F1 Flag Meanings - Decoding the Flag Colours (All 11 Flags)
Watching Formula 1 without knowing the meaning of the flags is like playing chess without knowing how the pieces move.
It just can’t be done without running into confusing situations. F1 is not just about who gets to the finish line first. There are a lot of unexpected situations that might call for various Formula 1 flags being waved.
But what are the F1 flag meanings? That’s what I’m here to explain. Here’s a list of all the racing flags used in Formula 1:
- Green Flag
- Blue Flag
- White Flag
- Yellow Flag
- Yellow Flag with Red Stripes
- Red Flag
- Black Flag
- Black Flag with an Orange Circle
- Black and White Flag
- Chequered Flag
- Code 60 Flag
A total of 10 different flags, each with their own meaning and usage. There are also several other elements accompanying the flags that would hint at the meaning of the flags.
These elements include:
- Whether the flag is being held stationary or waved
- The number of times a flag is waved
- The specific moment the flag is used
With all this being said, let’s look at all the flags and understand their meaning for Formula 1 races!
The green flag is the easiest one to understand. It means “GO” or “RESUME THE RACE”.
This flag is shown to signal the start of a practice session, warm-up lap, qualifying session, or after an incident took place on the track that required the use of yellow flags.
Keep in mind that the this flag does not signal the start of an F1 Grand Prix. For that occasion, a light system is used instead.
The green flag will also be used after the Safety Car is signalled to return to the pit lane after an incident. This tells the contestants that they can resume the race in post-Safe Car conditions.
A blue flag has different meanings, depending on when it is used:
- For a driver leaving the pits, it means that traffic is approaching. In this case, the flag will be held (stationary)
- During the race, it shows a particular driver that they will be lapped by the car behind them. In this case, they are required to let the car pass them. If the driver concerned ignores three blue flags, they will be penalized (waved)
- During practice sessions, it means that there’s a faster car behind the driver who will overtake them (waved)
When a white flag is shown during a race, it means that there is a slow-moving vehicle ahead. It could be another race car or it could be an FIA vehicle (medical car, tow truck, etc.)
During races, it’s difficult for drivers to react or accommodate a particularly slower car. Signalling them ahead of time through this flag avoids any unfortunate incidents.
This flag will also be used during practice sessions, especially in the last corner, when the drivers are doing their practice starts.
Yellow Flag with Red Stripes
The yellow flag with red stripes (also known as a double yellow flag) is held stationary to warn drivers that the track has reduced grip because of various conditions like:
- Loose debris
- Other slippery substances
This striped flag is not waved but held stationary in this situation. Drivers will know to pay close attention to their car handling to avoid losing control on the less grippy track surface and change direction if necessary.
The yellow and red flag can also be used to signal that there’s an animal on the track. In this case, the yellow and red flag will be moved horizontally from side to side (not waved).
- A single-waved yellow flag requires drivers to reduce their speed, not overtake other cars, and become aware of upcoming hazards on the track that may require them to change direction
- Double-waved yellow flags require drivers to reduce their speed significantly (more so than a single yellow flag), not overtake other cars, and become aware that they may have to avoid a hazard or come to a complete stop
There’s a difference of hazard severity in the case of the singular and double-waved yellow flags. The singular flag signals a not-so-serious-yet-still-risky hazard by the track or partly blocking the track.
A double-waved yellow flag, on the other hand, warns of a serious hazard that partly or completely blocks the track. Or that marshals are present on the track or in its vicinity.
The double-waved yellow flag has the same meaning during free practice and qualifying sessions. And when it is waved, the participants should drive in a way that makes it clear they’ve given up on the lap.
The red flag is the easiest to understand in all of Formula 1. It signifies the temporary suspension of the race due to:
- Completely blocked track
- Very dangerous weather
- Heightened risk of injuries for drivers
- Immediate danger to all drivers and/or spectators
This flag is not commonly used but when it is waved, it means something is deeply wrong on the track. There’s imminent danger to one of the parties involved, either the drivers or the spectators.
