Just before the start of a Grand Prix, F1 cars are sent off on what is known as a formation lap. The cars then get into position in their respective grid slots after their formation lap and they get ready for the start of the race. Many fans may wonder why F1 cars need to do a formation lap.
F1 has a formation lap as it serves as the final check and preparation before the race starts. It allows all the teams to make sure their cars are in good working condition, and it also allows the cars to warm up before they race at full speed.
As with any other car, a Formula 1 car needs to be properly warmed up before it is driven to its full potential. The formation lap before the start of a race is very important. Below, we go into more detail about why F1 has formation laps.
What Is The Formation Lap In F1?
The formation lap in F1, also known as the warmup lap, is the slow lap drivers take before the start of the Grand Prix. The cars normally set off on their formation lap on the hour of the race’s official starting time. This gives drivers a final chance to survey the course and prepare their cars.
The formation lap is much slower than a usual racing lap, as all the cars work to warm up before the start of the race. Cars are not allowed to overtake one another on the formation lap. Drivers must also remain within ten car lengths behind the car ahead of them. The race starts once all cars have stopped in their grid slots and the track is clear.
Do All F1 Races Have A Formation Lap?
All F1 races have a formation lap as it is a crucial part of the Grand Prix that is used to ensure that all of the cars are properly warmed up and ready for the race to get started. The rules and procedures are the same for formation laps at each Grand Prix.
However, some formation laps can take longer than others. This comes down to the length of the circuit and how long it takes for the cars to get around the circuit. For example, Spa is a much longer circuit than Monaco, which means that the formation lap will take longer.
The pole sitter (the car with the fastest qualifying time) sets the pace of the formation lap, and all the cars behind the driver in pole position must keep up the pace. However, drivers at the front end of the field tend to wait a long time for the cars at the back of the grid to get into final position on the grid.
Why Is There A Formation Lap In F1?
Each team and driver have their own pre-race procedures they follow during the formation lap. There are important checks that need to be done throughout the formation lap, and it involves much more than just weaving the car from side to side to warm up the tires.
Oftentimes, this is when the tension is at its highest as it’s the final moments that drivers have to themselves before the Grand Prix gets underway and they have to drive their cars at racing speeds for hundreds of miles.
Warming Up The Cars
Formula 1 cars need to reach their optimum temperatures before they are able to race. A cold Formula 1 car is a recipe for disaster, as the tires will not have good traction and the engine will not be at its optimal level of performance. So, it’s important for the cars to use the formation lap to warm up.
Even while sitting in the pits, the cars constantly have warm oil pumped through their engines to keep them warm. This is why they are able to head out on the track quickly during practice and qualifying sessions and not waste time with a warmup lap.
However, before the race, the cars can sit on the grid for half an hour before the start. During that time the engine and internal components become cold, especially when the ambient temperature is low. The formation lap is used to get the cars up to temperature and ready to race.
Warming Up The Tires
One of the most obvious differences between the formation lap and a fast lap is that we see the cars weaving from side to side on the track. They do this to get their tires up to temperature to provide them with enough grip.
Formula 1 tires only give the cars enough grip when they reach their optimum operating temperature, which is quite high, somewhere around 210 degrees Fahrenheit for optimum performance. Driving slowly causes the tires to cool down, which is not ideal for the start of the race.
Weaving from side to side puts energy into the tires, and the friction caused by the weaving generates heat within the tires. This ensures that the tires are warm at the start of the race and that they will give the driver enough grip.
Preparing The Drivers
Many drivers use the formation lap to calm their nerves and get into the zone to prepare for the race. This is usually the tensest moment of the Grand Prix, as there is so much pressure on the drivers to get their cars into optimal condition for a good start.
Paradoxically, the formation lap is also the calmest time of the race for many drivers, and they use this time to clear their head and focus on the job that they need to do. Once their engines are started and they are moving, their mind will be fully focused on the race.
Of course, each driver is different, but for many drivers the formation lap is the moment when their nerves go away and they become more prepared for the race ahead. In this sense, the formation lap also serves to allow the drivers to warm up before the Grand Prix.
Go Through Final Checks
The formation lap is also the team’s last chance to do their final checks to ensure that everything is in working order before the start of the race. By the time the cars set off on their formation lap, it’s too late to make any repairs or major changes to the car.
If there is a major issue that is noticed during the formation lap, such as a drop in oil pressure for example, the team can make the decision to retire the car early and preserve the life of the engine rather than pushing it into the race and suffering a complete engine failure.
Teams can also use this opportunity to identify any parts of the car that are too cool. Formula 1 cars need to have the right oil and water temperatures, for example, and by using the data from the formation lap before the race, they can make sure they reach the car’s optimum temperature.
Check The Track Conditions
The formation lap is often used to check the track conditions before the race as well. While this is often not the case when there is a dry race, track conditions can become inconsistent when there has been rain in the area and the chances of slippage are higher.
Teams and drivers can get a good idea of which areas on the track they should avoid, at least at the start of the race, simply by using the formation lap. Some areas on the track might be greasy or slippery following some rain, and if it is a full wet start, they can assess the wettest areas of the track to establish puddles to avoid etc.
Test All Equipment
The formation lap is often used to do some final checks on all the equipment on the car and in the garage. Formula 1 cars are high-precision machines and have lots of different sensors on them to measure temperatures and pressures in various areas on the car.
While a team can’t do much about a sensor that isn’t working during the formation lap, it can give them a good idea of what they need to keep an eye on during the race. If a sensor is not working, the team may need to pay extra attention to that particular part during the race to ensure that everything is under control.
Teams will usually do radio checks during the formation lap as well. This is to make sure that the radio is working around all areas of the circuit. If their radio check fails in a specific area of the track, then they know that they should avoid communicating with their driver in this section of track during the race.
The formation lap before the start of an F1 race is important for several reasons. Formula 1 cars need to be properly warmed up before they race at full speed, and the formation lap helps them do this. The lap also helps the team do final checks on the sensors and radios on the cars.