In Formula 1, Formula1

How many times have you happened to watch a Formula 1 race on TV and heard very specific words from commentators, drivers, team principals or through team radios? Deepening knowledge of some of the special features of motorsport can be interesting for a neophyte new to the premier class of four-wheelers but also for super enthusiasts not comfortable with the English language.

In this short article, we will try to explain in a nutshell the 10 most interesting terminologies to know so that you don’t miss anything when watching a Formula 1 GP.

Graining & Blistering

When we hear about rubber degradation, phenomena called graining and blistering are probably taking place.

The first (graining, literally graining) refers to the formation of cracks on the tire surface, which reduce its grip on the ground. The second (blistering, literally blisters) is related to the high temperatures that are reached after a significant number of laps are made, causing first blisters and then cuts on the rubber surface.

The development of tires is the result of very high technology: engineering and chemical studies as well as thousands of kilometers of testing are required so that the compound (commonly called in F1, compound) of the rubber can withstand extreme conditions.

Can we recognize these phenomena by looking at the pilots’ on-boards?

Yes, it is possible. For the graining that comes in the form of ripples on the tire, you see a kind of stripe on the tire; basically the rubber is not completely uniform but you can feel a stripe of apparently different color. A hot compound and contact with the asphalt at high speeds (especially under braking and cornering) promote the elevation of these small ridges in certain areas of the tire.

Several factors contribute to its formation: oversteer and understeer (which we will discuss later), incorrect suspension adjustment or too high tire pressure.

It comes to blistering when One or more strips of the first layer of rubber are missing. The main cause is too high internal temperature of the tire, such as in situations of high aerodynamic load. Blistering is a much more serious phenomenon than graining: the tire develops real blisters that open up, leaving “holes” in the tire. The performance of the car is greatly affected.

Can graining and blistering be avoided or prevented?

When we see the Formula 1 cars during the formation lap, pre-launch laps or under safety car conditions, it is possible to notice how the drivers zig-zag by drawing waves on the track. Their intent is to achieve/maintain optimal tire temperature and make their surface adhere to the asphalt as evenly as possible. By doing so, the running wear should be ideal. [1]

Porpoising & Bouncing

Very hot terms during the start of the 2022/2023 Formula 1 season, porpoising and bouncing are two different but related issues. Let’s go in order.

Porpoising is a high-frequency vertical oscillation caused by the interruption of aerodynamic flow that causes the car to rise, which will lower once flow circulation resumes. All within a few hundredths of a second. Porpoising as a term (and F1 is always very creative in coming up with these comparisons) echoes the leaping of porpoises in the sea as they advance by leaping forward.

Bouncing, literally translated as “bouncing,” is due to particularly stiff suspension configurations that cause the rider to “jerk” when the asphalt is not perfectly flat at high speeds.

To limit such phenomena, the FIA imposed restrictions during the current season on the flexibility of the cars’ bottoms, recognized as one of the triggers.

The one who suffered the most (of porpoising) was Lewis Hamilton during the Baku Grand Prix, who had to endure vertical loads of up to 10G, due to a Mercedes W13 struggling on these kinds of issues.

“Baku? The most painful I’ve ever experienced,” said the Briton.

“I always want to get in the car. I simply don’t want to bounce. I would do anything to avoid it. I’m worried every time I get back in the car. There were many times when I didn’t know if I could make it or if I could keep the car on the track. I almost lost it several times in the high-speed spots. The battle with the car was intense.” he added. [2]

Certainly porpoising is a transient phenomenon, and F1 teams will be able to solve it, but right now drivers are under a lot of physical stress.

Undercut & Overcut

Another issue on the race day agenda is pit wall strategy. In order to plan a weekend that sees a driver victorious, it is not enough for him to have the most talent or the fastest car-the entire team must carry out a winning strategy with pit stops that very often make a difference on the race pace.

What tactical choices can the stables make?

Overtaking on the track is not the only way to gain positions: l’undercut, it is called an undercut when the driver makes a pit stop before the cars following him, so that he has a stint (period – phase of the race with a certain tire) advantage with new tire over the degraded tire of rivals. A fresh compound allows you to have a significant advantage-especially in the early laps-and therefore get the position of whoever was ahead, with equal stops for both.

The other side of the coin involves lengthening the stint as much as possible on used tires, allowing for a newer tire advantage over those who have advanced the stop: in this case, it is called an overcut. It can occur for several reasons, depending on tire degradation or weather conditions (dry to wet).

What affects both strategies is certainly thesetup configuration and the driver’s driving: blockages, rough passes over curbs and suboptimal temperature management all go to negatively affect tire life, forcing the car into unplanned early stops. [3]

Conversely, careful driving aimed at saving rubber can put the driver and the team in a position to use the rubber longer and be able to afford an overcut.

Understeer & Oversteer

Across the entire automotive landscape-which includes both everyday and performance cars-there are dynamics to be aware of for sporty but also safe driving: understeer and oversteer occur in situations of loss of grip on the asphalt. Specifically, when it is the front of the car that suffers we are in the presence of understeer; conversely, in the case of the rear we speak of oversteer.

When is a car oversteering and when is it understeering?

If a car in a corner “loses” the rear end with the front wheels steered, we are in the case of oversteer. In some areas such as drifting, it is an intentional maneuver that is more simply recognized as a controlled skid, which the driver is called upon to countersteer with particular timing and technique.

If, on the other hand, the car is in a wheel-steered condition but is still going straight (the front end continues straight), this is understeer. Obviously this is an extreme example, and when you refer to understeer in F1 you are dealing with cars that do not respond lightning fast to steering impulse but do not go straight, they simply have more grip on the rear.

In F1, neither are particularly valued in the extreme; in fact, trim adjustment serves to prevent both situations so that the driver’s driving is clean and the tires are not stressed more than necessary. [4]

Coanda effect

To explain as simply as possible this phenomenon-attributed to the Romanian engineer Henri Coanda during World War II-just do a little home experiment: by placing a spoon in the water jet of a sink, you can notice how the fluid takes the direction dictated by the shape of the spoon, which will move toward the wet end. This example helps us better understand how thesoil effect works.

According to the Coanda effect, the flow of a moving fluid in contact with a curved surface will tend to follow the curvature of the surface rather than continuing to travel in a straight line.

This discovery played a major role in the study ofaerodynamics as we know it today.

In Formula 1, this principle is used to efficiently generate aerodynamic load on cars: guiding and conditioning air flows to a precise point allows the load to be maximized where it is needed. [5]

Lift and coast

This is one of the most frequently used terminologies within team radio between driver and pit wall during races, especially toward the end.

Using the words of former driver Marc Gené (current technical commentator for Sky Italia along with Carlo Vanzini) it is possible to summarize the lift and coast strategy in a few simple steps.

If a driver is used to braking 100 meters before a curve by abruptly switching from the accelerator to the brake, in a lift-and-coast condition he or she is called upon to lift his or her foot 150 meters before-allowing the car to slow down by inertia-and finally press the brake 50 meters before the curve (distances purely indicative).

What is the purpose of lift and coast?

Although it may seem obvious to say, F1 cars do not run at the top of their game for 60-70 consecutive laps. This technique is intended to safeguard brake temperature, tire life and gasoline reserve.

Saving fuel can be useful for pushing when necessary for the purpose of overtaking. Similarly, being able to preserve the state of the tires allows for more grip the longest possible time. [6]


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Silvia Schweiger
Silvia Schweiger
Associate Director, Executive Marketing and Commercial at RTR Sports Marketing, a London-based sports marketing company specializing in motorsport for over 25 years.
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