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What Does Yellow Sector Mean In F1? (Lap Times Explained)

During a Formula 1 race, it is common to hear teams and commentators refer to purple, green, and yellow sectors at different points of a race in response to a driver’s performance. Left unexplained, knowing what the yellow sector is in F1 can be confusing to someone new to the sport.

A yellow sector in F1 is one of the 3 color-coded terms used to describe a driver’s time through an F1 track’s 3 sectors. A yellow sector means that the driver has fallen short of their personal best. Purple means they have set the fastest time, and green means the driver has set a personal best.

While the sector times don’t define a driver’s overall race time, they can be a helpful indicator of a driver’s performance. In this article we will explain sectors in greater detail, unpick the color-coding system, and discuss the effect they have on lap times.

What Are Sector Times In F1?

Sector times in F1 are guidelines to help drivers, teams, and viewers understand how a car is performing around a track. They give a clear indication of where drivers are gaining time and where they are losing time.

Each Formula 1 track has three sectors, usually designed to take about one third of the total lap time, and marked with a white line on the track. The sectors are aptly named sector 1, sector 2, and sector 3.

With the margins being so fine and the attention to detail being so microscopic, Formula 1 teams divide the sectors into even smaller ‘mini sectors’ in order to pinpoint the exact areas where they need to improve. The number of mini sectors varies depending on the track, but there are usually around 6-10 within a full sector.

Sectors are defined by the corners and straights that they contain. For example, at the Bahrain circuit, sectors 1 and 3 contain long straights, whereas sector 2 is a lot more corner heavy. Therefore, if a car is doing well in sectors 1 and 3, and badly in sector 2, the team will be able to recognize that the car’s main issues lie with their speed through the corners.

How Are Sector Times Determined In Formula 1?

Sector times are determined by the time it takes a driver to complete one of the 3 sectors. These times are measured throughout the race weekend, in both qualifying and the actual race. This allows teams to have a broad set of data to measure the performance of the car.

Timing screens use 3 colors to display the speed of a sector’s time. These are purple, green and yellow. The colors appear on a screen next to the driver’s name and lap time. All 3 sector times are then added up to produce a final lap time. F1 lap and sector times are measured by advanced timing loops placed at various points around the track.

What Is A Purple Sector In F1?

If an F1 driver sets a purple sector time, it means that they have set the quickest time out of all the drivers in the session so far. This will be communicated to the driver by his team via the radio communication link and displayed on screen for viewers at home.

A driver doesn’t have to set a purple time in each sector to be in pole position, as that is decided on lap times, which is the sum of all 3 sectors. However, it does mean that the driver will have a clearer indication of what they got right during their lap.

There are different techniques employed by drivers in order to achieve a purple sector. Drivers sometimes wait until the final lap to put on new tires to try and achieve the fastest lap and gain an extra point. They will often achieve purple sectors because of this, and as it is so late on in the race, it is hard for anyone behind to employ the same tactic.

What Is A Green Sector In F1?

A green sector indicates that a driver has set their personal best time through a particular sector on the track. This is a helpful indication of a driver’s individual performance as well as a good benchmark for how their car is performing in the race.

The personal best is taken from all the times the driver has passed through that sector throughout the entire race weekend.

What Is A Yellow Sector In F1?

Yellow sectors indicate that a driver has fallen below their own personal best time through the sector. This isn’t necessarily an indication of a driver having a bad lap, as it is measured on an individual basis rather than being a comparison to the rest of the grid.

An example of this is Lewis Hamilton’s pole lap at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2020, where his first sector was yellow, but he made up for this in the rest of the lap, managing to still achieve pole position.

How Are F1 Sector And Lap Times Measured?

Formula 1 cars are fitted with small devices called transponders. The transponders transmit radio waves accurate to a ten thousandth of a second and work in tandem with timing loops spaced out around the track. The loops are set around a centimeter into the track with the most important loops placed in between sectors.

Every time a car drives over one of these loops it sends a unique signal that logs the time of day, giving an indication of where the car is in relation to the track, thus generating a time. Each transponder runs on its own signal to ensure there are no frequency issues.

Final Thoughts

An F1 track is split into 3 sectors, and the time it takes the drivers to go through each sector is color-coded. A yellow sector means a driver hasn’t met their personal best. A green sector means they’ve set a new personal best, while a purple sector means they were fastest of all drivers.