The start of a Formula 1 race is extremely tense, stressful, and exciting. However, there are two different types of race starts and it can sometimes be confusing as to which type of start is being used to get the race underway. The two types used in Formula 1 are standing starts and rolling starts.
A standing start is used at the start of every F1 Grand Prix or after a red flag, and it involves drivers stopping in their grid slots and waiting for five red lights to go out. A rolling start always happens after a safety car and is when the cars start racing while already in motion.
There are different strategies that drivers need to use for each race start. This makes each start extremely challenging and, for many drivers, it can make or break their race. In the article below, we’ll discuss the differences between standing starts and rolling starts in F1.
Does F1 Use A Standing Start?
Formula 1 uses a standing start as standard practice for a Grand Prix. All races will commence with a standing start, unless it is very wet, no matter which circuit the races take place on. Standing starts are exciting, but there is also a lot of risks involved for the drivers and teams.
A standing start involves each car starting in their respective grid slots (the white painted areas on the main straight). Drivers’ starting positions are determined by qualifying times from the previous day, which is usually a Saturday, with the exception being made for Sprint races.
Each grid slot has a yellow line that extends out to the side of it. The drivers use this as a reference point to determine where they need to stop their car. The drivers then turn their attention to a system of red lights fixed above the start/finish line.
There are five red lights that go on one by one. Once all five red lights are on, the driver must wait for them all to go out (at the same time) before the race starts. If a driver reacts too early, it’s considered a “jump-start” and the driver will be penalized. The timing of how long it takes the lights to go out is random at every race.
Why Do The Drivers Do Burnouts Before The Start?
When the drivers set off on their formation lap before the start of the race, they start slightly behind their grid slot. Their mechanics normally push the car back by a few feet. The driver then does a burnout in their grid slot as they pull away for their formation lap.
This is done for a very good reason though. Doing a burnout in the grid slot puts rubber on the area where their rear tires will be when the race starts. Having more rubber in this area will give the tires better traction at the start of the race. With no traction control, these tires need all the grip they can get.
Drivers will also do burnouts at the end of the formation lap as they approach their grid slots again. This is done to warm up the rear tires and give them better traction. The friction caused by the burnout heats the tires up quickly and gets them to provide better grip.
Clean vs Dirty Side Of The Grid
You may have heard drivers and commentators refer to the clean or the dirty side of the racetrack in the past. The difference between the two sides is important, as it can have a huge impact on the start of a race, and it’s one of the reasons qualifying is so crucial on an F1 race weekend.
The clean side of the circuit refers to the racing line. This is the section of the circuit where the cars have been driving all weekend through practice and qualifying. This section of the track will be noticeably darker due to the rubber that has been laid down on it, which provides much more grip than the dirty side of the circuit.
The dirty side of the circuit will be the opposite side of the pole position slot. This is the section of the circuit where the cars have not been driving (off the racing line). This section of the circuit can sometimes have a lot of dust or dirt, which will give the tires less traction and grip.
Because of this, it can sometimes be better to qualify in third place than to qualify in second place. Pole position will always be placed on the clean side of the grid, as this will provide them with better grip. Seeing as third place is right behind pole position, the driver in third can sometimes get a better start than the driver in second place if their reaction time is good.
How Do Drivers Approach The First Corner?
All drivers have different strategies when going into the first corner on a standing start. The first corner can sometimes be extremely chaotic. With so many cars in close quarters at the start of a race, it’s easy for them to make contact and cause accidents or pick up damage. For this reason, many drivers are very cautious going into turn one.
On the other hand, the first corner can be the best overtaking opportunity for drivers after a standing start. If the driver has a good reaction time when the lights go out and they manage to keep their wheelspin at a minimum, they can get a better start than the cars around them.
With a better start, a driver can maneuver their car to get into a better track position. This can mean that they take the inside line and get the advantage over some of the other cars. They may also choose to take the outside line and get a better drive out of the first corner and build more speed on the following straight.
Many drivers go into the first corner with a plan in mind. However, on many occasions, this plan falls away quickly, and the drivers need to improvise. In these scenarios, the driver with the best reaction time who can think quickly will have the upper hand.
How Does A Rolling Start Work In F1?
For a rolling start, F1 drivers follow the safety car in order until the danger has been cleared off the circuit. The safety car will indicate it’s returning to the pits by switching off its flashing lights. When the pack of cars gets to the end of the lap, the leading driver becomes the pacesetter.
The rolling start is something mostly seen in NASCAR and IndyCar. However, we do see the rolling start being used in Formula 1 in some scenarios. The only time when a rolling start is used is when there has been a safety car period, or when the race director deems the race should restart behind the safety car.
The safety car will drive off into the distance and make its way to the pit lane. Once the safety car is off the circuit and has passed the safety car line in the pit entry, the race will go back into “green flag” conditions. At this point, the race leader is in control of the pack behind them, who must remain in single file.
