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F1: What are Red Flags in Formula 1?

Published at :March 9, 2023 at 4:52 AM
Modified at :April 5, 2023 at 11:11 PM
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Chetan Anand

The flags being waved occasionally means the session is suspended.

During a Formula 1 race, one might have seen red-coloured flags being waved occasionally; mostly after an incident. What does that mean?

A red flag is shown to signal that the session has been suspended, at which point drivers must significantly reduce their speed and return to the pit lane. Overtaking is strictly prohibited and also pointless, as if the session does resume, it will do so with drivers in the order they were in when the red flags were shown. If a driver was running P7 when the race was red-flagged, he must start from P7 when the lights go out again.

However, a certain distance needs to be run in order to activate a new restarting grid. If a race is red-flagged before everyone passes the second safety car line, the starting grid will be restored for the restarted session. Last year's British Grand Prix serves as a great example when Alfa Romeo rookie Guanyu Zhou was involved in a scary turn-one incident. Max Verstappen had overtaken Carlos Sainz before Turn 1 but that didn't stand as the required race distance wasn't covered. Sainz went on to lead on the restart and eventually got his first-ever victory in Formula 1.

'Unsafe' Weather Conditions also cause Red Flags

Incidents aren't the only ones that can cause a red flag, they may also be triggered by weather conditions if it is deemed at that point that the track is not safe for the session to continue. For example, Monaco Grand Prix from last year when the race was red-flagged after running two formation laps. The Monaco rain was deemed 'too heavy' and 'unsafe' to put race cars out there. The race started 65 minutes later than the designated time.

The 75% race distance rule

Another fascinating regulation about a red-flagged race in Formula 1 is that if the race is declared finished by the race control before it completes 75% of its designated distance (305 km except for Monaco), only half points will be awarded. For example, the infamous rain-affected 2021 Belgian Grand Prix. Two formation laps, one racing lap, and the session was red-flagged. After around four hours of wait, it was declared that the Grand Prix will not go underway. Hence, half points were awarded as per the standings after Lap 1. That weekend is also remembered for Goerge Russell's first-ever front-row start and podium.