What is an Installation Lap in F1? - Unveiling the Secrets of Formula 1's Installation Lap
Hot laps, out laps, installation laps, formation laps, what do they all mean and how do they fit in the Formula 1 sport?
That’s what I’m here to explain. Here’s a summary of the main lap types in Formula One:
- Installation Lap - performed either during the Qualifying Session and free practice, or before the formation lap during the main race. The goal is to test out the car, get a feel for the track, and see if the car performs up to specs, and it's the first lap performed at this time
- Out Lap - where the drivers will go around the track once to warm up their tyres and brakes. This is performed during the Qualifying Sessions to prepare the car for the Hot Lap (flying lap or timed lap), or during the actual race when the driver is exiting the pit box after replacing their tyres
- Hot Lap (Flying Lap or Fast Lap) - performed during the Qualifying Session, where the drivers will go at full speed for one lap, trying to achieve the fastest lap time possible. This lap time will be used to determine their grid position for the start of the race
- In Lap (Push Lap) - performed slowly during Qualifying Session after the Hot Lap, or in full force during the actual race when the driver needs to make a pit stop
In the next paragraphs, I’ll explain what is an Installation Lap in F1, why it exists, how it helps drivers, and how it works in assessing the car’s performance.
What Is the Installation Lap Used For?
The Installation Lap is the first lap performed both during the Free Practice and Qualifying Sessions as well as before the main race.
Whenever the team changes or replaces a car component, the driver may do an Installation Lap to check that the car is running optimally.
You can think of the Installation Lap as a technical assessment of the car but that’s not all. Here’s a detailed overview of how the Installation Lap is used in F1:
1. To Perform Safety and Telemetry Checks
The first and most important use of an Installation Lap is to ensure that the car drives safely, that its systems are running optimally, and that there are no mechanical or electrical issues.
Not doing these safety checks means that unexpected problems might appear during the Grand Prix weekend. The driver’s life might even be put at risk due to issues with the car.
Teams usually perform Installation Laps for this purpose after replacing car components (like tyres) to double-check that everything runs smoothly.
2. To Optimize the Car’s Performance
Drivers will also run Installation Laps to get used to the track, try out new methods of corner entering, and various racing lines to obtain a good lap time during the race.
Formula 1 is above all else a sport of constant optimization. Whoever runs the best racing line around the track the fastest wins the race.
During these Installation Laps, drivers get to test things out, make the necessary adjustments to the car like tyre pressure and temperature, and make sure they’re 100% prepared for the upcoming race.
3. Learn the Track Inside and Out
During Installation Laps, F1 drivers will also look for any bump in the roads, assess the track surface elevation and curves, and see if there are any dangerous areas on the track.
In the main race, they’ll know which areas to avoid, which racing line to pick, and how to handle the car during elevated areas so as to decrease tyre wear.
Drivers will also get in the right mindset during Installation Laps. By familiarizing themselves with the track conditions, they’ll mentally prepare for the upcoming race.
Take the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, for instance. Daniel Ricciardo’s eye-watering rise from 17th to 1st was largely due to his intimate knowledge of the Baku Circuit and deep understanding of which racing lines to follow.
When Is the Installation Lap Performed in the Main Race?
The Install Lap is performed 30 minutes before the start of the race and the Formation Lap, and before the five red lights to out.
At this time, the countdown starts and the pit lane exit goes green. The drivers can come out and take their grid positions.
This is when the drivers can perform multiple Installation Laps but they’ll have to pass through the pit lane and avoid the starting grid.
15 minutes before the start of the race, the drivers are forbidden to leave the pits, so if they haven’t reached their grid position by now, they’ll start the Grand Prix from the pit lane exit.
So, before the main race, drivers have 15 minutes to perform as many Installation laps as they want to before the safety car starts the Formation Lap.
This is the best time to make the final safety and performance checks to ensure that the cars meet all the required standards.
Types of Safety Checks Performed During Installation Laps
It’s worth exploring the various safety checks and telemetry assessments that F1 teams perform during Installation Laps.
Here are the main ones:
- Mechanical checks, where they assess the performance of the gears, brake balance, tyre performance, suspension, fuel systems, etc. Every mechanical component needs to perform within expected specs on the track
- Electrical checks, where the team assesses the entire electrical system to ensure that it's functioning properly on the track
- Aerodynamic checks, where they check the car’s airflow around the car, any downforce problems, as well as potential drag while driving around the track at a high speed. Aerodynamism plays a crucial role in a car’s performance, so this check is vital for the upcoming race
Safety is paramount in Formula 1, and the Installation Lap is instrumental in maintaining the required safety standards for drivers.
Are There Restrictions During Installation Laps?
Installation Laps restrict drivers from going at a high speed or from making contact with other cars on the circuit.
Moreover, on the day of the race, drivers performing Installation Laps are not allowed to go through the starting grid while performing these laps.
They have to go through the pit lane and go around the starting grid where other competitors may be stationed, waiting for the start of the race.
Usually, most drivers will perform one Installation Lap on the day of the race to do the final checks on the car and ensure that nothing goes wrong.
At this time, all drivers should have performed multiple Installation Laps during free practice sessions and the Qualifying Sessions, so they’ve gained all the circuit knowledge they need for the upcoming race.
Installation Laps are used to check the safety, performance, and integrity of a car before the main race and ensure that everything is working properly.
Drivers also use these opportunities to gain knowledge of the track conditions, try out new racing lines, and optimize their car's setup to pass the finish line in the most effective possible way.
This makes Installation Laps indispensable for Formula 1, and they’re in part responsible for the decline in driver casualties as well as the blistering track performance that F1 fans love.