This means that no one is allowed to overtake until the race leader crosses the first safety car line. At any point from when the race has been green flagged up until the safety car line (usually a fair bit before the start-finish line), the race leader can decide when they want to start the race. No cars can overtake the car in front of them before this line.
How Do Drivers’ Strategies Change?
A rolling start is very different from a standing start, so drivers do need to adapt their strategies and begin to plan how they are going to take advantage of the restart. It can be difficult though, as there is no way for other drivers to tell when the lead driver will start pushing and therefore they can start accelerating too.
The drivers can only be prepared to react quickly when the cars in front of them begin to speed up. Since the race leader is the pacesetter, every car behind them must take a guess as to when they will start the race. Some drivers accelerate earlier than the leader to time it right, while others try to position their cars so they will get the best possible run down the start-finish straightaway.
Going too early can risk a driver overtaking the car in front, incurring a penalty. But when fractions of a second matter in F1, accelerating just slightly later than the car in front can leave you vulnerable to those behind.
Does F1 Ever Use A Standing Start After A Safety Car?
F1 may use a standing start after a safety car in exceptional circumstances. In 2015, F1 moved to allow standing starts after a safety car because they increase the chance of drivers losing or gaining position, which adds more excitement to the sport. However, this rarely happens.
The only time a standing start is usually used after a safety car is if it is at the start of a wet race. The safety car may guide the cars round the track for several laps to clear some of the water off the racing line. However, this may not be enough, as we saw in Spa in 2021, when the ‘race’ only ended up being a few laps behind the safety car before it was deemed too wet to start.
Is A Rolling Start Dangerous In F1?
A rolling start can be dangerous in F1, but both rolling starts and standing starts come with their own inherent risks. In most cases, they go smoothly, as all cars are lined up behind one another and hit the throttle at roughly the same time, but rolling starts can still be dangerous.
The main problem is the race leader sets the pace and can hold the pack up if they like until the safety car line. This means that the drivers further down the grid can sometimes make the mistake of accelerating too early and causing an accident in the confusion.
The other risk to a rolling restart is the cars will be heading into the first corner at a much higher speed. Their tires and brakes will have cooled down while behind the safety car, and if they did not warm them up enough, they can struggle to slow their cars down going into the first corner.
Mugello 2020 Incident
The worst rolling restart of recent times was in Mugello in 2020. It was the first time that modern Formula 1 had been to the circuit, and the Tuscan Grand Prix was already off to a slow start with several incidents causing the safety car to be brought out.
As the safety car went in, Valtteri Bottas tried to delay the restart to prevent his teammate Lewis Hamilton from pickup up a slipstream and powering past him. However, the cars in the back didn’t realize the cars ahead weren’t at full speed. Some cars at the back went flat out in a confused manner and ended up in a huge accident right on the main straight.
How Does F1 Restart After A Red Flag?
F1 restarts after a red flag with a standing start. In the past, we would only see one standing start in each race. After a red flag, the safety car would lead the cars out of the pits and then guide them around a formation lap where they would do a rolling start to get the race underway again.
However, during the 2017 season, the FIA decided to bring back an old rule it had taken away years ago (last used at the 2001 Belgian GP). The races now restart with a standing start after a red flag. Cars leave the pit lane on a formation lap in the positions they were in when the red flag came out.
The cars then stop in their respective grid slots, which may now have changed since the start of the race. The same starting procedure will be followed as a standing restart, with the five red lights going out to get the race underway again. This provides excitement for spectators and provides more opportunities for drivers to overtake in a “first lap” scenario.
F1 Standing Start vs Rolling Start: Which Is Better?
When comparing standing starts and rolling starts in F1, neither is clearly better than the other. Standing starts provide good overtaking opportunities and excitement into turn one, but rolling starts involve more strategy from the lead drivers, which can make them equally exciting.
However, standing starts are usually much more exciting than rolling starts. When it comes to F1, nothing beats the anticipation of cars sitting on the grid and waiting for the five red lights to go out. The rush down to the first corner is exciting, as you never know what to expect. There can be a lot of overtaking opportunities, or there could be a crash that takes multiple cars out of the race.
Which Type Of Start Do Teams And Drivers Prefer?
Drivers will always prefer the standing start as it gives them the best opportunity to overtake other cars and fight their way up the grid. Some drivers are exceptionally good when it comes to standing starts, and they can react quickly to the lights and control the throttle and clutch perfectly to get enough traction.
The standing start might be more nerve-wracking for drivers, but overall, it’s the better option for them. The only time when a driver might not prefer a standing start is if they were starting in pole position and face the risk of losing their lead if there is a particularly long run down to the first corner.
In terms of team members and mechanics, most would be split between the two. There’s a lot of risk to standing starts, and with no real control or strategy, they can’t do much more than watch and hope that their car gets through the first-corner chaos unscathed. Those with very cunning drivers may prefer their odds of catching a trailing driver out on a rolling restart.
Standing starts are used much more frequently in F1 than rolling starts, although rolling starts are almost always used after a safety car. A standing start is more exciting. It’s higher risk, but also has higher rewards. The rolling start is usually only used after a safety car period.