I can’t understand the jargon!

You may now understand the history, the teams, the drivers, the race and the rules – but none of this will help if you can’t understand what the commentator is saying!

Here we have broken down Formula One terminology into a simple A-Z of the most common terminology.

Keep it with you while watching the race to fully understand everything that is going on.


The study of airflow over and around an object. As we have seen, it is an integral part of Formula One car design.


Cars attempt to take corners as tight as they can to the curve. The apex is the middle point of the inside line around a corner at which drivers aim their cars.


A team may take an appeal on its drivers’ behalf if they feel that he has been unfairly penalised by the race officials.


This is a series of weights fixed around the car to maximise its balance and bring it up to the minimum weight limit.


The bargeboard is the piece of bodywork mounted vertically between the front wheels and the start of the sidepods to help smooth the airflow around the sides of the car.


Blistering occurs when a tyre, or part of a tyre, overheats. The excess causes the 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), an excessively high tyre pressure, or an improperly set up car.


This is when the carbon fibre sections are fitted onto the monocoque, or load bearing exterior shell, before the cars leave the pits. They include items like the engine cover, the cockpit top and the nose-cone.


Bottoming is when a car’s chassis hits the track surface as it runs through a sharp compression and reaches the bottom of its suspension travel.

Brake balance

Brake balance is a switch in the cockpit of the car which alters the split of the car’s braking power between the front and the rear wheels according to a driver’s wishes.


The main part of the body of a racing car to which the engine and suspension are attached


A chicane is a tight sequence of corners in alternate directions. They are usually inserted into a circuit to slow the cars, often just before where there had previously been a high-speed or dangerous corner.

Clean air

Air that isn’t turbulent is known as clean air. It offers optimum aerodynamic conditions, and is experienced by a car at the head of the field, as there are no cars in front of him creating turbulence.


The section of the chassis in which the driver sits.


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.


A diffuser is a section of the car floor or undertray, through which the air gushing underneath the car is managed.

The diffuser is important because it controls the speed at which the air exits. The general rule of thumb is: the faster its exit, the lower the air pressure beneath the car, and hence the more downforce the car generates.


Downforce is the aerodynamic force that is applied in a downwards direction as a car travels forwards. This is harnessed by the use of wings to significantly improve the car’s traction and enable the car to take corners more efficiently.


Drag is the aerodynamic resistance which is experienced as a car travels forwards. Formula One teams are constantly seeking ways to minimise drag.

Drive-through penalty

This is one of two penalties that can be handed out at the discretion of the stewards, whilst the race is still running.

The punishment is that a driver must enter the pit lane, drive through it complying with the speed limit, and re-join the race without stopping.

Flat spot

A flat spot occurs on a particular area of a tyre when a heavy moment of braking or a severe spin has ruptured, or worn heavily, the surface of the tyre.

It is vital to be aware of flat spots, as they can ruin the handling of the car, and often cause severe vibrations throughout the body of the car.

With flat spots, a driver may stop and request a new set of replacement tyres.

Formation lap

The formation lap is the lap before the start of the race when the cars drive from their qualifying places on the grid in order to form up on the grid again for the start of the actual race.


Although it sounds very scientific, a G-force is simply a physical force equivalent to one unit of gravity that is multiplied during rapid changes of direction or velocity.

Drivers experience severe G-forces as they corner, accelerate and brake.


When a car slides on a race track, the motion can cause little bits or rubber, or ‘grains’, to tear away from the tyre’s grooves. These grains then stick to the treading of the tyre, which has the effect of separating the tyre from the track surface very slightly.

For the driver, the feel of this effect is like driving on ball bearings. It need not be a huge problem, as careful driving can clear the graining within a few laps, but the graining has an effect on the driver’s pace.

Although graining can often be unavoidable, the driving style, track conditions, car set-up, fuel load and the tyre itself, can all play a role in reducing graining. This is because all these factors go into the car’s traction, and the basic idea is that the more the tyre slides about on the track surface, the more likely graining is.

Gravel trap

As the name implies, a gravel trap is a safety measure comprised of a bed of gravel on the outside of corners, which has the specific aim of bringing cars that fall off the circuit to a halt.


Although it is not literally the grip a driver has on the road, it is not far off. Grip refers to the amount of traction a car has at any given point, and plays an enormous part in how easy it is for the driver to keep control through corners.

Installation lap

An installation lap is done on arrival at a circuit, and will usually test functions such as throttle, brakes and steering, before heading back to the pits.

Intermediate tyre

An intermediate tyre is somewhere between a dry weather tyre and a wet weather tyre. Put simply, it is a type of tyre that has more grooves and a more treaded pattern than the dry weather tyre, but less than a full wet-weather tyre.

Intermediate tyres are mostly used in mixed weather conditions.

Jump start

Known in other sports as a false start, this is when a driver moves off his grid position before the five red lights have been switched off to signal the start. Sensors detect premature movement and a jump start earns a driver a penalty.

Left foot braking

This is merely a style of braking which became all the rage in the 1990s, following the arrival of hand clutches. Left foot braking means that drivers can keep their right foot on the throttle and solely dedicate their left to braking.


This sign gets its name from its resemblance to the popular sweet. A lollipop is a sign on a stick which is held in front of the car during a pit stop. One lollipop indicated to the driver to apply the brakes, and a second then informs the driver to engage first gear, prior to the car being lowered from its jacks.


A course official whose primary role it is to oversee the safe running of the race.

Marshals have other duties at the course as well, including keeping an eye on spectators to ensure they do not endanger themselves or the competitors.

Marshals are also in charge of health and safety matters and act as a fire wardens. If a driver has crashed, the marshal will help remove stranded cars and drivers from the track, and will signal the condition of the driver using flags.


