The start of a Formula 1 race is the most intense moment of any race weekend. The drivers set off on a formation lap and then weave from side to side across the track before going full throttle. This might look strange, but there’s a very good reason as to why F1 drivers weave.
F1 drivers weave (or zig zag) from side to side to warm up their tires. F1 cars get more grip once the tires are within their ideal operating temperature window, which is especially important at the start of a race. Weaving generates heat through friction between the tires and the track surface.
While heating the tires up is important, it’s not the only reason drivers weave on the formation lap or behind the safety car. There are other important factors to consider when they are weaving across the track. Below, we’ll discuss why F1 drivers weave in more detail.
Why Do F1 Drivers Zig Zag?
F1 drivers zig zag across the circuit during slow laps so they can either warm up their tires or keep the temperatures of the tires where they are. The formation lap is usually slow, which makes it difficult for drivers to build up heat in the tires if they drive in straight lines.
At the start of a race, you will often see the drivers on the grid zig zagging across the circuit while on their formation lap. Cars will also weave from side to side when they are behind the safety car. In some cases, we even see drivers zig zagging across the track in the middle of the race.
When driving behind the safety car, the cars also tend to go much slower than racing speed, which causes the tires to cool down rapidly. By weaving from side to side across the circuit on slow laps, the driver generates more friction between the tires and the track surface, which keeps the tires at racing temperature.
How Does Weaving Warm Up The Tires?
Weaving from side to side generates heat in the tires in two main ways. First, the weaving flexes the tire wall which helps to load up the tires and warm them up. Formula 1 cars are not travelling fast enough to load their tires through corners on slow laps, which is why the drivers need to weave when going down the straights.
Zig zagging across the circuit also generates more friction between the contact patch of the tire and the surface of the track. Friction generates heat, and although the contact patch is fairly small, the friction helps the tires to warm up further when going slowly down the straights.
Why Do F1 Drivers Weave Behind The Safety Car?
F1 drivers weave behind the safety car as their tires cool down at slow speeds. To keep their heat, and therefore their grip, the car needs to be driving much faster. The safety car doesn’t travel at racing speed, so the tires begin to lose temperature. So, drivers weave to keep the temperature up.
A safety car can be inconvenient for many drivers in Formula 1. Not only does it bring the grid close together again, but it also means that the cars go significantly slower. The safety car is usually driving fast, but compared to Formula 1 racing speeds, it’s too slow.
However, by weaving from side to side behind the safety car, drivers can add more temperature to their tires. If a driver weaves early during the safety car period, they can retain the temperature that is already in their tires rather than having them drop below their optimum operating temperature.
What Does Tire Warmup Mean In F1?
Tire warmup in F1 means that the car’s tires are too cold, and they will suffer from low grip levels while they’re out on track. If a car’s tires are too cold, they will struggle for grip and may spin off the track. In order to reach the right temperatures, drivers need to warm their tires up.
For this reason, drivers and teams need to do everything they can to warm the tires up as much as possible before the car heads out on track. Tire warmup is a team effort between the mechanics and the drivers, and if done right the the car will have much more grip as soon as it leaves the garage.
Why Is Tire Temperature So Important In F1?
When tires are warm, they become softer and therefore offer more grip. Cold tires offer very little grip. Many F1 drivers have described driving on cold tires as being like driving on ice. Formula 1 cars tend to slide around and spin when trying to drive on tires that are too cold.
Formula 1 tires have a very narrow operating temperature window. If the tires become too hot, then the car loses grip as well as they overheat and deform faster, known as tire degradation. Tires that are too hot will cause the car to slide around and will also cause the tires to wear out faster. Drivers need to keep their tires within an optimal temperature range to be effective.
If the driver manages to keep their tires in the sweet spot of operating temperatures, then they will be extracting peak performance from their tires. However, it can be tricky to keep the tires within this temperature range to get the most out of them.
How Do F1 Drivers Warm Up Their Tires?
F1 drivers can warm up their tires in a few ways. While many drivers weave from side to side on the circuit to warm their tires, this is not always the most effective way get the tires up to temperature, and they’ll often brake heavily or do burnouts on the way to the starting grid.
The best way to generate heat in the front tires is by braking. Therefore, many drivers will accelerate and then brake hard during the formation lap. In some cases, they might also brake while weaving the car. Braking generates much more friction as the tires try to grip the tarmac, making it a much more effective method for warming up the front tires and the brakes.
However, braking does not warm up the rear tires as well. The best way to warm up the rear tires is to accelerate hard, in some cases as much as spinning the rear wheel in a sort of burnout, which is what we often see drivers doing on their way to the grid at the end of a formation lap. Spinning the rear tires generates a huge amount of friction and heat.
Drivers tend to spin their tires at the end of the formation lap, as this allows the heat to remain in the tires for the start of the race. Warmer rear tires will allow the car to get better traction and therefore a better start, as F1 cars are rear wheel drive. However, if the drivers do this too early, the rear tires will cool down while the car sits on the grid waiting for the lights to go out.
How Do Teams Warm Up The Tires?
Warming up the tires is very much a team effort. It’s not a good idea for Formula 1 cars to go out onto a track with completely cold tires, as this is sure to result in a spin or a crash. As such, teams need make an effort to warm up the car’s tires before the cars leave the garage or their grid slots.
They do this by using tire blankets. Tire blankets fit around an F1 tire and are plugged into a power source. There are elements inside the tire blanket that begin to heat up, much like an electric blanket you would put on your bed (but much hotter!). This causes the tires to heat up inside the tire blankets, leaving them nice and warm (about 70°C/158°F) when the car heads out on track.
