Qualifying can be one of the most exciting parts of an F1 race weekend. The drivers must prepare the car properly with each lap in order to set the fastest time possible. But you may hear the terms flying lap and hot lap used a lot and wonder what they mean.
Flying laps in F1 are the fast timed laps that a driver sets during qualifying. The flying lap timer starts as soon as the driver crosses the starting line and ends when the driver crosses the same line a second time. They are usually preceded by out laps and followed by cooldown laps.
Drivers will aim to avoid making mistakes and will be trying their best to set the fastest possible lap time when on a flying lap. With their starting position on the line, drivers can’t afford to take it easy. Below, we go into more detail about what exactly a flying lap consists of in Formula 1.
F1 Flying Lap Explained
Flying laps are incredibly important in Formula 1 as the drivers aim to set the fastest possible lap time using these laps. The flying lap is a driver’s main lap, and is the lap time that will count towards their position on the leaderboard. In qualifying, these lap times will determine where they start on the grid for the Grand Prix.
Flying laps can also be done in free practice sessions, but these are not as important as it won’t determine the driver’s starting position. Free practice sessions are mostly used to gather data such as how fast the tires wear out and what setup changes need to be made to the car to improve its performance in qualifying and the race.
During Free Practice 3, the drivers will often perform qualifying simulations. At this point flying laps become more important and the drivers focus on maximizing their pace over one flying lap in several different ways, such as by braking later, perfecting their car setup, and optimizing their racing line to find the fastest way around the track.
Is A Flying Lap The Same As A Hot Lap?
A hot lap and a flying lap are the same thing in F1. Flying laps can also be referred to as timed laps. All of these terms refer to the fast, timed laps that a driver sets during qualifying. You’ll often hear instances of each term during a Grand Prix weekend.
While “timed laps” and “flying laps” are often used by the British and European motorsport community, the term “hot laps” are often used by the US motorsport community. Nevertheless, all of these terms are correct and have the same meaning.
How Many Flying Laps Do F1 Drivers Do In Qualifying?
F1 drivers will often do up to 10 flying laps in qualifying, depending on the track, how fast they are, and how far through qualifying they get. Those that don’t get out of Q1 might only do 2 or 3 hot laps, but if a driver gets to Q3 they might do about 2-3 flying laps in each session.
Q1 is the first part of qualifying. All 20 cars take part in this session, and it lasts 18 minutes. This often gives drivers enough time to set several flying laps. Oftentimes the backmarkers will be setting more laps than the faster cars as they fight to get themselves out of the knockout zones at the bottom of the grid.
Every driver is different, and while some might need just one flying lap in Q1, others may need as many as five to get their best lap time in. Some cars may even be filled with enough fuel to do two flying laps in one run during qualifying while having a cool down lap in between to get the tire temperatures back down again. This would allow them to get more flying laps in.
The main reason the faster cars tend to set fewer flying laps than the slower cars is because they have a better chance of making it into the next round of qualifying. They would also be using fewer sets of tires, which leaves more fresh rubber available for them to use later in qualifying and in the race.
The cars that make it through to Q2 will have 15 minutes to set their fastest lap times. Again, the faster cars tend to set fewer flying laps than the backmarker cars. With less time in the session though, cars often aren’t able to get in as many flying laps as they did during Q1.
The majority of cars will be going for between three and four flying laps during Q2, but oftentimes the cars will be limited in their running because of traffic and a lack of time. Finding the right amount of space on the track to get a good lap in within the 15 minute time limit can be challenging.
Only 10 cars will make it through to the final part of qualifying, so setting the fastest possible time is crucial. Many drivers can have their flying laps ruined by traffic or mistakes which can cause them to drop out of the top 10 during Q2 and be knocked out of qualifying.
Q3 is the final part of qualifying. The 10 drivers who have made their way through Q1 and Q2 will all fight for pole for 12 minutes. Q3 has the least amount of traffic, and each driver has to compete with just nine other cars on the entire circuit. However, this doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to set a flying lap.
The drivers only have 12 minutes to set the fastest time they can in their cars as they attempt to claim pole position for the Grand Prix. In the majority of cases, drivers will only have two flying laps in Q3, with some going for three flying laps if the track is shorter and they can get around in time during their warm up and cooldown laps, but they are often pressed for time.
The first flying lap is often called a banker lap. This lap is set by every driver as a “backup” in case they make a mistake on their final run or if they run into traffic. The final flying lap will usually run right to the end of qualifying as the drivers push as hard as they can to try and get the best possible grid slot.
