Formula 1 is a sport that has a big focus on the safety of the drivers, marshals, and fans. With cars going around a racetrack at 200 miles per hour, sometimes the safest thing to do is to use the red flag to send them back to the pits. But fans may wonder how long the red flag lasts in Formula 1.
Red flags can last varying amounts of time in Formula 1. Red flags are used to stop the session due to a safety concern on track, whether it’s a car that crashed or a barrier that needs repairs. The session will only be restarted once the track is safe to use again, and the time it takes can vary.
Below we’ll discuss red flags and how they affect a Grand Prix. The red flag is an important part of Formula 1, though one everyone wants to avoid. The red flag will stop the session whether it’s a free practice or a Grand Prix. Below, we take a more detailed look at red flags in F1.
Red flags are used to stop a session in Formula 1. A red flag will be used in different scenarios, but it means that the track is unsafe, and the session can’t continue. As soon as the drivers see a red flag they need to slow down and return to the pits immediately in a safe and controlled manner.
We mostly see red flags when there has been a big crash. If the car is in a dangerous position and needs to be cleared off the track by marshals or even a tractor, the red flag will be brought out. The red flag is also used to allow the marshals to clear any debris off the circuit from a crash. Any scenario where there are people or other vehicles on track is dangerous and requires the race to be stopped.
In the case of a big crash, the session can also be stopped even if the marshals can safely clear the car off the track. Oftentimes the safety barriers need to be repaired in order for the race to continue safely. Formula 1 races will not continue if the barriers are not fully repaired and ready to take another impact.
Red flags can also be used for the weather. Although Formula 1 cars can race in the rain, the track conditions may become too dangerous when there is an excessive amount of standing water and puddles around the circuit, in which case the race will be stopped until the track conditions improve.
There is no timeframe as to how long a red flag can last in Formula 1. They can last anywhere between 5 minutes to 1-2 hours. The decision comes down to the race director as to when they believe that it is safe for the cars to head back onto the track and continue the session.
Since the red flag is brought out to stop the cars when the track is unsafe, the session can only be continued when the track is safe and ready for cars to drive around it again. Depending on the severity of the red flag scenario this time frame varies significantly. However, some red flag scenarios do take longer than others, and oftentimes a red flag might not be needed.
For example, a crash where the car is close to the barriers and behind a gravel trap could prompt the safety car instead of a red flag. However, if there is a crash that obstructs the circuit and covers the track with debris the red flag will be brought out. However, the red flag might only last around 15 minutes as the marshals quickly clear the car and debris off the circuit.
On the other hand, we have seen some scenarios where the red flag can last for hours. The safety of the drivers is the top priority and as such the red flag conditions will only be taken away once the track is safe to race on. If the track is unsafe, the cars will not race, even if that means that the race has to end early.
One of the scenarios where red flag conditions can take several hours is when the crash barriers need to be repaired. If there has been a big crash that damaged the barriers we could see the red flag conditions lasting at least an hour or more in Formula 1, as we saw with Romain Grosjean’s crash at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Formula 1 barriers are incredibly strong, and they need to be able to stop a car that’s going over 200 miles per hour. On top of that, they need to be able to absorb the impact as much as possible to keep the driver safe when they do hit the barriers.
This means that building these barriers (and repairing them) is an incredibly complex and difficult process. It’s as simple as just putting pieces back together and welding the barrier back into place. The process of repairing the barriers can take much longer than you would expect, even with the right equipment.
After the repairs have been completed the FIA and the race director first need to inspect the barriers to ensure that it is up to their standards. This could add even more time to the red flag as they do thorough inspections, and if the barriers are not up to scratch, they will need to make further adjustments to them.
One of the most exciting things that could happen during a Grand Prix weekend is the arrival of rain. Formula 1 races don’t stop when the rain starts falling, and it can certainly spice up the racing as drivers need to use their skills to keep their cars on track.
However, at some point the rain becomes too heavy for Formula 1 cars, and no amount of skill can keep the car on track. When the cars start aquaplaning the track becomes too dangerous for the session to continue, and the red flag will be brought out.
