During a Formula 1 race, many people expect drivers to be going flat out at all times. However, this is not always the case. There are times during a Grand Prix when a driver needs to run a little slower to save fuel or cool the engine, and they use a driving technique know as lift and coast.
When an F1 driver is told to lift and coast, it means they need to lift their foot off the throttle earlier and coast (not use throttle or brake) the car into the corner. The driver will brake much later, but it’s still slower than usual. This is done to save fuel in most cases.
Saving fuel is not the only reason a driver may need to lift and coast during a race. There are some other reliability and performance factors that could also come into play, and these are just as important for finishing the race. We’ll discuss these factors in the article below.
Lifting and coasting uses less engine power than normal driving. The best time to lift and coast is going into corners, as this is where the driver can save fuel without losing too much time. F1 drivers use a lot of engine braking, which uses friction within the engine to slow the car down.
When the driver lifts off the throttle at the end of the straight, they begin to decelerate since there is no more power being supplied to the wheels to drive the car forward. At this point, the car is only going forward as a result of the momentum it built up to that point.
The driver usually presses the brake pedal to increase the rate of deceleration to corner fast without having to slow down much on the straight. Coasting is when the car is moving forward without influence from the throttle or the brakes. Drivers will coast into the corner, sometimes even in the middle of the corner, before either applying the brake or throttle.
Lifting & Coasting Is Slower
Lifting and coasting is slower than driving flat out, so it becomes tricky for a driver to fend off their opponents if they need to lift and coast. Drivers must try to keep their cornering speed as high as their opponents without the ability to brake or accelerate as hard as they do.
The ideal approach on a stretch of track, such as a straight into a tight corner, is to accelerate all the way along the straight until the latest possible point, and then slam on the brakes to slow the car down as fast as possible in order to still make the corner. This is the fastest way to drive a car round a track, as maximum time is spent on the throttle with minimum time on the brakes.
Why You Lose Time
When a driver lifts and coasts into a corner, they decrease the time spent on the throttle by taking their foot off at the end of the straight, which drops their speed into the corner. They still need to brake eventually because engine braking won’t slow the car down enough to make the corner, so they end up losing time.
For tighter corners, lifting and coasting may only be done for a fraction of a second, before the driver then applies the brakes. For other, high-speed corners where less or no braking is required, the driver may lift and coast where other drivers might take the corner at full throttle. This also results in lost time, so why would an F1 driver bother lifting and coasting?
There are 3 main reasons why an F1 driver would lift and coast: To save fuel, to cool the engine, or to cool the brakes. Although lifting and coasting is something we don’t see much in modern-day Formula 1, drivers will do it for reliability issues or to finish the race.
Drivers can lose more than a second and a half per lap if they are lifting and coasting, depending on the conditions and the circuit they are driving on. This means the drivers behind them will catch up to them at a rapid rate, and they will likely be overtaken.
Lifting and coasting used to be a big part of Formula 1 races when the sport first banned refueling cars. However, since then the hybrid power units were brought in and the engines became much more fuel-efficient than ever before, lifting and coasting has not been needed as often.
While it might be rare to see in Formula 1 these days, lifting and coasting might still show up from time to time. The high-performance parts on a Formula 1 car are extremely fragile and tend to take a lot of strain during a Grand Prix, and in some cases, drivers will need to take it easy in order to finish the race.
The main reason F1 drivers lift and coast throughout a Grand Prix is to save fuel. By using the lifting and coasting technique, the car will use less fuel, since they will be decreasing the amount of time spent on the throttle. By taking their foot off the throttle for an extra, say, 50 meters, that’s 50 meters of fuel use saved in one corner alone. This can add up to a lot over a full lap.
We saw a lot of drivers having to use the lift and coast technique during the 2009 season when the sport first banned refueling mid-race. The teams were struggling to get their V8 engines to complete the race distance using the required amount of fuel, as they were used to being able to add more in the pit stops.