KEY POINTS• A flying lap in F1 is the fast, timed lap a driver sets during qualifying
• It’s also often called a hot lap or a timed lap
• Drivers will set multiple flying laps during qualifying
How Do F1 Drivers Prepare For Flying Laps?
In order to prepare for flying laps, F1 cars must first be set up properly, and this is what the teams use the free practice sessions for. This means that the car will suit the circuit and the driver’s driving style. The car will also be primed for flying laps with low fuel loads and fresh tires.
Drivers will start off with their out lap, which is the lap they complete when leaving the garage. The out lap before a flying lap is crucial, and the driver will be doing several different things during the roughly two minute buildup to their crucial flying lap.
Firstly, the driver will be going much slower than usual. Driving slowly means that the driver is not taking crucial life out of their tires, which will ensure that they have the grip they need to set the fastest possible lap time. This allows the car to use less fuel as it’s often fueled as little as possible to make it lighter.
During their out lap, the driver will also be keeping a close eye on the track conditions, looking for any debris, dirt, or even damp patches on the race track that could cause them to lose grip and ruin their lap time. Drivers will also be managing the gap to the car in front of them to make sure they don’t have traffic on their flying lap.
Towards the end of their out lap the drivers will begin to speed up to warm up their tires. Hitting the perfect tire temperature range is crucial to having enough grip, but it’s also incredibly difficult to do so, which means that drivers need to perfect this process during their free practice sessions.
What Makes A Perfect Flying Lap?
If you ask any racing driver, they’ll tell you that the perfect lap does not exist. Many drivers have come close to the perfect flying lap, but it’s unlikely that any driver has ever achieved it or that anyone ever will. From the outside, a hot lap completed by a Formula 1 driver might look perfect, but for the driver, there will always be areas where they could have improved in hindsight.
Modern Pirelli tires have an incredibly short lifespan compared to the tires we have seen in the past. These tires are very sensitive to degradation, which means that they can often overheat during a single flying lap. We sometimes see the cars sliding around towards the end of the lap as the tires begin to overheat and offer the driver less grip.
The harder the driver pushes the car the harder their tires need to work. The increased friction will cause the tires to heat up much faster than usual. As the tires heat up, they do begin to offer more grip. However, this grip only lasts up to a certain point until the tires become too hot and begins to wear excessively.
Finding the perfect tire temperatures at the start of the flying lap is the key to overcoming this, but that’s also no easy task. If the driver starts their flying lap on tires that are too cold, they will lose grip at the start of their lap. This will cost them time through the first sector, which they will need to make up through the rest of their lap.
Starting the flying lap on tires that are just warm enough will give the driver enough grip at the start of their lap and through the middle sector, but they need to try and maintain this temperature throughout the lap to avoid overheating them. This can lead to the car losing grip in the final sector, and we often see drivers locking their brakes or sliding through corners.
Weight is the enemy of speed. The heavier a Formula 1 car is the slower it will go around a track. Adding weight to the car will not only cause it to lose straight line speed, but it will also be less nimble through the corners, which is where a Formula 1 car truly excels thanks to its high downforce levels.
Formula 1 teams will be running their cars on extremely low fuel levels for flying laps to make them as light as possible. For example, during qualifying at the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton got pole position before running out of fuel on his way back to the garage. His car had to be pushed down the back straight to make it back into the pit lane.
Running the cars on such low fuel is routine in qualifying nowadays, but the drivers need to make sure to take it easy on their out laps and in laps to prevent using too much fuel. If the drivers drive their cars too fast during their out laps and in laps, there is a chance that they could run out of fuel before they reach their garage again, but this is very unlikely.
Once the car is back in the garage, it will be refueled once again and sent out for another run. This is the main reason drivers often only have time for two flying laps in Q3, and during Q1 and Q2 they often don’t have much time for more than 3-4 flying laps, especially if they’re running low fuel loads.
If there’s one thing that any Formula 1 driver hates while they’re on a flying lap, it’s traffic. Traffic in Formula 1 might not be as slow as the traffic you find on your average commute, but it’s still incredibly disruptive for a driver attempting to set the fastest lap they possibly can. “Traffic” simply refers to other Formula 1 cars on the track in front of another car.
The blue flag rule exists to prevent drivers on flying laps from being disrupted by other cars by telling slow-moving drivers to get out of the way of those coming behind. While blue flags work in the majority of cases, there are times when other drivers don’t get out of the way in time, or park their cars on the racing line as they prepare for their own flying lap.