Tire blankets are most commonly seen in the garage, especially before a qualifying lap. The engineers will leave the tire blankets on the tires for as long as possible in order to generate as much heat as they can in the tires before the car leaves the garage.
You can also see tire blankets fitted on cars before the start of a race. However, there are some strict rules about using tire blankets on the grid pre-race. Tire blankets are also being phased out in the coming years.
Why Is The Out Lap So Important?
The out lap is important because F1 drivers need to be fast enough to generate heat in their tires and stay ahead of their competition in the race, but if they go too fast they run the risk of spinning on cold tires or wearing their tires out more than they need to.
Therefore, a driver needs to be extra careful on their out lap. During the race, an out lap can make or break a driver’s track position. If one driver’s out lap is faster than another’s, there’s a good chance they can leapfrog them in the pits with an undercut or overcut.
The out lap is just as important during qualifying, but drivers need to approach it with even more precision. The goal of an out lap in qualifying is to get the tires at the perfect temperatures right as they cross the line to start their lap. If the tires are too cold, they won’t have enough grip. If the tires are too hot, they will overheat towards the end of the lap, again losing grip.
Why Do Some Drivers Have To Do Slower Out laps?
Each driver has a unique out lap they need to do. It not only depends on the drivers’ driving style, but also how the car manages its tires. Some cars generate more heat in their tires than others, for example by running a higher downforce setup, which means the driver needs go slower on the out lap to prevent the tires from overheating.
Other cars might take longer to produce heat in their tires, and these drivers need to go faster and weave more aggressively on their out lap if they want to generate enough heat in their tires to get them to their optimum temperature levels.
It can also depend on the set up on the car, which is why we sometimes see two teammates have different types of out laps despite having the same car. One driver might be running more camber and toe which will allows the tires to heat up faster.
Other Reasons F1 Drivers Swerve Across The Track
Warming up the tires is the main reason drivers might be weaving from side to side across the track. However, it’s not the only reason they use the zig zag motion. There are several other situations in which an F1 driver will swerve across the track.
Cleaning The Tires
One of the other important reasons Formula 1 drivers weave from side to side when they are on a formation lap or behind a safety car is because they might be cleaning their tires. Dirty tires lead to less rubber in contact with the tarmac, which leads to less grip.
Tires can get dirty when they are warm or slightly worn out. Drivers can sometimes pick up marbles on the side of the track, which will make the tires “dirty” and cause them to lose grip. If a driver has a moment and runs off track through grass or gravel, there can also be a lot of dirt, grass, gravel or sand stuck on the tires.
Weaving from side to side will cause the layer of dirt to be cleaned off the surface of the tires, through the action of rubbing the tires across the track surface. Drivers may therefore swerve around during a race after a spin to clean their tires. Although the tires will clean themselves up over time, the fastest way to clean them is by weaving across the track (in a safe manner).
Cooling Down Tires
In some cases, drivers might swerve across the track to cool their tires down. However, this is different from the weaving zig zag motion that is used to warm the tires up. Drivers will only use this technique under certain conditions to cool down intermediate or wet tires.
The intermediate and wet tires have much lower operating temperatures as they are mean to be used in rainy conditions, which naturally leave the track surface colder. This also means that the tires can quickly overheat when the rain stops, and a drying line begins to form.
When this happens the intermediate and wet tires will quickly shred down to the canvas as they become too hot. However, drivers can purposefully drive through puddles of water to cool their tires down. Puddles of water will naturally move to the side of the racing line, which means drivers need to swerve across the track to go through them.
Cooling Down Other Parts Of The Car
Formula 1 cars are extremely sensitive machines. Just like the tires, the parts inside the car, such as the engine, need to be in a specific temperature range in order to work properly. F1 brakes also need to be warm if they are to stop the car properly.
But when these parts become too hot, they run the risk of failing. Engine failures are common when they begin to overheat, and brakes will have reduced stopping power when they become too hot. The problem is that these parts need fresh, cool air for them to cool down.
If the car is following closely behind another car, there is limited fresh air for the intakes to use to cool the car down. This means the integral parts of the car can overheat when behind another car. The driver might swerve across the track to get out from behind the car in front while on a straight, which will give their car fresh air to cool down their internal components.
Breaking A Tow
On some circuits with long straights, you might hear about the “tow.” A tow in F1 is another term for a slipstream. Because of the way the aerodynamics of a Formula 1 car work, the slipstream is incredibly powerful in Formula 1, especially with the addition of DRS.
Once a car gets tucked in behind another, they can benefit from the tow, and will experience a boost in their top speed. This could present the opportunity to overtake the car ahead. With the boost in top speed, they will be able to pull up alongside and slingshot past them.
Some drivers may therefore swerve across the track to break the tow of the car behind. When going in a straight line, it’s easy to follow the car in front and catch a slipstream, but if the car is weaving from side to side, then it’s much more difficult to do so. This reduces the effect of the powerful slipstream.
It’s important to note that the FIA may deem this as dangerous driving, and they have been clamping down on it ever since it started happening in 2011. Some drivers still swerve across the track in order to break a tow, but it’s become much stricter, and drivers must do it in a safe way, and not excessively.
F1 drivers zig zag or weave across the track mainly to warm up their tires during the formation lap or during a safety car period. Tires that are too cold will not provide enough grip for safe and effective driving. Drivers may also weave to cool their cars down or to break the slipstream.