Here’s what the red flag means in these situations:
- The flag is simultaneously waved at the start line and at every marshal post around the circuit
- During a race, drivers will have to reduce their speed and go back to the pit lane immediately
- During a practice or qualifying session, drivers will need to slow down and return to the pit garage
If the track is cleared from debris and normal racing conditions are restored, then the race will restart using the same racing order before the red flag was used.
This is very important because the red flag essentially freezes the race temporarily. Once it restarts, the race “resumes” with the cars assuming the same positions they had before the red flag situation.
The black flag is an F1 driver’s worst nightmare. It means they’re out of the race disqualified, and required to return to the pit garage as soon as possible.
This flag is not waved but held stationary and accompanying it is the driver's race number corresponding to the driver’s car. These two always go together so that the affected driver is aware of his disqualification.
Here’s why a driver might receive a black flag in F1:
- Unsafe and excessively dangerous driving
- Repeatedly disobeying the commands of the race officials
- Driving a damaged car without obeying the race stewards’ instructions
These flags are very rarely issued, though. They're a rare sight. In fact, the last black flag was issued in 2007 during the Canadian Grand Prix. Drivers Felipe Mass and Giancarlo Fisichella were suspended from the race after trying to leave the pit lane when there was a red light.
So, no black flag was ever issued in the last 16 years in Formula One. That should tell you how severe the situation must be to warrant one.
Black Flag with an Orange Disk/Circle
A black flag with an orange disk in the middle shows that a driver’s is experiencing a malfunction or has a mechanical problem. They are required to stop in the pits as soon as possible.
This orange circle flag (also known as an orange flag or black and orange flag) is also accompanied by a panel showing the driver’s number, just like the flag before.
Usage of this orange flag is much more common than you’d think given the fairly aggressive and risky nature of Formula One.
Once the driver notices the flag, they are required to slow down and go into their pit immediately. If they don’t, they may get penalized or suspended from the race altogether.
Black and White Flag
This is the second-worst type of flag that an F1 driver wants to see during a Grand Prix. It means that they’ve engaged in unsportsmanlike conduct.
This could mean:
- Trying to intentionally drive another car off the course
- Getting out of the car mid-race
- Get into a conflict with another driver
- Breaching the principles of fairness as established by the FIA
- Going against specific FIA regulations
- Exceeding track limits for the third time, this is their final warning
- Going against specific FIA regulations
This last offence was recently heavily enforced during the F1 Austrian GP in July, when the FIA handed out no less than 12 for exceeding the track limits. They had to analyze over 1,200 reports of violations for this.
As with all other driver-specific F1 flags, this flag is also accompanied by the driver’s number at all times.
This flag is used to warn/inform drivers, though, and does not incur any penalties yet. The race stewards may choose to issue a time penalty for any repeated infringements or unsportsmanlike behaviour after this flag is waved.
Unlike the black F1 flags, the chequered flag is the driver’s best friend because it signifies the end of the race. Once this flag is waved from above the pit wall, the race (or practice session / qualifying session) is over.
The flag is continuously waved until all the cars have passed the finish line/chequered flag session. The winner is the first car that passes the finish line and has completed the required number of laps when the checkered flag is being waved.
To be noted – the competing cars should not stop from completing the race once the winner has been decided. They are still in the competition and will receive points according to the positions they finish the race on.
Code 60 Flag
This particular flag is quite uncommon and is rarely used in F1. Essentially, the Code 60 flag is a purple flag with a white circle that contains the number 60.
It tells all competing cars to reduce their speed to a maximum of 60 km/h37 mph (60 km/h). It’s used to impose a single speed limit on the entire track, likely due to debris or hazard on the track.
The reason why the Code 60 Flag is uncommon is because it’s often replaced by the single yellow flag and the “FCY” (Full Course Yellow) board that means the same thing.
The two systems do get used interchangeably, and the purple flag is still part of the FIA regulations.
It’s important to remember that the Code 60 Flag imposes a single speed limit, not a variable speed limit. In the latter case, the single yellow flag with the “VSC” (Virtual Safety Car) board are used instead.
Closing Remarks on F1 Flags
Flags are integral to the sport of Formula One and understanding them takes you one step closer to true appreciation of the sport.
This article should have answered all your questions about flags. Hopefully, you won’t ever be confused again about the F1 flag meanings no matter the race.
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