Brake checking is a dangerous act that you can sometimes witness on many public roads. While drivers use this driving move to vent their frustration and annoy other motorists in a malicious manner, there is no place for it in motorsports. However, many fans wonder if brake checks still occur in F1.
Brake checks in F1 are defined as lifting off the throttle or suddenly braking without good reason to do so. In Formula 1 they can be especially dangerous because of the speeds that the cars are traveling at and the fact that these cars do not have brake lights, which can cause huge accidents.
F1 has had its fair share of controversy when it comes to brake testing, but there is more to it than frustrated drivers. Below we cover everything there is to know about brake checking in F1, including why it is dangerous, why drivers brake test each other, and what the penalty for this action is.
What Is A Brake Test In F1?
Brake testing in Formula 1 refers to the same type of incident that you might encounter on the road. Brake testing is when the driver in front suddenly taps their brake pedal or lifts off the throttle without good reason, resulting in sudden and unexpected deceleration of the car.
It’s often used when a car is following closely behind, or tailgating, the car in front. On motorways brake testing can be used in a malicious way to frustrate the car behind or tell them to back off if they’re getting too close. However, it remains a dangerous move to pull off.
In Formula 1 though, brake testing is much more dangerous than on motorways. Formula 1 cars often travel at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, and simply lifting off the throttle can result in the car decelerating much quicker than you would expect.
While moving at those speeds it becomes more difficult to judge the speed of the car ahead of you, and even if the car is not braking, you can easily be caught out by a car that is suddenly slowing down for no reason at all.
Is Brake Checking Illegal In F1?
Brake checking is illegal in Formula 1, and the FIA considers it reckless driving, meaning that if a driver does brake check another car they will be punished for it. F1 drivers understand the dangers involved in braking checking other cars, so it’s unlikely that they would ever do it on purpose.
Brake checking is mainly illegal in Formula 1 and other forms of motorsport because it can cause a serious accident. Putting drivers’ lives at risk is the last thing that the FIA wants, especially after all the money that they have invested in making the cars safer than ever before.
Although brake checking is illegal in all forms of motorsport, it is especially dangerous in Formula 1. These cars do not have any brake lights, and there is no way of telling when a car is slowing down unless you are able to physically see the car doing so. From a driver’s perspective it’s difficult to judge this on the racetrack.
Formula 1 is very serious about slower cars on track. Any car that is driving unnecessarily slowly on an F1 circuit poses a threat to other drivers. The driver will be punished or even disqualified from the race. The 107% rule has even been brought into the sport to prevent slower cars from entering the race.
Why Do F1 Drivers Brake Test Each Other?
F1 drivers should never brake test each other on purpose. They are the among the best drivers in the world and understand the dangers that it would cause for themselves and other drivers. However, there have been some brake test incidents in the past in Formula 1.
The majority of brake testing cases are accidental in Formula 1, and it’s mostly the result of misunderstandings between drivers. For example, a driver might be slowing down as they have been shown the blue flag and the driver behind might not be aware of this. In this instance the driver that is slowing down is simply following the rules.
Drivers might also be caught out by other drivers braking too early for corners. This happened to David Coulthard in 2003 as the Renault of Fernando Alonso was braking earlier than usual due to suffering from brake problems. Coulthard’s closing speed was much faster than he expected, and he swerved to avoid the slower Renault, ending up in the gravel and out of the race.
Brake checking can also sometimes be a case where the driver in front is not paying attention during practice or qualifying on their cool down laps. We have seen some close calls where drivers do not see a faster car coming when they suddenly begin to slow down for their cool down lap.
Why Is Brake Checking Dangerous?
Brake checking is dangerous in any scenario because it brings cars too closely together. It is especially dangerous in F1 because of the speed the cars are traveling and because F1 cars do not have brake lights. This makes it hard to tell when a car is slowing down and difficult to avoid a crash.
Brake testing always creates a dangerous scenario, even on public roads. However, it is even more dangerous in Formula 1. Formula 1 stewards do not make these incidents lightly, and they will always thoroughly investigate the incident to be sure of what happened and if they need to take further action. Any driver that purposely brake checks another car should not be on a Formula 1 track.
The first reason why brake checking is so dangerous in Formula 1 is because the cars move so quickly. Formula 1 cars can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour on a straight, and they can decelerate from that speed down to a complete stop in less than five seconds if the driver hits the brake pedal hard. This creates big speed differences and simply a recipe for disaster.
F1 cars also do not have any brake lights. The flashing red lights on the back of the car are used to indicate that the ERS system is harvesting energy. If a driver hits the brakes suddenly when they are not meant to be braking, there’s no way of knowing that the car is suddenly decelerating.
Formula 1 tracks are also very narrow, and it can be difficult to take evasive action if the car in front suddenly brake checks another driver. Taking avoiding action can cause another dangerous scenario as other cars will suddenly be swerving around the track, potentially colliding with other cars or losing control.
What Is The Penalty For Brake Checking Your Opponent?
