Formula 1 are most often painted red and white and angled away from the track surface, slightly flattened, since at several GP circuits, especially Monza (for the chicanes), Montréal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and Imola, Italy’s Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari — home of the San Marino Grand Prix until 2007 — riding the kerbs is essential to making fast lap times.
  • curbs_kerbs-1680x720


  • Left-Foot Braking — A style of driving made popular in the 1990s following the arrival of semi-automatic hand clutches so that drivers could keep their right foot on the throttle and dedicate their left to braking.
  • Limit — The edge of adhesion. Racing drivers strive to keep the car “at the limit” in order to achieve the fastest possible lap times. Exceeding the limit typically results in a shunt.
  • Lock Up — The term used to indicate a driver has overbraked, causing a wheel or wheels (typically but not always the front outside wheel) to stop spinning and slide along the track, typically producing smoke and a flat spot on the tire, with resulting vibration.
  • Lollipop — The sign on a stick displayed in front of the car during a pit stop to signal the driver to apply the brakes and when to accelerate after the car is lowered from its jacks. The crew member holding the lollipop was known, appropriately, as the “lollipop man” — often the target of criticism if a car was released into pit lane too soon. Sadly, electronic lighting systems all but replaced lollipop men in the F1 paddock by 2013.
  • Marbles — 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 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. Drivers will collect marbles after a race by steering their car’s hot tires over the dirty part of the track in order to increase the car’s weight to ensure the car meets the minimum weight requirement. See Blistering.
  • Marbles


  • Marshal — 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.
  • Monocoque — A race car manufacturing design pioneered by Colin Chapman of 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. French term literally meaning “single shell.” 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. Monocoques were originally made from aluminum but are now constructed of carbon fiber, which is lighter and stronger than steel. See Tub.
  • Murrayisms — Fan-favorite malapropisms uttered by long-time British ITV Formula 1 announcer Murray Walker.
  • Off-Throttle Blown Diffusers — A controversial technology introduced to F1 in the 2010-11 seasons by which a car’s exhaust was directed across the diffuser, under braking or when the driver lifts off the throttle, in order to increase downforce. Engineers modified engine mapping so that when the driver lifts off, although fuel supply and ignition are cut, airflow through the exhaust — and hence to the diffuser — continues. This technique is known as “cold blowing” because the exhaust is still “blowing” into the diffuser, but the airflow is “cold” because no fuel or ignition is involved. Banned by FIA as of 2012 on the basis that off-throttle blowing unlawfully influenced the aerodynamic characteristics of the car. Under the 2013 and then 2014 technical regulations, moreover, exhausts must exit in small allowable area, too high and far forward to direct the exhaust gasses towards the diffuser. Formula One officially believes “buzz phrases like ‘coanda effect’ and ‘blown diffusers’ will disappear from common usage in 2014 thanks to the repositioning of the exhaust,” but only designers’ ingenuity will ultimately tell. See Diffuser.
  • Blown Diffuser

    Blown Diffuser

  • Options — The designation of softer tires — as opposed to harder, or “prime” tires — indicated by a colored line or lettering on the sidewall. Current F1 sporting regulations require each driver to use at least one set of both options and primes during every Grand Prix.
  • Oversteer — Oversteer 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. Known in American motor racing as getting “loose.”
  • Overtaking — Synonymous with passing, something relatively rare in modern F1 racing due to aerodynamics and dirty air until the introduction of DRS for the 2011 season.
  • P1 — Shorthand for place one, or the race leader, with other positions (P2, etc.) indicating respectively the driver’s position in the race or at the finish.
  • Pace — F1 terminology for speed, i.e., going fast is known as setting a “fast pace.”
  • Paddles — Levers on either side of the back of a steering wheel with which a driver changes up and down the gearbox.
  • Paddock — An enclosed area behind the pits in which the teams keep their transporters and motor homes. There is no admission to the public except for invited hospitality guests of a team and its commercial sponsors.
  • Parc Fermé — The fenced-off area where cars are parked immediately after qualifying and a Grand Prix race so they may be inspected by the officials without tampering by the teams. No team members are allowed to touch cars in parc fermé except under the supervision of race stewards.
  • Parc Ferme