Aquaplaning is dangerous, and it’s common in Formula 1. When there is too much standing water out on track, the car’s tires are lifted up off the ground, which results in them losing contact with the tarmac, even if only for a split second. This sudden loss of contact between the rubber and the tarmac causes the car to lose all of its grip, resulting in an uncontrollable spin or slide.
When the rain becomes too heavy and there’s too much water on the track the race will need to be stopped. These red flag conditions can take several hours as we saw at Spa in 2021 as there is no way of controlling it. The FIA simply needs to wait for the rain to slow down and the water to clear off the track before the session can be continued.
There are 2 ways that F1 races are restarted after a red flag: with a standing start or a rolling start. The standing start is more common as it is more exciting for fans and gives more opportunities for overtaking. A rolling start is rarely used, but we saw it at Mugello in 2020.
Once the track is safe for a race to continue the race needs to be restarted. All cars would have gone back to the pits as soon as the red flag came out, which means that a procedure needs to be followed to get the race underway again in a fair and safe manner. There are two main methods that can be used to get the race restarted after a red flag.
The first method that can be used is a standing restart. Just like at the start of the race the drivers will drive their cars out to the grid and line up in the positions they were in when the red flag was brought out — not the position they were in when the race started. This will be the go-to restart format as it is more exciting and provides more opportunities for drivers to overtake one another.
The other method that can be used to restart the race after a red flag is the rolling start. All drivers will follow the safety car until it is called back into the pits. The race leader will then dictate the pace of the pack and will be allowed to choose when the race is restarted at any point from when the safety car is back in the pitlane.
It is ultimately up to the race director to decide which method of restart is going to be used to get the race underway again. In the majority of cases the standing restart will be used, however when the drivers need to be more cautious going into the first corner (such as on a wet track) the rolling restart method will be used.
If a race can’t restart after a red flag then points are awarded to the top 10 based on the amount of race that was completed before the red flag occurred. This was introduced after drivers were awarded half points at the Belgian GP in 2021 even though no racing laps were completed.
Cancelling A Grand Prix
There are some scenarios where the race cannot be restarted after a red flag period. This often happens when the weather conditions are not good enough for the cars to be out on track. In some cases, the weather simply does not improve, and due to the fact that Formula 1 cars do not have headlights, they cannot race when it gets dark.
At racetracks like Spa, Formula 1 is pressed for time before the sun starts to set. When it gets too dark, the race will need to be canceled, even if the full race instance has not been completed by the drivers. A race that has been suspended will still have the podium ceremony, but the drivers will be awarded half points based on where they were on the final lap.
Canceling a Grand Prix is the last thing anyone wants. Fans paid a lot of money to attend the Grand Prix, teams paid a lot of money to get their cars and staff there to participate, and the racetrack pays a lot of money to host a Grand Prix. This is why the FIA will always try their best to get a Grand Prix completed at full race distance.
There is usually no way to suspend a Formula 1 race and move it to another date either. Many have suggested that the drivers complete their race on the following Monday, however, the teams, drivers, and Formula 1 crew members need to be packed up and on their way to the next venue. Most spectators also won’t be able to attend the race on a Monday.
As a result of the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, new rules were implemented regarding the points system that is used for races that end before they reached the full race distance. This came after many complaints as the drivers only completed one lap out of 44, yet still received half points.
Instead of the top 10 drivers being awarded with half points no matter how many laps they have completed, the points are divided based on the percentage of the race that has been completed. This system makes much more sense, and although half points races are a rare occurrence, a system is now in place that makes awarding points much more structured.
From 2022 onwards points can only be awarded if the drivers have completed at least two full racing laps (not behind a safety car or VSC). From there, points are divided based on four different tiers depending on the number of laps that have been completed by the drivers.
Drivers can be awarded full points for completing at least 75% of the race distance. In between two laps and 75% race distance there are tiers that change the number of points given to each position.
