What is a Hot Lap in F1? - Unveiling the Secrets of Formula 1's Hot Lap
Formula 1 has a lot of terms you may be confused with such as the various types of laps. Here’s an overview of the main ones:
- Out Lap (Slow Lap) is the first lap that a driver does when exiting the garage. The goal is to warm up the car’s tyres and brakes to achieve maximum performance. This lap is performed both during the entire Qualifying Session and the main race
- Hot Lap (Fast Lap or Flying Lap) is the second lap and the most important one during the Qualifying Session. It comes immediately after the Out Lap and its goal is to determine the drivers’ starting positions based on their lap time. The fastest lap time receives pole position
- In Lap is the final lap during Qualifying when the driver returns to the pit. During the actual race, the In Lap is the lap immediately before the driver makes a pit stop to change the tyres.
In this article, I’ll talk to you about the Hot Lap and answer the question "What is a hot lap in F1", how it functions, and why it’s important.
Why Is the Hot Lap Important?
The Hot Lap, or Fast Lap/Flying Lap, is the most important lap during a Qualifying Session because it determines a driver’s grid position in the main race. It's the Qualifying lap, in a way.
All 20 drivers will go through this test and based on their fastest lap time, they’ll be assigned a certain position in the starting grid.
Having a good grid position, or even the pole position, can give you a massive advantage in winning the race or overtaking competitors if you’re behind.
The Hot Lap (fast lap) begins immediately after the driver finishes the Out Lap and their tyres and brakes have warmed up. Once they approach the last corner in the Out Lap, before the finishing line, the driver goes all in to start the Hot Lap in force.
The driver’s goal is to complete the Hot Lap as fast as possible. If he gets the fastest time on this lap, he’ll get the pole position.
Most importantly, drivers are allowed to take multiple Hot Laps and only their best lap time is considered in determining their starting position.
This allows drivers to improve their time throughout the Qualifying Session and obtain the best possible grid position for the race.
In Formula 1, even a millisecond can decide the difference between pole position and second place. So, running multiple Hot Laps to improve your lap time is a priceless opportunity for a Formula 1 driver.
The car's aerodynamics, the track conditions, being able to muster extra speed on certain portions of the track, as well as track experience gained during free practice sessions all determine a driver's chance of completing the Hot Laps successfully.
How Many Hot Laps Are There During the Qualifying Sessions?
Formula 1 has three Qualifying Sessions, as follows:
- Q1 that lasts 18 minutes and pits all 20 cars on the circuit. This is when the first Hot Laps take place, and the five slowest cars are eliminated from the next two Qualifying sessions, occupying the 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 positions on the grid
- Q2 starts soon after Q1, it lasts 15 minutes, and 16 cars will participate. This is when the second set of Hot Laps take place and the five slowest cars will be eliminated and occupy the 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 grid positions
- Q3 lasts 12 minutes and pits the remaining 10 cars in the third set of Hot Laps of the Qualifying Sessions. During these last Hot Laps, the fastest driver will get pole position
During each session a driver will usually perform two sets of Out Lap/Hot Lap/In laps, giving them two chances to set their fastest time and make it through to the next Qualifying Session.
There’s no rule saying how many times a driver can retake the Hot Lap. If they make a mistake on their Hot Lap, they can abandon that lap and go for another Hot Lap immediately on the next lap if the car is prepared for it and they have enough fuel on board.
It’s rare for a driver to retake a Hot Lap more than two times because they likely wouldn’t be fueled for that many laps in qualifying. Plus, their tyres would be well past their optimum brand new performance peak by that time..
Are There Hot Laps During the Main Race?
There is no Hot Lap during the main race because the only purpose of a Hot Lap is to decide the starting grid position before the main race.
However, there is something called the “fastest lap” in the main race, which is achieved by the driver who completes a lap around the track in the shortest time.
The FIA offers a bonus championship point for the driver that completes the fastest lap during the race as long as they’re in the top ten when the race finishes.
During the main race, all cars will drive at maximum speed, just like they would in a Hot Lap during the Qualifying Session.
In a way, you could say that all laps during a race are Hot Laps because all drivers push forward to finish the race first and win the Grand Prix.
Challenges of a Hot Lap During the Qualifying Sessions
Running the Hot Lap during the Qualifying Session is not an easy task for Formula 1 drivers. There are many challenges to overcome, such as:
- Limited number of tyres during the Grand Prix weekend, which means the driver has to closely manage the car’s tyres for every lap to not compromise their Qualifying Sessions and race performance
- Weather conditions, which will slow down the lap time significantly by impacting the performance of the tyres and brakes. It’s also difficult to adjust the car’s setup on the fly once bad weather occurs
- Risk of damage to the car. Since the Hot Lap determines the fate of the upcoming race, drivers will have to go all in and take risks during Qualifying to get a better position. But this means a higher risk of crashing and damaging their car, which could compromise a driver’s starting position or even the entire race
- Competition on the track. Hot Laps are not run individually by each driver. Instead, they’re all put together on the same circuit and they have to achieve the fastest time possible. This means contending with each other, overtaking, avoiding other cars, and saving as much time as they can
It takes a driver’s entire concentration, ability, and potential to achieve the fastest lap time on a Hot Lap to get ahead of the competition for the race weekend.
Split-second decisions, thinking ahead several moves, risky maneuvers, these are all basic requirements of aiming for pole position in a Hot Lap.
There’s a lot of jargon in Formula 1, especially when it comes to laps. There's the in lap, out lap, installation lap, hot lap, formation lap, and more.
I hope you now know what a hot lap is and you’re better equipped to enjoy the exhilarating races without missing a beat.