    Parc Ferme

  • Pit Board — A board held out on the pit wall to inform a driver of his race position, the time interval to the car ahead or the one behind and the number of laps remaining. Pit boards are still used, although most communication between team and driver takes place by radio today.
  • Pit Lane – A separate part of the track where work can be done on the car by the crew. A maximum speed limit on pit lane is now 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. In F1, team garages are located immediately behind each pit station. The pit lane is known as “pit road” or “pit row” in American NASCAR and IndyCar racing.
  • 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 Wall — Where the team owner, managers and engineers spend the race, usually under a (rather expensive) awning to keep sun and rain off their monitors.
  • Plank — A hard wooden strip (also known as a regulation plank) that is fitted front-to-back down the middle of the underside of all cars to check that they are not being run too close to the track surface in violation of F1’s technical regulations, something that is apparent if the wood is excessively worn.
  • Platypus Nose — A stepped-nose design, with an ugly height change, introduced by most F1 teams in 2011 in order to meet new technical regulations requiring that the car’s nose be lowered from 62.5 cm (24.6 in) above the ground to 55 cm (22 in) ahead of the front bulkhead.
  • Podium


  • Podium — Where the top three finishers are awarded their trophies. A “podium finish” is a placing (or “classification”) 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 Q3 qualifying, usually (but not always) located on the clean, racing line side of the track.
  • Power Unit — Term denoting 1.6-liter V6 turbocharged hybrid engines, featuring two fully integrated energy recovery systems (ERS-K and ERS-H), introduced with the 2014 Formula One technical regulations. See ERS.
  • Practice — Periods on Friday and on Saturday morning at a Grand Prix meeting when the drivers are out on the track working on the set-up of their cars in preparation for qualifying and the race. With the elimination of in-season testing, practice sessions are now key to testing the performance of modified or new car components and wings.
  • Primes — Hard-compound tires. See Options.
  • Protest — An action lodged by a team when it considers that another team or competitor has transgressed the rules. Protests are initially decided by race stewards but can be appealed to the FIA.
  • Purple — The color used by F1 on its official timing and scoring monitors to indicate a driver has set the fastest time in the field for a sector or lap, known as “going purple.”
  • Push — When a driver applies all his skill to set a fast pace, in order to close a gap between a leading car or open a gap to a car behind, as contrasted to more disciplined driving intended to conserve tires and fuel. Hot laps epitomize push.
  • Q1, Q2, Q3 — The three rounds of “knock-out” qualifying, in which the leaders from each round advance to the next, with a single, 10-minute Q3 session reserved for the fastest 10 drivers and all prior times discarded. This qualifying process has been used in Formula One since 2006, while prior thereto the pole-sitter was determined by the best lap of any car in a full one-hour session open to all entrants. In the late 1980s and 1990s, when on occasion more than 24 cars were entered for a Grand Prix event, there was an additional “pre-qualifying” session, held on Fridays, to determine which cars and teams would qualify for qualifying.
  • Qualifying — The process of determining the order of cars on the starting grid, held on Saturday afternoon before each Grand Prix. Current F1 qualifying uses a “knock out” system of three separate, timed sessions. See Q1, Q2, Q3.
  • Quick — A fast driver is known as “quick” in F1 parlance.
  • Race Director — An FIA-designated official, currently Charlie Whiting, charged with overseeing the Grand Prix race, determining when to call out the safety car or red-flag a race and deciding other rules-enforcement issues.
  • Reactive Ride-Height — A mechanical system, first proposed by Lotus in 2010, which used hydraulic cylinders located in the brake calipers and suspension push-rods to make minute adjustments to the ride height of the car, thereby keeping ride height at an optimal level throughout the race and providing stability during braking. Banned in 2012 by the FIA.
  • 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. See Ride Height.
  • Red Flag

