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F1 Terms

Airbox – The hole above the drivers head that allows the required air to enter the engine.

Apex – The point of a corner that drivers want to ‘clip’ in order to achieve the ideal racing line.

Aquaplaning – This happens when there is more water between the tyres and the road than can be displaced by the tyre tread. The car ‘floats’ and consequently cannot be controlled by the driver. Formula 1 races can be stopped if there is a danger of aquaplaning. Under very wet conditions, the safety car is generally used to keep the field at a lower speed.

Balaclava – An important piece of the drivers ‘nomex’ fireproof race wear, that protects their face and neck from burns in the event of a fire.

Blistering – Formation of blisters on the tyres, caused by excessive use/temperature. The negative consequence is reduction in grip.

Blown Diffuser – (See Diffuser) A blown diffuser is where the exhaust gases from the engine are channeled through the cars diffuser, thus creating additional downforce owing to the higher level of ‘air’ travelling through this critical area.

CAD – Abbreviation for “Computer Aided Design”. This involves intelligent computer programmes which provide efficiency and speed and make the designers’ work much easier. Drawing boards have long been a thing of the past in modern racing factories.

Carbon Fibre – A construction material for Formula 1 cars. The monocoque, for example, is made of epoxy resin reinforced with carbon fibre. These materials, when laminated together, give great rigidity and strength, but are very light.

CFD – Stands for Computational Fluid Dynamics. This technology has permanently transformed the development processes in Formula 1. CFD makes the airflows surrounding the vehicle visible on the computer, and at the same time shows the effects of individual vehicle parts on each other and on the aerodynamics. So the engineers can simulate these effects without even having to build the parts first. That saves time and money.

Chassis – The main body of the car, today made of composite carbon fibre.

Chicane – Two corners following one another, in quick succession.

Clerk of the Course – The official responsible for the safe running of each Grand Prix.

Concorde Agreement – This agreement specifies the rights and obligations of the teams, the FIA and FOM. It also calls for unanimity for important decisions between all F1 teams.

Constructor – Often used in place of the term ‘team’. The official driver’s championship was first introduced in 1950, with its counterpart, the constructors championship first being awarded in 1958.

Crash Test – Dynamic and static tests that simulate frontal, rear and side impacts, as well as testing the roll over bar. Before the start of each season every F1 team must submit their new car design to the FIA and successfully complete these tests before being allowed to race.

Differential – The system on an F1 car that equalises the power being sent to each of the rear wheels when cornering.

Diffuser – Air outlet at the rear of the car’s under body that has a strong influence on the aerodynamic properties. Rising to the rear, the tail ensures a controlled airstream on the under body which generates low pressure under the car and generates the downforce critical to fast cornering.

Dirty-air – When one F1 car follows another closely through a sequence of corners, it can be disadvantaged by running in the ‘dirty-air’. As air passes over an F1 car’s wings, it is used to create the downforce the F1 car requires, thus disturbing the air. This disturbed-air then doesn’t work as effectively as it passes over a second car, resulting in a loss of aerodynamic performance and therefore speed.

Downforce – The force generated by the wings on a Formula 1 car. F1 wings work on the reverse principal of an aeroplane, thus producing downforce as opposed to lift. This force allows f1 cars to corner at the incredible speeds they do.

Drive through penalty – If a driver is judged to have contravened the rules, he can be given a ‘drive through penalty’ where he must drive through the pitlane during one lap of the race (without stopping) at the regulation pitlane speed limit of 120k/ph, normally resulting in a loss of around 20 seconds to the driver.

ECU – Abbreviation for ‘Electronic Control Unit’. The control unit that controls and records all the electronic processes in a Formula 1 car is located in the Black Box.

The FIA – Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body for world motorsport; based in Paris.

FOM – Formula One Management is Bernie Ecclestone’s company that manages the rights associated with Formula 1.

Formation Lap – Also referred to as the ‘warm-up lap’. The lap before the start of a Grand Prix that allows the drivers to warm up their brakes and tyres. Cars must not overtake one another during this lap.

Free Practice – The practice sessions that take place on the days preceding each Grand Prix which allow the drivers to practice and set-up their cars for the race. There is no limit set on the number of laps a driver can do, however with tyre and engine use heavily restricted, too many practice laps can be costly. These laps do not count towards the grid for the race.

Graining – Due to extremes, tyres show signs of corrosion and the rubber compound begins to disintegrate. This is referred to as graining. The negative consequence is a reduction in grip.

Grand Prix – French for ‘large-prize’ the traditional name used to refer to motorsport events.

Hairpin – A very tight and therefore slow corner – typically of 180º.

HANS – ‘Head And Neck Support’ The anchor system linked to every drivers crash helmet, to reduce loads in the event of an accident and rapid deceleration.

Helmet – Driver crash helmets are made of carbon, polyethylene and Kevlar and weigh approximately 1,300 grams. They are designed to reduce drag as much as possible. Helmets are subjected to extreme deformation and fragmentation tests. Only helmets tested and authorised by the FIA may be used in races.

Installation Lap – The first lap completed during any given running of an F1 car. After this first lap the car will return to the garage so that the engineering team can check all of the car’s systems for the correct pressures and temperatures.

Intermediate Tyre – A tyre ideally suited to interim conditions between wet and dry, generally used when the circuit is damp or in light drizzle. This tyre will have a light tread pattern to disperse some water and is generally a softer compound that dry weather ‘slicks’.

Kerbs – The edge of the track, (often painted red and white) generally placed on the inside and exit of corners at the edge of the track. The surface is often intentionally rutted to discourage drivers from using to much ‘kerb’ and thus cutting corners.

KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) – KERS makes a return to Formula 1 in 2011, it first appeared in 2009, but was rested in 2010 due to cost. The system recovers excess heat and energy created from the huge velocity Formula 1 cars produce when braking. This excess energy is then converted into useable power by the KERS system and utilised under aceleration by the drivers, through the pressing of a button on their steering wheel.

Lollipop – A round sign on a pole, used to direct the driver into the correct stopping point during a pit stop.

Marbles – As F1 tyres are so soft, they wear at a very high rate, as the worn rubber flicks off the tyres it collects at the edge of the circuit, as small balls of rubber, referred to as ‘marbles’.


Marshal – Officials located around the circuit who communicate messages to the drivers through a flag or light system e.g. danger ahead. Marshal’s also help to retrieve cars and treat drivers involved in incidents during races.


Moncoque – Also referred to as the ‘tub’. It is the main section of the car, within which the driver is situated, it can also be referred to as the ‘safety cell’ owing to its extremely tough carbon fibre construction.


Nomex – The fire retardant material used in the production of driver overalls, gloves, underwear and boots.


Oversteer – A term used to describe the situation where the rear of the car begins to slide, owing to a lack of grip or excess in speed. The driver can combat this through the fine application of steering (in the opposing direction of the slide) and use of the throttle.


Paddock – The area behind the pit/garage building at an Formula 1 circuit.


Parc Ferme – At certain points of a race weekend, cars will be placed in ‘parc ferme’ a holding bay where limited work can be done to the cars by the team and where the race officials can carry out checks on the legality of a team’s car.


Pitboard – An information board shown to drivers by their team as they cross the start/finish line, the board typically shows a driver his position and information on lap times/gaps to rival drivers.


Pitlane – The part of the track used by drivers to enter/exit the pits/garage, also used by teams for tyre changes during the race.


Pits – The area the team garages are based for them to work on their cars during the Grand Prix weekend.


Pitwall – The wall dividing the circuit and the pitlane. The team position their key personnel and engineers on the ‘pit-perch’ during Formula 1 sessions, where they communicate with the drivers and make key strategy decisions during the race.


Pole Position – The term given to first position on the grid for the race, as decided during Saturday’s qualifying session.


Qualifying – The session that takes place on the Saturday afternoon of a Grand Prix weekend, in order to decide the grid for the following day’s race.


Racing Line – The name given to the ideal route to be taken through any corner, usually the shortest distance that allows maximum speed to be carried.


Ride Height – The term for the setting of how low the car runs to the ground. It is a case of the lower the better for performance, however this is monitored closely by the officials and running to low can contravene the regulations.


Safety Car – Should an incident occur during a race or if weather conditions deteriorate to a level considered dangerous, the safety-car may be deployed. This high-performance road car will head the field until the circuit has been cleared of damaged cars and debris or conditions improve to a level where it is safe to continue racing.


Shake down – Term used to describe a short test session for an F1 car, to ensure that all of the systems are operating correctly.


Set-up – A term used to describe the overall settings of specific variables on an F1 car, including, aerodynamics, suspension, ride height and tyre pressures.


Sidepods – The area on either side of an F1 car that house the car’s radiators.


Slick Tyre – A tread free tyre used in motorsport for dry weather conditions. The flat ‘slick’ surface allows maximum contact between the tyre and the road, thus providing maximum grip.


Slipstream – Due to the highly efficient aerodynamic performance of an F1 car, as it travels along it punches a ‘hole in the air’ or vacuum, a car following closely behind another on a straight will benefit from this vacuum, as aerodynamic ‘drag’ will be reduced thus allowing the following car to travel faster. This advantage can be used to overtake a rival.


Stop and go penalty – If a driver is judged to have contravened the rules he can be given a ‘Stop and go penalty’ where he must drive into the pitlane and stop at his team’s pit-bay remaining stationary for usually 10 seconds before being released back into the race, this normally results in a loss of around 30 seconds to the driver.


Super Licence – Formula 1 driving licence issued by the FIA. In the interest of safety, it is only granted on the basis of good results in junior series’ or, in exceptional cases, if other proof of ability can be supplied. It may also be granted under provisional terms.


Tear Off – Thin, plastic film the driver can tear from his crash helmet’s visor during a race, should it become dirty, obscuring his vision. Drivers generally start a race with three or four of these tear offs, using them throughout the race.


Telemetry – Data taken from the Formula 1 car that the team’s engineers will download wirelessly, (even whilst on track) that gives crucial information on the car’s status and performance. Data fields can range from tyre pressures and temperature, to fuel consumption and aerodynamic loadings.


Traction – This term describes the ability of a race car to apply its engine’s power to the track.


Tyre Compound – Tyres vary in compound (softness) so they will wear out/ last for varying lengths of time/laps. Different compounds may also be more suited to different types of asphalt/climates of the various Grand Prix circuits around the world. Each driver is required to use both of the two options of tyre compound during each race.


Understeer – A term used to describe the situation where the front of the car begins to slide, owing to a lack of grip or excess in speed. Understeer is harder for the driver to cure compared to oversteer and is usually cured through changes in the ‘set-up’ of the car.


Wheel Tethers – The wheels are connected to the chassis by tethers made from high-performance fibres (PBO, Zylon). They are intended to prevent the wheels from flying off in the case of an accident. Each individual fibre must be capable of withstanding a load of seven tons.


Wishbones – The components connecting the wheel and suspension to the chassis. Wishbones are mounted at right angles to the vehicle’s longitudinal axis. These pivoting rods, which have also acquired aerodynamic significance, must be made of extremely strong materials such as carbon fibre or steel.