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F1 Terminology

In Formula 1, words and terms are thrown around as much as a beach ball at a music festival. So, in this post, I will try and slice through the veil of linguistics and explain some of the most used terms in F1 today.

Definitions sourced from the Official Formula 1 Website, formula1.com

107% rule

During the first phase of qualifying, any driver who fails to set a lap within 107 percent of the fastest Q1 time will not be allowed to start the race. However, in exceptional circumstances, which could include a driver setting a suitable time during practice, the stewards may permit the car to start.


The study of airflow over and around an object and an intrinsic part of Formula One car design.

Formula 1 Aerodynamics Wiki


The middle point of the inside line around a corner at which drivers aim their cars.


The consequence of a tyre, or part of a tyre, overheating. Excess heat can cause rubber to soften and break away in chunks from the body of the tyre. Blistering can be caused by the selection of an inappropriate tyre compound (for example, one that is too soft for circuit conditions), too high tyre pressure, or an improperly set up car.


The main part of a racing car to which the engine and suspension are attached is called the chassis. (See monocoque)


A tight sequence of corners in alternate directions. Usually inserted into a circuit to slow the cars, often just before what had been a high-speed corner.

Clean air

Air that isn’t turbulent, and thus offers optimum aerodynamic conditions, as experienced by a car at the head of the field.


Tread compound is the part of any tyre in contact with the road and therefore one of the major factors in deciding tyre performance. The ideal compound is one with maximum grip but which still maintains durability and heat resistance. A typical Formula One race compound will have more than ten ingredients such as rubbers, polymers, sulphur, carbon black, oil and other curatives. Each of these includes a vast number of derivatives any of which can be used to a greater or lesser degree. Very small changes to the mix can change compound performance.

CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics)

CFD is an essential part of  aerodynamics in F1. This is where teams use multiple super computers to calculate the airflow over and around the car. The teams then use Floviz in practice and pre-season testing to check how accurate their calculations were.

CFD Wiki

Diffuser (See Aero)

The rear section of the car’s floor or undertray where the air flowing under the car exits. The design of the diffuser is crucial as it controls the speed at which the air exits. The faster its exit, the lower the air pressure beneath the car, and hence the more downforce the car generates.

Downforce (See Aero)

The aerodynamic force that is applied in a downwards direction as a car travels forwards. This is harnessed to improve a car’s traction and its handling through corners.

Drag (See Aero)

The aerodynamic resistance experienced as a car travels forwards.


Also known as adjustable rear wings, DRS (Drag Reduction System) rear wings allow the driver to adjust the wing between two pre-determined settings from the cockpit. The system’s availability is electronically governed – it can be used at any time in practice and qualifying (unless a driver is on wet-weather tyres), but during the race can only be activated when a driver is less than one second behind another car at pre-determined points on the track. The system is then deactivated once the driver brakes.

See my post about DRS in F1: http://wp.me/p1nIHn-X

Flat spot (See Tyres)

The term given to the area of a tyre that is worn heavily on one spot after a moment of extreme braking or in the course of a spin. This ruins its handling, often causing severe vibration, and may force a driver to pit for a replacement set of tyres.


Flo-viz paint is a special paint that teams put on specific aero pieces on the car. The car then drives around the circuit at a speed defined by the engineers. When the car comes back in, the paint has streaked and shows up how the air is flowing over the cars surface. The engineers study this and look for the correlation between it and the CFD predictions.

Graining (See Tyres)

When a car slides, it can cause little bits or rubber (‘grains’) to break away from the tyre’s grooves. These then stick to the tread of the tyre, effectively separating the tyre from the track surface very slightly. For the driver, the effect is like driving on ball bearings. Careful driving can clear the graining within a few laps, but will obviously have an effect on the driver’s pace. Driving style, track conditions, car set-up, fuel load and the tyre itself all play a role in graining. In essence, the more the tyre moves about on the track surface (ie slides), the more likely graining is.


Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems, or KERS, are legal from 2009 onwards. KERS recover waste kinetic energy from the car during braking, store that energy and then make it available to propel the car. The driver has access to the additional power for limited periods per lap, via a ‘boost button’ on the steering wheel.

See my post about KERS in F1 2012: http://wp.me/p1nIHn-2w


The single-piece tub in which the cockpit is located, with the engine fixed behind it and the front suspension on either side at the front.

Parc ferme

A fenced-off area into which cars are driven after qualifying and the race, where no team members are allowed to touch them except under the strict supervision of race stewards.

Plank (See Aero)

A hard wooden strip (also known as a skid block) that is fitted front-to-back down the middle of the underside of all cars to check that they are not being run too close to the track surface, something that is apparent if the wood is excessively worn.

Reconnaissance lap

A lap completed when drivers leave the pits to assemble on the grid for the start. If a driver decides to do several, they must divert through the pit lane as the grid will be crowded with team personnel.

Sidepod (See Aero)

The part of the car that flanks the sides of the monocoque alongside the driver and runs back to the rear wing, housing the radiators.


A driving tactic when a driver is able to catch the car ahead and duck in behind its rear wing to benefit from a reduction in drag over its body and hopefully be able to achieve a superior maximum speed to slingshot past before the next corner.


A system that beams data related to the engine and chassis to computers in the pit garage so that engineers can monitor that car’s behaviour.


Literally, the turning or twisting force of an engine, torque is generally used as a measure of an engine’s flexibility. An engine may be very powerful, but if it has little torque then that power may only be available over a limited rev range, making it of limited use to the driver. An engine with more torque – even if it has less power – may actually prove quicker on many tracks, as the power is available over a far wider rev range and hence more accessible. Good torque is particularly vital on circuits with a number of mid- to slow-speed turns, where acceleration out of the corners is essential to a good lap time.

Traction (See Aero)

The degree to which a car is able to transfer its power onto the track surface for forward progress.


The result of the disruption of airflow caused by an interruption to its passage, such as when it hits a rear wing and its horizontal flow is spoiled.


The tyres on an F1 car are the only contact it has with the ground. They provide the mechanical grip and traction needed to propel the car forward.

See my post about tyres in F1 here: http://wp.me/p1nIHn-1q

F1 Tyres Wiki

Hope all of this has cleared things up for you.

If you have any definitions you want or to add, type them in the comments down below. 

For more in-depth analysis of everything technical in F1, visit scarbsf1.com

Definitions sourced from the Official Formula 1 Website,  formula1.com

Videos sourced from YouTube, images from Google Images.

No copyright infringement intended.

  1. November 15, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Greetings from across the sea! This is just what I was looking for, and you nailed it. Thanks very much

  2. November 19, 2012 at 12:21 am

    I came here expecting something else, but this enlightened me regardless. Enthusing stuff!

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