    Red Flag

  • Retirement — When a driver has to drop out of a Grand Prix because of an accident or mechanical failure.
  • Ride Height —The gap between the track’s surface and the floor of the car, strictly controlled by the technical regulations in order to eliminate ground effects design.
  • Roll Hoop — The somewhat-triangular shape above the driver’s head that protects the driver from being crushed in the event of a rollover.
  • Rubbered In — When tire rubber is left on the track, improving grip and therefore speed, a slippery “green” circuit becomes rubbered in.
  • S-Duct — An an open space on the car, strategically situated at the foundation of the nose, that allows airflow to pass from the underside to the top of the chassis. This accelerates airflow and increases downforce. S-Ducts were invented by Sauber in 2012 but were later adopted by larger teams and became increasingly popular in 2015.
  • 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. Known as a “pace car” in U.S. motor racing.
  • Scrutineering — The checking of cars by officials to ensure that they comply with the technical regulations.
  • Sectors — 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.
  • Set Up — Tuning a car’s suspension, tire pressure, camber, wings, ride height and related components and settings to achieve the correct balance, grip and speed for a circuit. Car set up is worked on in practice and qualifying, after which parc fermé conditions apply and mechanics cannot adjust set up until the race is started. As Matin Brundle has observed, “You’re always looking for the perfect set up, and you never get there.”
  • Shakedown — A brief test when a team is trying a different car part for the first time before going back out to drive at 100 percent to set a fast time.
  • Shunt — F1 terminology for an accident or crash (“wreck” in American NASCAR parlance) involving one or more cars.
  • Sidepods — These are the two lower areas on either side of the car that house the electronics and radiators in the car, extending from the cockpit to the rear wing, that today are sculpted to minimize drag.
  • Sidepod


  • Sidepods — These are the two lower areas on either side of the car that house the electronics and radiators in the car, extending from the cockpit to the rear wing, that today are sculpted to minimize drag.
  • SimulatorComputer-graphic recreation of GP circuits, used for driver training and car development in today’s era of highly restricted off-season testing and banned in-season testing. Also a nice way for amateurs to experience a bit of the thrill of Formula One. Ferrari’s simulator is housed in a dedicated, high-ceiling building and weighs in at more than 4,000 lbs; the fully enclosed simulation pod rests atop six robust actuator struts and is controlled by 10 multi-processor computers with a total of more than 60GB of RAM.
  • 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 rule changes dictated minimum ride heights. The presence of these devices greatly affected airflow along the underside of the car and produced “ground effects,” almost a vacuum underneath, sucking it down to the road.
  • Slicks — Racing tires without treads. Introduced in the early 1970s, slick tires have dominated F1 for decades, except for the 1998-2007 period, during which “grooved” tires — with parallel grooves reducing the contact patch — were mandated by FIA in order to reduce grip and slow the cars. Slick tires are virtually undriveable in wet conditions. See Grooves.
  • 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 an overtaking maneuver.
  • Steering Wheel — Formerly, a round leather-covered steel wheel with which the driver would manipulate a car’s front wheels in order to steer the automobile. Today, an oblong-shaped, futuristic-looking, complex carbon fiber electronic device, with cut-outs on each side for hand grips, that includes a mind-boggling number of switches, buttons, LED rev-counter and other displays as well as rear paddles for shifting, and which incidentally happens to be connected to the steering column as well.
  • Stewards — 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. Today the race stewards are supported by one retired F1 driver at each race.
  • Sticker Tires — A term for new tires bearing the manufacturer’s sticker, as opposed to used, or “scuffed,” tires. Today’s F1 tires, however, do not carry stickers when new.
  • Stint — The portion of a race between pit stops. Drivers thus divide each race into several “stints,” over which the performance of a car can vary due to tire condition, fuel load and other factors.
  • Team Principal — Formula One terminology for the chief business and technical executive of an F1 team, popularized by Ron Dennis of McLaren International, who served in that role throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Tear-Off — A thin layer of perspex plastic, multiply layered upon the visor of a driver’s helmet. Each layer can be removed by the driver one at a time when it becomes too dirty to see clearly what is ahead.
  • Tearoffs


