What is an Out Lap in F1? - Unveiling the Secrets of Formula 1's Out Lap
Newcomers to Formula 1 might be confused by the terminology used during the qualifying sessions and the races. Out lap, in lap, hot lap, flying lap, installation lap, and so on. But what is an out lap in F1?
Understanding them is key to enjoying the sport, though. Here’s a quick summary of what they mean:
- Out lap – The lap a driver does after exiting the garage, to warm up the tyres and brakes in preparation for the hot lap (flying lap) in qualifying. In the main race, it’s their first lap out of the pits where they need to get the tyres warmed up and the car up to speed quickly so as not to lose too many positions
- Hot Lap (Flying Lap or Fast Lap) – The lap a driver does immediately after the Out Lap during qualifying to determine their position for the start of the upcoming race. The drivers push the cars to their limits to achieve the fastest lap time possible to achieve the highest starting positions
- In Lap (Push Lap) – The lap a driver does after the Hot Lap (flying lap) to return to the pit via the pit lane. During a qualifying session, their pace is slow to cool down the brakes and tyres of the cars. During a race, they go as fast as possible because they’ll get new tyres during the pit stop
In this article, I’ll answer the question "what is an out lap in F1", why it’s important, and what part it plays in Formula 1.
Types of Out Laps
There are two types of Out Laps depending on the moment that they are done:
1. During free practice or the qualifying session
This is the typical Out Lap that F1 drivers perform to warm up their tyres and brakes before going all-in during the Hot Lap.
Also known as a slow lap, the Out Lap functions as preparation for the drivers and cars, and there’s no pressure to achieve optimum performance or drive unnecessarily fast.
Through this lap, a driver will also get a running start going into the Hot Lap (flying lap), as the two take place seamlessly, one after the other.
When they are nearing the last corner before the finish line during an Out Lap, the driver will push to top speed to start the Hot Lap in full force to achieve the best lap time.
It’s important to remember that, while the goal is to warm up the tyres and brakes during an Out Lap, too much heat is bad.
If the tyres become too hot, they’ll wear out faster, which leads to worse lap times during the Hot Laps (flying laps) because of bad grip on the asphalt.
If they need to warm their tyres up faster, drivers will weave their cars left and right during a qualifying Out Lap to put more force through them, so they can perform well during the hot lap.
If they achieve the fastest qualifying lap, they'll get pole position on the starting grid during the race weekend. That's because the race officials order the cars on the starting grid based on their qualifying results.
Furthermore, drivers who are currently doing an Out Lap or In Lap are not allowed to impede another driver who’s on their Hot Lap.
Doing this will result in a penalty, which is usually a 3-place drop penalty on the starting grid in the upcoming race.
Drivers will be on comms with their teams at all times, so they’ll receive information about any incoming driver doing a Hot Lap.
At this point, any non-Hot Lap drivers will have to pull over to the non-racing line and let the Hot Lap driver pass them.
Then, they can resume their Out Lap or In Lap accordingly.
2. During the Race
The Out Lap is a bit different during the actual race compared to the practice session or the qualifying session. The goals remain the same, to warm up the tyres of the car that have been replaced during the pit stop.
However, the driver doesn’t have the luxury of going slow because they’ll be losing precious time and positions.
This means that they’ll be pushing the car as much as possible (like in a hot lap) without crashing or sliding into other cars.
Cold tyres also have less grip than warm ones, which means that drivers performing an Out Lap in a race will be slower than drivers who haven’t pitted.
Another distinction is that, during a race Out Lap, drivers won’t usually weave left and right for three reasons:
- They need to preserve the tyres’ lifespan so they last as long as possible. Heating them up too fast can cause them to overheat and lose performance
- It’s dangerous for other cars who haven’t pitted and are faster than the driver doing an Out Lap
- It’s slower to weave left and right, and during the race, it’s all about achieving maximum speed throughout
The speed at which a driver performs the Out Lap is entirely dependent on his ability to drive the car safely, in other words.
Why Is the Out Lap Important in Formula 1?
That’s because of temperature and how it affects two components of the car, the tyres and the brakes.
Both of these components function optimally when warmed up to optimal temperature, as follows:
- The brakes function best when warmed at 200°C – 300°C. During braking, they may reach 700°C – 900°C
- The tyres function best within different temperature ranges, usually around 100°C - 110° C
When the driver exits the garage during an Out Lap, both the tyres and the brakes of the car are colder than the ideal range, which would deliver suboptimal performance during the hot lap.
Cold tyres won't have much grip on the asphalt, while cold brakes won’t have enough friction to slow down the car, making them ineffective.
So, during the Out Lap, an F1 driver’s goal is to warm up the tyres and brakes to achieve maximum performance later on, in the Hot Lap for the qualifying session, or in the actual race after pit stops.
Why Do Drivers Weave Left and Right During the Out Lap?
If you’ve been watching Formula 1 for some time, then you’ve likely seen how during the Qualifying session, drivers will drive as though drunk.
They’ll weave the cars left and right, brake randomly, and appear very uncoordinated. Compared to the very straightforward and coordinated performance during races, this might seem odd.
The reason for this is simple – optimum temperature. Drivers will weave during the Qualifying Out Lap to raise the tyre and brake temperature.
That’s why they’ll brake very often and weave aggressively, to warm up both tyres and brakes quickly.
This requires some balance, though. If the tyres and brakes of the car get too hot, they’ll degrade and lose their grip and friction, losing performance.
The Qualifying Out Lap requires experience to pull off correctly. Too cold or too hot are equally not good, and achieving the right tyre and brake temperature is not an easy job.
Moreover, right after the Out Lap comes the Hot Lap (fast lap), where drivers have to focus 100% to achieve the fastest qualifying time possible for a good starting position.
The technical difficulty of the Out Lap and the performance requirements of the Hot Lap make the Formula 1 Qualifying sessions quite hard to pull off successfully.
The Out Lap is essential to how Formula 1 cars function, the way they’re built, and how they achieve peak performance.
Both during the Qualifying sessions and the Grands Prix, the Out Lap allows the driver to prepare the car to achieve optimal performance by warming up the brakes and tyres of the car.
These two components require heat to function properly and at their full capacity. And the Out Lap is what makes this happen, which is especially important in qualifying sessions..