A monocoque is a single piece of body in which the cockpit is located. The engine is fixed behind it and the front suspension is found on either side at the front.


An oversteer is when the driver steers towards the apex, but the rear end of the vehicle doesn’t want to go around a corner and tries to overtake the front end.

A driver corrects this motion by quickly using a steering technique called opposite-lock, which can cause the wheels to skid.


Levers are located on either side of the back of a steering wheel, and drivers can change gear by pushing them up or down.


A paddock is a private and enclosed area for each team, where they will keep their car transporters and motor homes.

Parc ferme

This is a fenced-off area into which cars are driven after qualifying and again after the race.

This area prevents tampering with the cars before or after the race as no team members are allowed to touch them in the parc ferme except under the strict supervision of race stewards.

Pit board

This is a board held out on the pit wall to inform a driver of his race position. It will also tell the driver what his time interval is to the car ahead or the one behind, and plus the number of laps remaining in the race.

Pit wall

The pit wall is to the Formula One team, what the dugout is to football. The team owner, managers and engineers spend the race here, and it is usually protected under an awning to keep sun and rain off their monitors.


The pits is simply an area of track which is separated from the main race track by a wall.

Cars are brought into the pits for new tyres and to refuel during the race. The pits can also serve to implement any set-up changes during practice, as each driver can stop at their respective pit garages, until they are given further information.


Just as it sounds, a plank is a hard wooden strip, which is also known as a skid block.

It is located down the middle of the underside of all cars and is used as a measure of whether the cars are being run too low down on the track.

If the wood is excessively worn, the team can tell that the car is too close to the track.

Pole position

Pole position is the first place on the starting grid, and is awarded to the driver who recorded the fastest lap time in the qualifying 15-minute rounds.


Practice takes place on Friday and Saturday morning of a race weekend. During practice, the drivers are out on the track fine-tuning all the necessary components of their set-up in preparation for qualifying and the race on Sunday.


Just as you might expect, a protest is an action taken by a team when it believes another team or competitor has broken the rules.


These are the 15-minute sessions on Saturday which determine the order of the starting grid for the race. The positions are decided by the speed of the best lap recorded by each driver.

Reconnaissance lap

This is a lap taken just before the drivers assemble on the grid for the start. A driver can decide to do several if he wishes to really familiarise himself with the course, but they must divert through the pit lane, as the grid will be crowded with team personnel, attending to the assembling cars.


This is when a car ‘retires’ from a race because of an accident or some kind of mechanical failure.

Ride height

This is the height between the track’s surface and the floor of the car. If this is too low, the plank will show signs of serious wear.

Safety Car

The safety car belongs to each course, and is a vehicle which is called from the pits to drive in front of the leading car in the race in case there is a problem which requires all cars to slow down.


This is the technical examination of each competing car by course officials to ensure that none are breaking any of the regulations, as pertain to each individual season.


A shakedown is a brief test taken on a new car part that has not been used before. The shakedown will determine whether it is road worthy to be used at race speeds.


The sidepods are located on either side of the monocoque, and flank the driver. Sidepods run back to the rear wing and contain the radiators.


This is a driving tactic where a driver is able to catch up to the car ahead and place itself behind the rear wing. This allows a driver to benefit from a reduction in drag over its body, as the car ahead is generally absorbing most of the resistance.

Drivers use this technique to build up a superior maximum speed which enables them to slingshot past the car before the next corner.

Spare car

It may sound obvious, but each team competing will bring an extra car to a Grand Prix, and sometimes even two. This is in case of any damage to the original car they intend to race.

A spare car is sometimes called a T-car.

‘Splash and dash’

This is a term for a pit stop in the closing laps of a race.

It is so called because a driver will literally just call in for a ‘splash’ of petrol so that they can be sure of making it to the finish line.


A steward is one of three high-ranking officials at each Grand Prix appointed to make decisions.

Stop-go penalty

This is a penalty given to a driver which insists on the driver calling at his pit and stopping for 10 seconds with no refuelling or tyre-changing allowed.

A stop-go penalty can be awarded for dangerous or unsportsmanlike behaviour.

Tear-off strips

Tear-off strips are see-through plastic strips that drivers fit to their helmet’s visor before the start of the race. These can quickly be removed and replaced if they become dirty.


This is a computerised system that reports date related to engine and chassis condition to computers in the pit garage, so that engineers can monitor that car’s behaviour and be prepared at pit stops.


Torque literally means the turning or twisting force of an engine, and is used to measure an engine’s flexibility.

For example, an engine may be very powerful, but if it has little torque then that power may only be available over a limited rev range, which makes it inaccessible for a driver.

An engine with more torque may actually prove quicker on many tracks, even if it is less powerful, as the power is available over a wider rev range and hence more accessible to a driver.


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

Traction control

Traction control is an onboard computerised system that detects if either of a car’s rear wheels is losing traction, or spinning.

If the traction control detects spinning then it will automatically transfer more drive to the wheel with more traction, therefore enabling the car to use its power more efficiently.


This is the same turbulence experienced by planes! It simply means that airflow has been interrupted in its passage, usually by something like a rear wing. At these kinds of speeds, turbulence can also be given off by the cars ahead.

Tyre compound

Tyre compound is simply the type of rubber mix used in the construction of a particular tyre.

Each compound will give different results, ranging from soft to medium or hard, and each compound will also have a different performance and wear characteristic.

Tyre warmer

Tyres can need some TLC too and a tyre warmer is an electric blanket that is wrapped around the tyres before they are fitted to the car. This might sound crazy, but it means that the tyres will begin the race closer to their optimum operating temperature.


This is where the rear end of the car doesn’t want to turn into a corner and slides wide, as the driver attempts to steer in towards the apex.


The undertray is a separate floor to the car, and is attached by bolts to the underside of the monocoque.