  • Telemetry — A system that wirelessly beams data related to the engine, chassis and tires to computers in the team garage so that engineers can monitor the car’s status and performance.
  • Tifosi — Passionate Italian F1 fans who storm the Monza main straight and podium, and appear en masse at other venues, to cheer for their beloved Scuderia drivers.
  • Tires — The rubber additions to wheels that create a contact patch and allow for grip. Tires that use softer rubber, for example, will not last as long as medium or hard tires under race conditions but will provide the best grip, resulting in faster lap times but possibly more pit stops. Tire choice is important for determining the pit stop strategy of a car. F1 racing tires are supplied by Pirelli and are essentially hand-made, such that different sets of tires with identical compounds can behave very differently.
  • Tire Barrier — A safety feature to protect drivers in the event of an off-track shunt, typically located at the end of a runoff area or immediately in front of a concrete wall. Tire barriers are stacks of used tires bundled together and wrapped, usually colored read and white, that absorb the energy of a crash and thus lessen damage and injury. Before tire barriers and Armco, Grand Prix races used hay bales to guard dangerous corners.
  • Tire Degradation — As tires wear and lose rubber, reducing grip, the process is known as tire degradation, typically more pronounced with soft, option tires.
  • Tire Barrier

    Tire Barrier

  • Tire Warmer — An electric blanket that is wrapped around racing tires before they are fitted to the car so that they will start closer to their optimum operating temperature.
  • Torque — 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 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 circuits, as power is available over a far wider rev range and hence more accessible. Good torque is particularly vital on tracks with a number of mid-to slow-speed turns, where quick acceleration out of corners is essential to a good lap time.
  • Traction Control — The use of onboard computers in a car to synchronize movement of the suspension with engine controls to maximize speed and prevent the car from losing grip. If either of a car’s driven (rear) wheels is losing traction, i.e., spinning, the system transfers more drive to the wheel with more traction, thus using engine power more efficiently. Along with pre-programmed automatic gearbox sequences, it is sometimes called ‘launch control” because it eliminates wheelspin at the start of the race. One of many so-called active technologies banned after the 1993 F1 season.
  • Tub — Another name for the chassis or monocoque, so called because of its shape.
  • Turbulence — The result of the disruption of airflow caused by an interruption to its passage, such as when it hits a rear wing and its horizontal flow is spoiled.
  • Understeer — 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. Known in American motor racing as “push.”
  • Virtual Safety Car — A 2015 rules change introduced in the aftermath of Jules Bianchi’s gruesome accident at the Japanese Grand Prix the prior season, under caution flags at twilight, by which drivers will have to stick to a time determined by race control in each marshaling sector. VSC will be signaled on the trackside light panels but the safety car will not actually be deployed. FIA also decreed that the start times for the Australian and several Asian GPs would be moved an hour earlier to ensure maximum sunlight throughout each race. See Safety Car.
  • Virtual Safety Car

    Virtual Safety Car

  • WAGs — British tabloid acronym for “Wives and Girlfriends.” Typically used to introduce sexy photos of the girls (women), as in this compilation of Isabella Reis, Timo Glock’s WAG.
  • White Flag — Signals one lap left in the event.
  • Winged Car — A term originated during the initial era of experimentational aerodynamics circa 1969 to describe a well-designed car that used aerodynamic principles to produce ground force, giving it superior capabilities on the track, epitomized by wedge-shaped Lotus 72. The 72 was one of the most remarkable and successful designs in F1 history, driven to the 1970 World Championship (posthumously) by Jochen Rindt and consecutive 1972 and 1973 Championships by Emerson Fittipaldi.
  • X-Wings — Ugly and controversial sidepod-mounted Winglets first introduced by Tyrrell Racing during the 1997 F1 season but banned as a result of amendments to the FIA technical regulations after the following year.
  • 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.



4 Replies to “Glossary”

  1. If you are talking about the colored camera mounts above the roll hoops (airbox intakes), they indicate the number 1 and 2 drivers for each team — an easier way to tell the cars apart, because car numbers are so small these days. With drivers (until this season) changing helmet designs on an almost constant basis, the TV camera located on top of a car’s airbox becomes the best way of differentiating teammates.

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