What is an In Lap in F1? - Unveiling the Secrets of Formula 1's In Lap

November 17, 2023
Tom Thorns

Formula 1 has multiple lap types that you’ll often hear about if you’re a Formula 1 fan. Commentators will mention the hot lap, in lap, out lap, formation lap, installation lap, and so on.

But what do they mean? And what is an in lap in F1?

That’s what we’re here to find out. Here’s a summary of the most important ones:

  • Out Lap is the first lap that a driver performs after exiting the garage. Its purpose is to warm up the car’s cold brakes and tyres before the Hot Lap (flying lap), to achieve maximum performance and speed. There are Out Laps in the Qualifying as well as the main race
  • Hot Lap (Flying Lap or Fast Lap) is the lap immediately after the Out Lap, during the three Qualifying Sessions, when the driver will perform a lap around the circuit as fast as possible. This qualifying time determines each driver’s starting position on the starting grid, which makes the Hot Lap the most important lap in F1 Qualifying Sessions
  • In Lap (Push Lap) is the final lap coming after the Hot Lap in Qualifying or the lap before a driver wants to take a pit stop in the main race. During Qualifying, the driver will go slow to cool down the car, while in the main race, they’ll go at maximum speed to compensate for lost time during the pit stop

In this article, I’ll talk to you about the In Lap (Push Lap), see why it exists, its purpose, and how it helps Formula 1 drivers perform.

Two Types of In Laps

There are two types of In Laps. One is during the Qualifying Session, and the other is during the main race.

Below, I’ll explain how both of them function and the key differences between each other.

Qualifying In Lap

During the Qualifying and free practice sessions, the In Lap is the final lap immediately after the Hot Lap. At this time, the drivers have already gone at full speed for the Hot Lap (flying lap) to determine their starting positions on the grid with their lap times.

After the Hot Lap is done and their starting position on the starting grid has been settled, the driver takes the car back to the pit. To do that, they’ll need to do another lap, which is the In Lap, to get back to the pits. This lap helps the car cool down.

There’s no need to keep the tyres and brakes warm because the next Qualifying Session, or next qualifying lap, won’t begin immediately and won’t be on the same tyres. Or, if it’s the last Qualifying Session, the car won’t be driven until the next day, at the main race on Sunday.

Drivers won’t go unnecessarily fast during the In Lap, and they’ll also try to minimize tyre wear as much as possible. Worn tyres don’t have as much grip, so they prefer to go slow.

Even though different types of tyres will be used for each Qualifying Session, it’s still important to not wear them out because they may be used during the main race.

It’s important to remember that drivers doing their In Laps are not allowed to get in the way of drivers on their Hot Laps.

Their teams will notify them on the radio if there’s any incoming Hot Lap driver, and if there is, they’ll have to pull over on the non-racing line to let the Hot Lap driver pass them.

Ignoring these notifications or interfering with drivers doing their Hot Laps will result in penalties, usually  3-lap grid drop in the starting grid.

Main Race In Lap

Credit: Oversteer48.com

During the main race, the In Lap is the lap a driver takes when he wants to make a pit stop.

The main difference between the Qualifying In Lap and the actual race In Lap is that, during the main race, the driver pushes the car's performance to its limits during the In Lap.

This is why the In Lap is also known as the Push Lap when in race conditions.

They know that they’ll waste precious seconds during pit stops, so they want to make up for it as much as possible.

So, they’ll drive at top speed in the lap before pitting (In Lap), pushing the racing car to its limits. They also don’t have to avoid wearing out the tyres, as they’ll get new ones during the pit stop.

After they pit, they’ll leave the garage and perform what is known as an Out Lap. The new tyres need to be brought up to temperature, so the driver can’t go at full speed yet. 

They’ll try to go as fast as they can on the Out Lap to get back to full speed as quickly as possible to avoid losing too much time in the race..

But they’ll still push the racing car a lot more than during a Qualifying Out Lap, similar to the In Lap in Qualifying vs. the main race.

Importance of an In Lap During the Main Race

Credit: MotorSport.com

The main race In Lap is much more important than the Qualifying In Lap. That’s because the main race In Lap has to happen quickly to avoid wasting precious time.

That’s why the “Pit Stop Strategy” was created, with the In Lap as its centrepiece. When the team announces a pit stop for the driver, the following things will happen:

  • The driver will adjust his driving style accordingly
  • The driver will push the car to the limit, trying to achieve a fastest lap and ignoring tyre wear
  • The pit crew will prepare the tyres for the car during the pit stop
  • The driver will need to enter the pit box as efficiently as possible to minimize wasting time
  • Finally, the pit crew will change the tyres, make a front wing flap adjustment if necessary, and the driver leaves the pit box into the pit lane

The way the driver performs an In Lap and the length of the pit stop can vary depending on multiple factors like the driver’s position on the track, the car’s tyre wear, fuel levels, weather, track conditions and so on.

The crucial part is taking all these elements into consideration and optimizing the entire process to help the driver cross the finish line in a Grand Prix.

Performing an efficient In Lap and Pit Stop are actually instrumental to achieving top performance during a Formula 1 Grand Prix and having a competitive advantage through optimum performance.

That's why Formula 1 drivers practice In Laps and pit stops during free practice sessions - to minimize mistakes during the actual race.

The difference between first place and second place can be as little as a second. So, one extra second spent in the Pit Stop due to a bad In Lap and not stopping at the correct point in the pit box can quite literally make you lose the race.

That’s how important the In Lap is for Formula 1 drivers and their teams!