There are various different types of lap driven within qualifying, including the out lap, the hot lap and the in lap. These laps all serve different purposes, and you’ll hear commentators mention them a lot throughout a session, but what are the differences between them?
The out lap is the first lap after the driver leaves the pits. This lap is usually a slow lap and is used to get their tires and brakes up to temperature before the driver performs their hot lap. While this lap is slower in qualifying, drivers also have out laps after pit stops in the race.
The hot lap is the lap where the driver goes as fast as possible during qualifying, 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 usually the lap immediately after a hot lap, where the driver comes back into the pits. In qualifying, it involves them driving much slower, cooling down the car before pitting. In the race, the in lap is when the driver pushes the car much more right before they pit.
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 I will go into more detail about below.
How F1 Qualifying Works
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, it takes the form of three different stages. Each of these stages acts as an elimination phase, and we have already discussed these stages in detail in our article on the specific structure of F1 qualifying.
Each stage, called Q1, Q2 and Q3, lasts a certain amount of time. In that time, drivers try to get in a fast lap that 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 they all tend to involve the three lap types outlined above.
What Is An Out Lap In F1?
An out lap in F1 is the lap a driver performs after leaving the pits. In qualifying, drivers do an out lap from the pits at a slower pace to warm up their tires before doing a faster lap to set a qualifying time. In the race, a driver still has to go as fast as possible on their out lap.
This lap is used to get some temperature into the brakes and the tires and it’s 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 driver is just out of the pits, their tires and brakes are relatively cold. 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. So, the driver needs to get them up to temperature before they try to set their fastest lap time.
Not Too Much Heat
Although the driver is trying to put heat into the tires, they don’t want to wear them out very much as the fresher the tires are the faster they can go when they want to set their 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.
During the race, the out lap is still the one the driver performs right after they pit, but they can’t afford to go slowly in the race like they would on a qualifying out lap. This means they’ll still be pushing the car, but they need to be more cautious as their colder tires will have less grip than the warmer ones on their rivals that didn’t pit.
What Is A Hot Lap Or Push Lap In F1?
A hot lap or push lap (or flying lap) in F1 is the lap a driver performs in order to set a time for qualifying or in free practice. In qualifying, the push lap follows the much slower out lap, and it’s the one the driver uses to go as fast as they can to secure the best possible grid spot for the race.
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, drivers can perform more than one hot lap if their previous ones weren’t fast enough, 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 aggregate of multiple hot laps to determine the starting position. But nonetheless, the idea of the hot lap is that the drivers goes 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 & Faster
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 the fastest laps, and qualifying laps will be much faster than those of the race, due to the lack of tire management for one fast lap and lower fuel loads.
What Is An In Lap In F1?
An in lap in F1 is the lap the driver performs when they are heading into the pits. During qualifying, it’s usually a slow lap to cool the car and save tire wear. During the race, it’s usually a lap where the drivers push the car to make up some time before their pit stop.
This lap is used in qualifying and free practice and is usually a slow lap, as it involves the driver going into the pits 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 a slower pace. 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 (or if they don’t have any more fresh ones to use).
During The Race
During the race however, the in lap is a powerful one, as it is when the driver pushes the car right before they pit. Because they’re changing their tires, they don’t need to worry about wearing them out on this lap. This allows them to hopefully make up for some of the time they’ll lose by pitting, by driving faster than their previous laps (if they can, as the tires will be quite worn).
KEY POINTS• Out laps, in laps and hot laps feature in F1 qualifying
• Hot laps are the most important, and they’re the fastest of the three
• In laps and out laps also feature in races and practice sessions, but they’re typically faster than they are in qualifying
Other Types Of Lap In F1
The formation lap 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 check of 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.
The Fastest 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 the race in the top ten.
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.
What Is A Parade Lap In F1?
The parade lap in F1 is when the cars all do one last lap of the track before returning to Parc Fermé, 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.
What Is An Installation Lap In F1?
An installation lap in F1 is the first lap a driver does during what are usually practice sessions. This is a lap the driver does from the pits, and they’ll often go straight into the pits at the end. They’re used to ensure all of the systems on the car are working as expected.
In laps, out laps and hot laps are all integral components of various motorsports’ 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 driver’s 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.
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