However, the 1.6-liter V6 hybrid engine changed this for the better. The hybrid power unit is more efficient than any engine before it, and teams can now complete a full race distance on about half the amount of fuel they had to use previously. This is the main reason lifting and coasting has become a rare thing to see in modern Formula 1.
However, drivers used to be able to change their fuel mixtures from lean (less power) to rich (more power) during the race, usually by adjusting engine mappings. However, the party mode ban in 2020, which limited what engine modes could be changed and when, meant that F1 drivers would no longer have much control over their fuel mixtures mid-race.
This means that now F1 drivers must run on one fuel mixture setup for the race (discounting safety car periods and changes for reliability reasons). This can lead to the driver having to lift and coast if the fuel mixture turned out to be a bit optimistic and the driver ends up using more fuel than expected.
Lift and coast can also be used to cool the engine down. Formula 1 engines become extremely hot as they are high-performance elements that work hard during a race. When the engine becomes too hot, the metallic parts inside the engine begin to expand and change shape.
As these parts change shape, they begin to rub against one another, and this friction causes damage to the engine over time. Formula 1 power units have an ideal operating temperature where the car can extract maximum performance and still run at a safe temperature, so the engine is not under too much strain.
Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to keep the engine in this operating range. If the car is behind other cars in traffic, or if they are racing in hotter climates, the engine can begin to overheat as there isn’t as much cool air going into it, which can ruin both the in-race performance and the reliability of the engine.
By using the lift and coast technique, the driver can allow the engine to work less hard, which helps to bring down the engine temperature.
The high-performance brakes on Formula 1 cars are incredibly important for the stopping power of the cars. These brakes can bring the car to a dead stop from 180 miles per hour in under four seconds, which shows just how powerful they are. However, just like with the engine on the car, these brakes need to be in the right operating temperature in order to work properly.
If the brakes are too cold, they won’t work at all, and the wheels will simply lock up when the driver pushes down on the brake pedal. If the brakes aren’t cooled enough, they can catch fire or fail altogether. The last thing you want is to have a brake failure at 200 miles per hour!
When brakes overheat, the drivers need to cool them down to prevent them from failing. Using the lift and coast technique allows the car to shed off some speed before it reaches the corner, which means that the driver can go easier on the brakes while still slowing down enough for the corner. Braking for shorter periods of time and with less pressure will allow the brakes to cool down faster.
With the introduction of more extensive engine mapping in the early 2010s, drivers could change their engine modes to save fuel. By setting the engine to a more powerful mode, it would move to a rich fuel mixture, which is when more fuel is pushed into the engine to make it work harder.
However, the teams could also turn their engines down by setting it to a leaner fuel mixture. This is when more air is sent into the combustion chamber, increasing the air to fuel ratio, and although the engine will lose performance, it will save on fuel. Changing engine mapping during the race was banned in 2020, and so drivers now must use their skills to save fuel.
Besides lifting and coasting, drivers can try to drive their car more smoothly in order to save on fuel. Using the throttle in a smoother manner will help their engine conserve fuel as there is less of it being pushed into the engine. This, however, can be slower than just lifting and coasting.
Both full safety cars and virtual safety cars can mix up the race order by providing drivers with opportunities to get a cheap pit stop or giving drivers the chance to overtake at the restart. However, they can also be a saving grace for some drivers in terms of their fuel usage.
Since the safety car drives so much slower than a Formula 1 car, drivers can save fuel during these laps. By driving slower and keeping their car’s revs as low as possible, they will use less fuel than they would at full race speeds.
Since the safety car allows the drivers to save some fuel during the race, they will be able to push harder afterwards since they have extra fuel to burn in their car. This is why we often see drivers going faster and faster after a safety car period as they try to burn off the excess fuel and weight in their cars.
In addition to lifting and coasting, drivers can also use short shifting to save fuel and cool the engine down. Short shifting is when the driver purposely changes gears earlier than they normally would. This prevents the engine from revving too high and using more fuel.
