Formula 1 Starting Procedures
The starting procedures are one of the distinctive features of Formula 1 racing. Drivers make a formation lap around the track before stopping on the grid. Then the iconic starting lights signal the beginning of the race, and the cars speed away. Keep reading for more information on all the rules governing the starting procedures of a Formula 1 race.
The first part of the Formula 1 starting procedures is the reconnaissance lap. This is a lap—or laps— around the track that drivers must make before the formation lap. The purpose of performing a reconnaissance lap is to assess the car’s handling and the track conditions, then have a final opportunity to make adjustments in the pits.
The period during which reconnaissance laps are permitted begins 40 minutes before the formation lap and lasts for ten minutes. During this period, the exit to the pits is opened, and drivers are allowed to do reconnaissance laps. If a driver wishes to make more than one reconnaissance lap, they must drive slowly through the pits between laps rather than driving through the grid, which will be full of people.
Although there is no limit to the number of reconnaissance laps a driver may take, the reconnaissance lap is mandatory. If a driver fails to do a reconnaissance lap during the 10-minute period, that driver will be forced to start from the pits.
After completing their reconnaissance laps, all drivers who are permitted to start from the grid take their positions on the grid and stop their engines.
After the ten-minute reconnaissance period ends, the exit to pit lane is closed, with 30 minutes remaining until the start of the formation lap. Any cars still in the pits at this time will be forced to start from pit lane.
Visual and auditory signals are given in the pit and grid areas to alert competitors to the impending start of the race. The first of these signals happens 32 minutes before starting the formation lap to warn drivers that pit lane is closing in two minutes. The next signal is given two minutes later, signifying that the pits are now closed, and there are 30 minutes until the start of the formation lap.
Similar signals are shown and sounded at ten minutes, five minutes, three minutes, one minute, and fifteen seconds before starting the formation lap. At the ten-minute signal, everyone except drivers, team technical staff, and officials must leave the grid.
Following the three-minute signal, all cars must have their wheels attached. After this point, any wheel removal must be done in pit lane, not on the grid.
At the one-minute signal, the signal is given for the drivers to start their engines. By the time the 15-second signal is shown, all technical staff must be off the grid, taking all of their equipment with them.
Once the time for the start of the formation lap has arrived, the green starting lights are illuminated, signaling to the drivers that the formation lap has begun. The cars then pull away from the grid and begin the formation lap, with the pole sitter in the lead and the other cars following behind in the order of their starting position.
Also known as the parade lap, the formation lap is a single lap around the track that immediately precedes the race. The entire field runs the parade lap together, maintaining tight and constant intervals between the cars and staying in the order of their pole positions.
The main purpose of running the formation lap is to allow the cars’ engines, gearboxes, fluids, brakes, and tires to heat up to optimal operating temperatures. Warming the tires is the primary reason that you will see drivers swerve left and right during the formation lap. The horizontal friction caused by swerving creates heat, increasing the available grip in the tires at the start of the race. The formation lap also gives the drivers one last chance to scout passing zones and assess track conditions.
The formation lap is run at a slow speed, and no overtaking is allowed. The exception is if a car has gotten out of position for any reason. The driver may safely pass during the formation lap to regain their proper position in this situation. If an out-of-position car fails to regain its position during the formation lap, it is not allowed to return to the grid. Instead, the driver must enter pit lane, from where they will start the race.
All of the audio and visual time signals that warn competitors of the coming start of the race reference the time that the formation lap will begin. The ten-minute warning indicates that ten minutes are remaining before the start of the formation lap. This time is not the same as the official race start time. The organizers take the duration of the formation lap into account, so the start of the formation lap is always a few minutes before the official race start time.
Once the field has completed the formation lap, the cars return to the grid again. The drivers stop in their grid positions and leave their engines running. At this time, all of the red and green starting lights are illuminated.
Then a five-second countdown begins, with each second passing being marked by turning off one of the five pairs of red starting lights. When there is only one pair of red lights still illuminated, an automated system waits a randomly-determined amount of time between zero and one second, then extinguishes that final pair of red lights. This system prevents drivers from anticipating the exact moment of the race’s start to make starts more fair and competitive.
Once the last pair of red lights have been turned off, only the green starting lights are still illuminated; this is the signal to the drivers that the race has started. The drivers speed away, and the race is on!