F1 Points System For Shortened Races
|Position||At least 2 laps Less than 25% race distance||At least 25% Less than 50% race distance||At least 50% Less than 75% race distance||More than 75% race distance|
F1 races are red flagged fairly often nowadays, with 6 races out of 22 red flagged at some point in 2021. Red flags can happen at any time and at any racetrack. We could go a few years without ever seeing a red flag, or we could have multiple races in a row where we see red flags.
Red flags are brought out for safety reasons and when the track is unsafe to race on. This could happen anywhere. For example, we had a red flag at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, which is a racetrack that is known to have a less than average chance for safety cars and red flags.
Some racetracks have a higher chance of producing a red flag based on their characteristics. For example, Monaco being such a tight and twisty circuit has a much higher chance of producing a red flag, but it’s not guaranteed. The narrow streets make it easy for the track to be obstructed, and marshals are needed to go onto the circuit to clear any debris, which would require a red flag.
Other circuits that have a high chance of producing a red flag are some of the European races that are hosted during the rainy seasons. These are circuits such as Imola and Spa, which is where we have seen plenty of red flags in recent years. However, we could go decades without seeing a red flag at these venues depending on what happens at the race.
Red flags are more frequent during practice and qualifying as they have less impact than they do during a race. This is also partly due to other safety methods being less effective during these periods. It’s also more common as drivers are pushing their cars often with experimental setups.
If there are people on the racetrack, or a tractor has to be used to remove a car, it’s always better to red flag the session and to get all the other cars back into the pits rather than having a potential incident taking place. The lives of the drivers are more in focus than they ever have been before.
The Safety Car
During the race the FIA can call on the safety car or even the virtual safety car if they need to clear debris off a circuit or clear a car out of a gravel trap. These safety elements have been put in place to ensure that the race can continue without a full stoppage taking place. This will neutralize the race by forcing the cars to slow down to a certain speed.
During practice and qualifying however it is much more difficult to get all the cars to comply to a speed limit, unless the virtual safety car is implemented. However, the virtual safety car often does not slow the cars down enough for them to move around the track in a safe manner, so it’s ultimately not worth risking the lives of marshals and drivers.
The Entertainment Factor
However, because these sessions are not quite as critical from an entertainment point of view (free practice in particular), red flags don’t interfere with the show as much as they do during a race. Stopping a race for an hour may turn many fans away from the TV screen and leave those in the stands bored, but during free practice there are fewer people watching, so there’s less of an impact.
The timer is stopped during qualifying red flags to ensure that all drivers get sufficient track time. Drivers do not have a lot of time to get their lap times in during the Q1, Q2, and Q3 sessions. The timer is stopped to ensure all drivers have a chance at getting qualifying laps in.
The session timer is not stopped for Free Practice sessions because these sessions are less important, and the teams get three Free Practice sessions to gather their data and get their laps in. However, a red flag can still be extremely disruptive to a team’s programs.
Fridays and Saturdays are also used to give track time to the support series such as Formula 2, Formula 3, W Series, and the Porsche Supercup series. The schedules for these sessions are extremely tight, which means that there is no time for Formula 1’s Free Practice sessions to be delayed.
The red flag indicates that the session has been stopped. When the marshals wave the red flags, the drivers must immediately slow down in a safe manner and return to the pits. Drivers must drive their cars as slowly as possible to ensure that they return to the pits in a safe and controlled manner.
Once the drivers are in the pits the cars will be switched off and at this point the drivers are allowed to get out of their cars and the crew are allowed to work on the car. Drivers are allowed to change their tires and repair damage on their cars during the red flag while their car is in the pit lane. An FIA steward will be supervising the team to ensure that nothing illegal is done while the car is being repaired.
While the circuit is under red flag conditions drivers have to remain in the pit lane amongst their teams. The drivers are given a couple of minutes warning before the circuit will go green again, which means that they need to be able to get back into their cars quickly and be ready for the race to be restarted.
Red flags last from minutes to hours in F1. In some cases, the action needs to be stopped for the safety of the drivers and the marshals. The length of the red flag depends on how long it takes for the circuit to be safe. Red flags are usually more common at circuits such as Monaco and Spa.