The higher the engine revs on the car, the more fuel it’s using. Higher revs will also cause the engine to heat up faster, meaning it could also lead to overheating in the engine. By changing gear before the engine revs too high, the car will use less fuel and the engine will not need to work as hard.
While short shifting is another common technique drivers use to save fuel, it costs them speed and time on the straights. When the driver changes gears too early, they are not getting the maximum amount of power from the engine they possibly can, so they will be significantly slower.
It’s easy to spot a driver who is short shifting by keeping an eye on the driver’s dashboard. The row of lights indicates when the driver needs to change gear, and if a driver is short shifting, they will change gear either before the lights begin to flash or before they reach the end of the row. You can also hear short shifting by listening to the engine tone when the driver changes gears.
F1 teams can fuel their cars with a maximum of 110 kg of fuel for the entire Grand Prix. In Formula 1, the amount of fuel is measured in weight rather than in volume, such as liters or gallons. This is because the volume can change depending on pressure or temperature.
This means that, if the fuel is cooler, more fuel can be packed into the tank and the cooler fuel could provide a performance benefit. In the past, when teams had to refuel their cars to make it to the end of the race, using colder fuel would be beneficial as they could put more fuel into the cars at a time, extending stints between pit stops.
Colder Is Better
Essentially, colder fuel is denser than warmer fuel, and so this can be thought of as providing more energy for combustion in a smaller volume. But if the fuel is measured by mass instead, the density change isn’t relevant.
However, teams could still get a performance benefit from colder fuel, so a rule was introduced to ensure its temperature is no lower than 10 degrees Celsius below the ambient temperature. Aston Martin fell afoul of this rule at the 2022 Miami Grand Prix and had to start their cars from the pit lane.
Many teams don’t fill their cars up to the maximum of 110 kilograms though. This is because the more fuel the car has onboard, the slower it will be. It’s estimated that every 10 kilograms of weight is equal to 0.3 seconds per lap, which can make a massive difference at the start of the race.
According to the rules set out by the FIA, Formula 1 cars must have at least one liter of fuel left in their car at the of the race. This is done so they can test a sample of the fuel to ensure it complies with regulations. If the car doesn’t have the required one liter of fuel left in its fuel tank, the driver will be instantly disqualified from the race.
We saw this happen to Sebastian Vettel at the 2021 Hungarian GP. After the race ended, Vettel was told to stop his Aston Martin on track. After the podium ceremony, the car was brought to the stewards for the standard post-race checks to ensure everything on the car is legal. The FIA found only 0.7 liters of fuel available in the Aston Martin fuel tank, and Vettel was disqualified from the race.
Aston Martin appealed the decision. They argued that 0.7 liters was enough fuel to get an adequate fuel sample from the car, and it was only under one liter due to a leak in the car’s fuel lines. However, the disqualification stood because there is usually no room for negotiation when it comes to the technical regulations, and it was clear the rule was breached in this scenario.
Fuel saving is important in Formula 1 because drivers are not allowed to refuel their cars during a race. Refueling was banned at the end of the 2009 season due to several dangerous incidents taking place involving cars setting on fire in the pit lane.
From the start of the Grand Prix, the drivers can only use one tank of fuel to make it to the end of the race. Oftentimes, the drivers need to save fuel because the fuel tank has only been filled with enough fuel to just make it to the end of the race while still leaving 1 liter for sample testing. Adding extra fuel to the car will make it slower, and in Formula 1, speed is everything.
Usually, drivers only have around one lap of extra fuel onboard their cars during a Grand Prix. If the car does not have that extra lap of fuel on board, it will likely not be able to make it to the end of the race and supply the required one-kilogram fuel sample.
Lifting and coasting is a technique Formula 1 drivers use to save fuel and manage temperatures. By lifting off the throttle early, they will use less fuel and minimize braking, which can help cool the brakes. Lifting and coasting used to be more common when refueling was allowed.