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Black & White Flag In F1: What Does It Mean?

Receiving the black and white flag is never a good thing in Formula 1. While it’s not the end of the world, it does mean that the driver needs to change their behavior if they want to avoid getting into any trouble with the stewards.

If an F1 driver is shown the black and white flag it means that they are being warned for repeatedly infringing the rules and they will receive a penalty if they do not change their behavior. The black and white flag is commonly used when drivers exceed track limits too many times.

The black and white flag isn’t used very often in F1 when compared to others like the yellow and blue flag. However, it is still very much a part of the sport, acting almost like soccer’s yellow card. Below, we go into more detail about what the black and white flag is for in Formula 1.

What Is The Black And White Flag In F1?

In Formula 1 the black and white flag does not refer to the checkered flag that is shown to signify the end of the race. The black and white flag has a diagonal line through it, with the top half being black and the bottom half white. The flag is usually accompanied by a driver’s number.

Unlike most other flags in Formula 1, the black and white flag is aimed specifically at one single driver, which is why the marshals often hold up a number next to the flag while waving it. This will ensure that the driver knows that the flag is being shown specifically to them as they drive past.

The black and white flag means that the driver is being warned that they could be given a penalty soon if they do not change their behavior on track. It’s been compared to the yellow card that is given to soccer players, as it doesn’t necessarily have any instantaneous consequences, but the player is on thin ice and could be penalized soon if they do not change their actions.

If the driver continues to commit the same infringement they can be penalized for their actions. It’s rare to see the black and white flag in Formula 1 due to the fact that all the drivers understand the rules, and the teams keep them in check on the radios before they are shown black and white flags. However, it’s commonly used when drivers exceed track limits too often.

When Is The Black And White Flag Used?

The black and white flag is used when an F1 driver breaks the rules in one way or another. It is used to inform the driver that the stewards are aware of their actions and the next step for them would be to penalize the driver for breaking the rules. It’s often used if a driver exceeds track limits.

Drivers will be warned if they keep exceeding track limits at a specific corner. The driver would have been informed by their team that they are exceeding track limits, but if they continue to do so then the black and white flag is their final warning before they are given a penalty.

Another scenario where the black and white flag can be used is for unsportsmanlike behavior. In Formula 1 this involves forcing other cars off track, swerving too aggressively on the straights when defending against overtaking cars, or simply driving recklessly. The black and white flag will be again shown to the driver as their final warning.

It’s rare to see the black and white flag being used during Free Practice sessions and qualifying. It’s mostly used during the race, and even then, the team will be informing the driver of any wrongdoing, ideally before this flag comes out. However, if the driver continues to disobey the rules they will be shown the black and white flag as a warning.

Is There A Penalty For Getting A Black And White Flag?

Drivers are not given penalties for being shown the black and white flag, but it does indicate that they are close to receiving a penalty for their driving. The black and white flag is considered to be a final warning related to how the driver is behaving out on track.

In some cases, incidents deserve an outright penalty without any form of warning. This can include causing collisions or purposely forcing other drivers off the track in a dangerous manner. If there is a clear infringement of the rules or some form of dangerous driving, the stewards do have the right to penalize the driver without showing them the black and white flag.

The black and white flag refers to the “driving standards and unsportsmanlike behavior” which serves as a warning to drivers who are getting close to the line or have already edged over the line of driving in an unfair manner, such as exceeding track limits too many times – which is often done on purpose to try and gain a speed advantage.

If a driver has been shown the black and white flag for a specific incident (such as exceeding track limits too many times for example) then the stewards can penalize the driver for continuing to breach the rules or driving dangerously despite being warned about their actions.

Does The Black And White Flag Allow Drivers To Get Away Without Penalties?

Many people believe that the use of black and white flags gives drivers more leeway and allows them to get away with some bad driving practices. If the black and white flag serves as the final warning, then surely drivers could push their luck until they are shown the flag before being penalized for their actions?

The black and white flag does not allow drivers to drive in a manner that is illegal or breaches the rules. If a driver drives in an outright dangerous manner or is clearly in breach of the rules, the stewards can penalize them without showing them the black and white flag.

Instead, the black and white flag can be used for racing incidents or driving in a way that is borderline unacceptable. It lets the driver know that they are on the verge of breaking the rules, and that the stewards are keeping a close eye on their actions. If they do not change their behavior on track then they could be penalized.

Drivers can’t simply drive as they please until they see the black and white flag being waved at them. They still need to follow all the rules and drive safely without endangering their lives, or the lives of their competitors.

Why Did F1 Stop Using The Black And White Flag?

For many years we did not see the black and white flag being used in the sport. Ever since team radios came along, the use of the black and white flag seemed to disappear as drivers were simply being told about their warnings over the team radio and they could adjust their driving accordingly.

However, in 2019 the FIA decided to bring back the black and white flags, stating that the flag was never retired from the sport, but it simply fell out of use. We saw the flag being used again during the 2019 Italian Grand Prix as Charles Leclerc was aggressively defending against Lewis Hamilton for the lead of the race.

The exact rules surrounding the black and white flag were then clarified. The black and white flag is issued by the race director, rather than the stewards. Rather than giving leeway for the drivers to bend the rules, it serves as a notice to the driver that they are being closely watched and that they are on the edge of breaching the rules and being penalized.

Even if the driver was issued a black and white flag, the stewards can still look at the incident to determine whether the driver’s actions do deserve punishment. This means that a driver could, on rare occasions, be penalized after originally being shown the black and white flag. However, a black and white flag does not necessarily mean that the driver is being penalized.

Final Thoughts

The black and white flag means that an F1 driver is on their final warning and could be penalized soon if they do not adjust their driving. Drivers can be given the black and white flag for repeatedly getting close to breaking the rules, such as exceeding track limits too often or dangerous driving.