Even if a car gets out of the way in time, it can still disrupt a driver that’s on a flying lap. Cars that stay on the racing line through corners but move over at the exit of the corner have technically not done anything wrong, but they can be incredibly distracting for a driver that is fully focused on the piece of tarmac in front of them.
Drivers will often complain about traffic during Q1 and Q2 for the most part, as this is when the most cars will be on track. Some circuits such as Monaco and the Hungaroring are also more prone to having traffic issues due to being much shorter and narrower than other circuits.
The track conditions play an important role in the perfect flying lap. Drivers will be trying their best to avoid any dirt or damp patches on the circuit as this will cause their tires to lose grip. Drivers also need to avoid sections of the circuit that have been damaged or offer less grip. Less grip always equals slower lap times.
The track conditions can change rapidly throughout the course of a session. Track evolution plays an important role, especially in qualifying. We often see scenarios where the last driver to set a lap time is the fastest, even if they don’t have the fastest car. This is most likely due to the track evolution.
At the start of the weekend the track will be green, which is when the circuit has no rubber laid down on it and therefore offers the least grip. As more and more cars drive around the circuit it will become rubbered in. The more rubber that is laid down on the circuit, the more grip it offers. You can tell a circuit is rubbered in when the racing line becomes darker than the rest of the tarmac.
In some cases, the drivers might be in the scenario where the track is drying out after a rain shower. In these circumstances, drivers need to keep their eyes open to avoid any puddles or damp patches on the circuit, as these would also cause them to lose grip.
The Driver’s Performance
It might go without saying, but the driver’s performance is another key factor in setting the perfect flying lap. Some drivers have incredible pace over one lap while others might struggle in qualifying but have excellent tire management, allowing them to perform better during the race. The same could be said about the car, with some cars lacking one-lap pace but offering good race pace.
Drivers need to be fully focused during a flying lap. The key to nailing the perfect flying lap is focusing on the ideal racing line, hitting all of your braking points, and not making any mistakes. Even with all of these elements in place, the driver will still find areas that they could have improved on.
Drivers can easily make mistakes like locking their brakes, spinning by applying too much throttle, exceeding track limits, or even crashing into the barriers. Even the smallest of mistakes such as a small lock up going into a corner can cost a driver their entire flying lap as there is the risk of overheating the tires or flat spotting them.
Drivers will also be trying to navigate any traffic that they come across on the circuit at the same time. Successfully getting past traffic without losing any time in qualifying can be the difference between pole position and sixth place in Formula 1 because of how close the margins are.
KEY POINTS• Setting the best flying lap involves many different variables
• Having the car set up properly with fresh tires and low fuel is vital
• The track conditions, potential traffic, and driver ability are also very important factors
How Much Faster Are F1 Flying Laps vs Normal Racing Laps?
F1 flying laps are several seconds faster than normal racing laps. The average pole lap (the fastest flying lap set in Q3) is 3.7 seconds faster than the average fastest lap during the race. The average difference in speed between pole position laps and fastest race laps is 9.1 kph (5.7 mph).
You might be thinking that while the cars are racing they would be faster than they are in qualifying. However, that is definitely not the case. In fact, there’s a big difference in lap time between qualifying and the race.
During the Grand Prix, the cars need to be filled to the brim with fuel in order to make it to the end of the race. There’s no refueling allowed in Formula 1, and so at the start of the race the cars will be incredibly heavy, leading to naturally slower lap times.
The fuel does burn off towards the end of the race, but the cars must have at least one liter of fuel left for a fuel sample to be taken at the end of the race. In addition, the tires will also be worn out by the time the cars reach the end of the race, making it difficult to set faster lap times even on lower fuel loads.
