F1 races, and indeed several other motorsport races, are complex dances involving a lot of different strategy. There are also several components to a race weekend, and these components each feature different driving styles, with qualifying involving a completely different approach to the race.
There are various different types of lap driven within qualifying, including the out lap, the hot lap and the in lap.
The out lap is the first lap after the driver leaves the pit stop. This lap is usually a slow lap and is used to get the tires and brakes up to the right temperature before the driver performs his hot lap. This is really only restricted to qualifying, as you never want to go slow in a race.
The hot lap is the lap where the driver goes as fast as possible, in order to have as short a lap time as they can. The shorter the lap time, the better their position on the starting grid come race day.
The in lap is the lap immediately after the hot lap, where the driver comes back into the pits. This involves them driving much slower, cooling down the brakes and the tires and causing minimal wear on their way back to the pits.
Each of these appear in qualifying in several different motorsports, but F1 is the one we will use for our examples. They feature mostly in the qualifying stage, but there are variations on each that take place during the race, which we will go into more detail about at the end of the article.
A Quick Word About Qualifying
Qualifying takes many different forms for various motorsports, but generally the qualifying stage is used to set the starting grid positions for the actual race. In Formula 1 for our example, it takes the form of three different stages. Each of these stages acts as an elimination phase, and you can read more about the specific structure of F1 qualifying by reading our beginner’s guide to F1 here.
Each stage, called Q1, Q2 and Q3, lasts a certain amount of time. In that time, drivers try to get in a fast lap which will dictate their position on the starting grid for the race. For F1 the lap time is used, but in certain NASCAR events it is the sum of two fast laps that is used to decide where you start the race. Other motorsports use variations on this, but all tend to involve the three lap types below.
The Out Lap
The First Lap
The out lap is thefirst lap after the driver leaves the pits. This is generally exclusive to qualifying, but there is a similar lap performed in the race which we will discuss below. This lap is used to get some temperature into the brakes and the tires and is used also to give the driver a running start when they then take their hot lap, which we will discuss in the next section.
Because the car is just out of the pits, it has not had time to get the tires and brakes up to temperature. This means that these components will not offer optimum performance. Cold tires don’t offer much grip, and cold brakes struggle to slow the car down effectively. Thus, the driver needs to get them up to temperature before he tries to set his fastest lap time.
Not Too Much Heat
Although the driver is trying to put heat into the tires, he doesn’t want to wear them out very much as the fresher the tires are the faster he can go when he wants to set his time. This is why you will often see them weaving in and out to try and heat them up without wearing them out. At the last corner they accelerate so that they are at top speed as they cross the starting line for their hot lap.
The Hot Lap
The Important One
The hot lap is the one that counts. This is the lap that is used to determine the starting position of each car in the actual race. In Formula 1, cars can perform more than one hot lap if they are not satisfied with their previous ones, and they will need to do at least one in each qualifying session to determine where they start on the grid come race day.
The hot lap works slightly differently in NASCAR, as in the oval races they use the aggregateofmultiple hot laps to determine the starting position. But nonetheless, the idea of the hot lap is that it is the driver going as fast as they can to get the best possible starting grid position in the race. It is also often called the fast lap or the flying lap.
Faster And Faster
The hot lap is exclusive to qualifying, but there is a similar lap during the race which we will touch on shortly. Different stages of qualifying in F1 will require different standards of performance, as in Q1 it is easier as there are 15 safe positions, but in Q2 there are only 10. So, you will often see the lap times getting faster over the course of the entire qualifying session as it gets more competitive.
F1 qualifying involves all of the cars going out onto the track at their leisure, and so sometimes there can be a lot of traffic. However, when cars are doing flying laps without any traffic in front of them, they will often set track records and the fastest laps in qualifying will be much faster than those of the race, due to the lack of tire management for one fast lap and less pressure from other drivers.
The In Lap
Much Less Important
Finally, we have the inlap. This lap is exclusive to qualifying as well, as it involves the driver going into thepits after completing their hot lap. As they have already performed their fast lap, there is no need to keep the tires and brakes warm, and so they can make their way around the track at their own pace once again. It is much less important than the other two laps.
The driver will go slowly round the track, letting the tires and brakes cool before getting back to the pits. They will tend to go slowly to limit tire wear as well, as there is no need to go unnecessarily fast, especially if there is another session to go where they will want to have as much grip in those tires as possible.
What About During The Race?
Some Race Equivalents
The three laps described above are all usually restricted to the qualifying stage of F1. However, in the race there are some other types of lap that can be compared to these three almost like equivalents. The first is the formationlap, which can be compared to the out lap. This is a lap that takes place right before the start of the race and involves all of the cars at once.
It is a lap that all of the cars perform before taking their starting positions on the grid. It is usually led by a safety car, and the cars use this as a final checkof the track and of the cars themselves. It is used to make sure everything is working as it should be, and it also helps to put a little bit of temperature into the tires and the brakes, although not much as it is a very slow lap.
A comparison to the hot lap in the race would be the fastest lap. This is sometimes just performed by any driver that happens to go round the track in the shortest amount of time, but it is also sometimes targeted by teams strategically. In F1, there is a bonus championship point available for the driver that clocks the fastest lap, provided they finish in the top ten of the races.
There are also bonus points in other motorsports as well for the fastest lap. If a driver is going to win the race by a significant margin, they might pit towards the end for fresh tires in order to try for the fastest lap as well as the win. Other drivers in lower positions might try to do this as well, as it can be vital in the championship standings to pick up an extra point if they can.
Finally, a comparison to the in lap would be the parade lap at the end of the race. This is when the cars all do one last lap of the circuit before returning to the “parc fermé” area where they get out of their cars. It is performed slowly, and acts as a wind down for both the cars and the drivers, bringing temperatures down and giving the drivers a chance to wave to fans as they come in.
In laps, out laps and hot laps are all integral components of motor racing qualifying stages. They each require very different driving styles, with the order of importance going from hot lap, to out lap and then finally to in lap. The hot lap is what dictates the starting position in the race, but the out lap is vital for getting the tires and brakes up to their optimum temperatures for the hot lap.