One of the most exhilarating aspects of Formula 1 is the incredible overtaking moves that drivers are able to pull off. Being able to out brake another driver is one of the most revered skills in motorsport. You will hear people mention out braking a lot in F1, and you may wonder what it means.
When a driver out brakes their opponent in F1 it means that they brake closer to the corner than the other driver. By braking later, they can carry more speed into the corner and possibly overtake them. However, braking later is not always an easy task, especially in Formula 1.
Some drivers are known for being the “last of the late brakers.” But it takes a lot of bravery for a driver to stay on the throttle when their instincts are telling them to hit the brakes. There are many factors that go into when a driver brakes, and we explore the art of late braking in F1 below.
What Does It Mean To Out Brake Your Opponent?
Out braking your opponent in Formula 1 is when you brake later than them going into a corner. By braking later, your car will be carrying more speed into the corner and you will get to the apex of the corner first. If your car is on the inside, then your opponent won’t be able to defend.
It might sound simple to just brake later than your opponent, but it’s not easy at all. Traveling at speeds of over 200 mph it’s difficult to judge exactly where they will start braking for the corner, especially when you’re alongside them.
If you brake too early you won’t get to the apex of the corner quick enough, and the other driver can simply drive around your car through the corner. If you brake too late, then there’s the risk of locking the brakes and running wide, costing you even more time or even resulting in you crashing into the barriers.
Drivers practice this technique over years, perfecting it from their time spent in karting and junior single seaters. By the time they reach Formula 1 they become so skilled at out braking their opponents that they manage to do it whenever needed, and in many cases, they are successful too.
How Do F1 Drivers Know When To Brake?
F1 drivers know when to brake because they have “braking points.” Drivers choose their own braking points, and they can use anything on or at the side of the track as a reference point to indicate when to start braking. These will vary between drivers based on skill and car performance.
With the cars traveling at up to 200 mph or more at the end of a long straight, drivers can’t just guess when they need to start braking to slow the car down. To be as fast as possible, drivers need to brake hard and spend as little time on the brakes as possible. The switch over from accelerating to braking is near instant, as F1 drivers use both feet to drive the car.
This near instant transition from acceleration to braking ensures that the driver is losing as little time as possible when going into the corner. Drivers want to be using the brakes as little as they possibly can, as this helps them gain an advantage over the competition.
Some drivers will use a brake marker on the side of the track, a bump in the tarmac, a kerb, or a tree. Some drivers even use a shadow that is cast onto the circuit, but these can obviously change depending on the position of the sun. Drivers practice their braking points all weekend until it becomes muscle memory.
How Do Drivers Know Where The Limit Is?
Drivers know where the limit is by testing different braking points during practice sessions. This information can then be used for the important sessions such as qualifying and the race. Drivers also spend a lot of time in simulators where they can find their braking points without risks.
Missing your braking point can end in disaster if you’re in Formula 1, especially on narrow tracks like Monaco. So, it’s important to know where the limit is – the latest possible point at which you can brake before going off the track.
We often see drivers locking up or running wide in some corners as they explore the limits. All of this changes if it begins to rain, as F1 cars, like all cars, take longer to stop in the wet. They will need to adjust their braking points and hit the brake pedal earlier than usual.
Why Don’t All Drivers Brake As Late As Possible?
Many drivers form a habit of where they are braking, and pushing that as late as possible becomes difficult. The concentration needed to brake right at the limit is also unsustainable for many across an entire race. The limits of their car and their driving style both impact braking points too.
It takes a lot of bravery to brake as late as possible in a machine that is travelling at 200 miles per hour. At these kinds of speeds, braking even just a few meters later than usual can mean a big difference in lap time, and it can also mean that you out brake your opponent and overtake them.
Each F1 car is unique, and each car has different limits and capabilities. For example, some cars might be more stable under braking and through corners, meaning the drivers are able to brake later than every other driver on the grid. Other cars may have advantages in straight line speed or acceleration to compensate for having to brake earlier.
Drivers will also choose their braking points depending on their driving style. Each driver has a unique driving style, and this not only has an influence on how they use the steering wheel but also on how they use their brakes.
Where Are The Best Overtaking Opportunities On A Racetrack?
The best overtaking opportunities on a racetrack are in heavy braking zones at the end of long straights. Getting into the slipstream of the car in front allows drivers to gain a couple of miles per hour down the straight. The driver can then out brake their opponent into the heavy braking zone.
An overtake is a carefully crafted moment that has been planned to precision by the driver. Drivers will often be behind a car for several laps, and as they drive behind them they assess where an overtaking opportunity might show up.
Racetracks are designed with overtaking in mind. There will usually be two or more corners on each circuit to allow for overtaking opportunities. However, there are some tracks that are very narrow, without many long straights or heavy braking zones. This makes overtaking very difficult, and Monaco is the most famous example of this type of track.
Can You Overtake In F1 By Braking Earlier?
It is possible to overtake in F1 by braking earlier. The driver can force their opponent to brake too late into a corner, and this allows the trailing driver to get into perfect position to overtake them into the next straight. This is known as a “switchback.”
The attacking driver forces their opponent to defend the inside line aggressively. When the defending driver brakes too late, they will go further into the corner and likely miss the apex. This means their car has to rotate more in order to get through the corner, slowing them down.
The attacking driver will look to make the corner as short as possible and get their car to the apex as quickly as possible. When their opponent “out-brakes themselves” and goes too deep into the corner, the attacking driver will brake earlier and take a wider line into the corner.
The attacking driver reaches the apex first while the defending driver misses the apex and still needs to get to the corner exit. The result is often that both cars end up alongside one another at the exit of the corner in a drag race down the following straight. The switchback doesn’t always work out, but it can still be a powerful overtaking move in F1.
Out braking in F1 means to brake later than your opponent. It’s difficult to do as each driver and car has their limits. Braking too late could end with you hitting the barrier. The best place to out brake your opponent in Formula 1 is at tight corners at the end of a long straight.