KEY FACT: Although a driver may pit for fresh tires at the end of the race to go for the fastest lap to get an extra point, their lap will still be much slower than the fastest laps in qualifying
F1 Race Laps vs Qualifying Laps
|Race (2022)||Track Length||Pole Lap||Fastest Race Lap||Time Difference (seconds)||Average Speed (Pole)||Average Speed (Fastest Race Lap)||Speed Difference|
|Bahrain||5.412 km / 3.363 mi||1:30.558||1:34.570||– 4.012||215 kph / 134 mph||206 kph / 128 mph||– 9 kph / 6 mph|
|Saudi Arabia||6.174 km / 3.836 mi||1:28.200||1:31.634||– 3.434||252 kph / 157 mph||243 kph / 151 mph||– 9 kph / 6 mph|
|Australia||5.278 km / 3.280 mi||1:17.868||1:20.260||– 2.392||244 kph / 152 mph||237 kph / 147 mph||– 7 kph / 5 mph|
|Italy (Imola)||4.909 km / 3.050 mi||1:27.999*||1:18.446||+ 9.553||201 kph / 125 mph||225 kph / 140 mph||+ 24 kph / 15 mph|
|Miami||5.412 km / 3.363 mi||1:28.796||1:31.361||– 2.565||219 kph / 136 mph||213 kph / 132 mph||– 6 kph / 4 mph|
|Spain||4.675 km / 2.905 mi||1:18.750||1:24.108||– 5.358||214 kph / 133 mph||200 kph / 124 mph||– 14 kph / 9 mph|
|Monaco||3.337 km / 2.074 mi||1:11.376||1:14.693||– 3.317||168 kph / 104 mph||160 kph / 99 mph||– 8 kph / 5 mph|
|Azerbaijan||6.003 km / 3.730 mi||1:41.359||1:46.046||– 4.687||213 kph / 132 mph||204 kph / 127 mph||– 9 kph / 5 mph|
|Canada||4.361 km / 2.709 mi||1:21.299*||1:15.749||+ 5.550||193 kph / 120 mph||207 kph / 129 mph||+ 14 kph / 9 mph|
|Great Britain||5.891 km / 3.660 mi||1:40.983*||1:30.510||+ 10.473||210 kph / 130 mph||234 kph / 145 mph||+ 24 kph / 15 mph|
|Austria||4.318 km / 2.683 mi||1:04.984||1:07.275||– 2.291||239 kph / 149 mph||231 kph / 144 mph||– 8 kph / 5 mph|
|France||5.842 km / 3.630 mi||1:30.872||1:35.781||– 4.909||231 kph / 144 mph||220 kph / 137 mph||– 11 kph / 7 mph|
|Hungary||4.381 km / 2.722 mi||1:17.377||1:21.386||– 4.009||204 kph / 127 mph||194 kph / 121 mph||– 10 kph / 6 mph|
* marks lap times set in the wet
All time and speed differences are qualifying vs race, meaning ‘- 1.500’ refers to a qualifying lap 1.5 seconds faster than the fastest race lap
All speeds are rounded to the nearest whole number
KEY POINTS• Excluding wet sessions, the average qualifying lap is 3.7 seconds faster than the average fastest race lap
• The average pole speed is 9.1 kph (5.7 mph) faster than the average fastest race lap
• The differences in lap time and average speed vary between tracks and are largely influenced by their layout and overall length
How Much Faster Is An F1 Flying Lap vs A Cooldown Lap?
Cooldown laps can come in the form of in laps or as a lap in between two flying laps. After completing their flying laps, drivers will drive their cars around the circuit for another lap, but they will go much slower. This allows the car to cool down, preserving the engine, and it also ensures that they don’t run out of fuel or take too much life out of their tires if they need to be used again.
At the Hungaroring in 2022, the pole position time set by George Russell was 1:17.377. This was a flying lap as he was pushing his car to achieve the fastest possible lap time. A cooldown lap is much slower though, and it would likely have been over two minutes as he cools his car down going back into the garage.
A cooldown lap is often used to separate two flying laps. After a flying lap, the car has worked overtime with the engine picking up temperature and the tires overheating. Drivers will use this slow lap to get all their systems back into their prime operating temperatures. This allows them to go for another flying lap.
KEY FACT: Cooldown laps may be slightly quicker than in laps as the driver knows they need to go for another flying lap, but they’re still much slower than flying laps
This method is often used by the backmarker teams as they give their drivers more time out on track and a better chance at getting their car into the next stages of qualifying. The benefit of this strategy is that the driver will ideally have interrupted time out on track (as most other drivers will only do one lap at a time) and they will be able to get two flying laps into one run.
The drawback of using this method is that the car will be loaded with more fuel, making it slightly heavier and slower, especially for the first run. The driver will also be taking more life out of their tires, which means that it’s unlikely that the tires can be used again after their run, even in the Grand Prix. They’ll also need to focus on recharging their car’s battery on the cooldown lap.
Flying laps are the fastest laps that F1 drivers will set. These are the laps that will determine where the driver starts on the grid, as they are the timed laps they set during qualifying. Drivers must properly prepare their car for flying laps in order to set the fastest possible time.