The penalty for brake checking your opponent depends on what the stewards’ investigation reveals. A driver that had good reasoning for slowing down will often be given a 10 second penalty or a grid penalty for the next race. Drivers who did not have reason can be disqualified and given a race ban.
Brake testing is illegal in Formula 1 and any driver that does brake check another driver will be penalized. Due to the severity of the incident, a thorough investigation will be launched, and every aspect of the incident will be taken into consideration.
The stewards will watch replays from every possible camera angle. They will also be analyzing each car’s telemetry such as the throttle, braking, and steering usage of both cars. They will then be able to discern the driver that is at fault for the incident, and if brake checking really did take place on the track.
From there the stewards will look for a reason as to why the driver might have slowed down, such as giving a position back to their opponent, obeying yellow or blue flags or perhaps a mechanical failure. If there is no good reason for slowing down unexpectedly, the driver can be disqualified and given a race ban for reckless driving.
However, if there was a reason for the driver to slow down it becomes a more complicated scenario. Oftentimes drivers will be given a 10 second penalty or a grid penalty for the next race if they have slowed down on track in an unsafe manner.
Famous Brake Checking Incidents In F1
With Formula 1 being the pinnacle of motorsport it’s not often that we see brake checking incidents. Drivers must follow strict rules, and there is a long list of requirements that a driver needs to tick off before they are even allowed to step foot inside a Formula 1 car and drive it out onto the track.
Drivers work their entire lives to reach Formula 1, so it’s unlikely that they would risk their entire careers over a small brake checking incident. If a driver were to brake test another car on purpose, it could ruin their reputation and they would struggle to find a seat in any racing series, never mind a seat in Formula 1.
There have been some brake checking incidents in the past, however, none of these were malicious in nature, and they were not done on purpose. All these incidents can be explained. The truth is that no driver on the Formula 1 grid would risk damaging their cars or losing their life just to brake check another driver, no matter how frustrated they might be.
Max Verstappen – Saudi Arabia 2021
The most recent example of brake checking occurred in the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The first ever Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia proved to be a controversial one for many reasons. The main reason, however, involved the incident that took place between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
During the Jeddah Grand Prix, Hamilton attempted to overtake Verstappen around the outside for the lead of the race. Verstappen took avoiding action, cutting across the corner and retaining his position in the lead of the race. The stewards said that Verstappen gained an advantage by leaving the track and was instructed to give the position back to Hamilton.
Verstappen slowed down on the back straight to let Hamilton by, but there was a misunderstanding that saw Hamilton collide with the Red Bull. There were some questionable tactics used by Verstappen in letting Hamilton through for the lead of the race.
The first is that he did not leave the racing line, making it difficult for Hamilton to judge that he was slowing down. The stewards also found an erratic braking pattern on his telemetry on lap 37 as he was waiting for Hamilton to pass him. Verstappen was given a 10-second time penalty for the incident.
Lewis Hamilton – Baku 2017
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix of 2017 was an action-packed race, but there was some controversy between championship rivals and race leaders Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. As the second safety car period was ending, Hamilton was leading the pack out of turn 15.
Hamilton slowed down on the exit of turn 15 to let the safety car speed away and into the pits. At this point Hamilton would become the pace setter, and he had to wait for the safety car to reach the pits before accelerating away and restarting the race.
However, as the safety car sped off out of turn 15, Hamilton’s car seemed to slow down when Vettel was expecting it to speed up. Vettel drove into the back of the Mercedes believing that he had been brake tested by Hamilton. He pulled alongside the Mercedes waving his hands in the air and even banged wheels with the Brit.
Vettel was given a 10 second stop and go penalty for the incident, with reckless driving being the explanation for the penalty. An investigation was launched where the stewards found no evidence of Hamilton purposely slowing down by braking or lifting off the throttle at the exit of turn 15.
David Coulthard – Belgium 1998
Michael Schumacher was on the verge of his legendary run of World Championships and fighting title rival, Mika Hakkinen. The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa proved to be one of the most chaotic races in the history of the sport as heavy rain came down over the circuit.
The race started with a 13-car pile-up just after the first turn, triggered by a spinning David Coulthard. At the restart, pole sitter, Mika Hakkinen, spun and damaged his car, having to retire from the race. Seizing his opportunity, Schumacher took the lead of the race and built a massive lead over the rest of the pack with his main title rival out of the race.
Schumacher was coming around to lap Coulthard on lap 25. While being shown the blue flags, Coulthard began to slow his McLaren down to let the Ferrari past. Blinded by the spray coming off the McLaren, Schumacher drove straight into the back of Coulthard, ending the race for both.
Back in the pit lane, a furious Schumacher stormed into the McLaren garage to confront Coulthard. Schumacher was angered by the fact that he believed Coulthard was driving recklessly, and that he missed a golden opportunity to gain some extra points on his championship rival.
Brake checking is a dangerous driving action where a driver suddenly brakes or lifts off the throttle without good reason to do so. This act is especially dangerous in F1 and the FIA is very strict on these incidents. An F1 driver should never brake test intentionally as they understand the dangers.