The F1 rules that every new fan needs to know

Published on
24 Feb 2024
Est. reading time
12 Min

Get to grips with some of the sport’s key rules and regulations

With the fastest cars, spectacular settings, and high-octane action, there's no wonder more and more fans are tuning into Formula 1 every year.
Yet, F1 is a highly technical sport that might seem imposing for a newcomer looking to jump in and understand its rules and regulations.
It's easy for anyone to watch F1, but with a little more understanding of the rules, watching soon turns into appreciation, enjoyment, and counting down the hours until the next race!

A Formula 1 Grand Prix

The 'Grand Prix' term originates from the French word for 'great prize,' which embodies the importance of an F1 race compared to other racing series — every F1 race is a Grand Prix, but not every race is a Grand Prix.


International venues host grands prix to create a season with a varying number of races each year. There isn't a defined minimum or maximum season length, although there is a distinct upward trend of races per season as the years go by.
Every location that hosts a Grand Prix must meet the strictest safety rules set out by the FIA, F1's governing body, to protect both drivers and attending fans. If you follow football (or soccer, should you prefer), think of Formula 1 as the World Cup and the FIA as FIFA.
A circuit – a length of road that weaves a ribbon of tarmac before ending where it started – might be on closed-off public streets or at a dedicated race track.

Race Distance

Rather than haphazardly racing on random roads in each nation, rules established in 1989 dictate that each race would run for 305 km or 190 miles.
Each circuit's length will vary, but an F1 race will see the drivers repeatedly lap the track until they complete 305 km. When they reach that point, the next time they cross the finish line will end the Grand Prix.
The sole exception to this rule is Monaco's extraordinarily tight and twisty street circuit, which runs for 260 km instead.

Lights Out: The Race Start

Each Grand Prix begins with a formation lap where the drivers make their way around the circuit at a slower-than-usual speed before lining up on the starting grid.
Once the final driver takes their place at their defined starting position, five red lights above the starting line will illuminate sequentially to countdown the race's start. When all five lights simultaneously go out, the Grand Prix begins.
The time between each light switching on is the same, but there is a random delay each time from the fifth light's illumination and them all switching off. This variation means a driver's reaction time is crucial to get the edge over their competitors.
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Weekend Format

Each Formula 1 race weekend has five sessions spread over three days, with the first two on Friday, the second two on Saturday, before the Grand Prix finale on a Sunday.
In 2024, three race weekends will start a day earlier than the rest, namely the Bahrain, Saudia Arabian and Las Vegas Grands Prix. Each of these will run from Thursday through to Saturday.

Free Practice

Free Practice allows the drivers to experience and familiarise themselves with a track and test different car setups in non-competitive sessions on Fridays and Saturdays.
A standard race weekend has three Free Practice sessions, each lasting one hour, with two on Friday and one on Saturday before Qualifying.
Some race weekends will host a shorter race called Sprint, detailed below. These only have two Free Practice sessions; one on Friday and one on Saturday.


The first competitive session of a weekend is Qualifying; an hour of running sets the starting order for the race.
Drivers attempt to set the fastest lap times around the circuit hosting the Grand Prix, with the quickest starting the race at the front and the slowest from the back.
Qualifying has three sessions: Q1, Q2, and Q3. Q1 lasts 18 minutes, Q2 runs for 15 minutes, and Q3 goes on for 12 minutes, with a seven and eight-minute break between each to make up an hour.
At the end of Q1, the five slowest drivers are eliminated, and they will start the race in the order of their lap times. The slowest driver starts from 20th place, the second slowest in 19th place, and so on.
Q2 sees the times set in Q1 wiped clean, and the process repeats for the remaining 15 drivers.
Finally, Q3 has the remaining 10 competitors in a straight shootout to set the fastest time, with the quickest driver getting to start the race from first place, commonly known as pole position.


Introduced in 2021, Sprint is a short-form race lasting 100 km that replaces the third Free Practice session at some race weekends.
2024 sees six Sprint events in China, Miami, Austria, the United States (Austin, Texas), Brazil and Qatar.
The format for Sprint weekends this season is still to be confirmed, so make sure that you download the official Williams app and turn notifications on to be some of the first to know.

Grand Prix

The Grand Prix is the culmination of all of the weekend’s running, where the drivers race each other to be the first to cross the finish line after 305 km of running.
Rules dictate how drivers must conduct themselves when racing. For example, F1 is a non-contact sport, and drivers cannot push a rival off the race track. Each driver must also keep at least one wheel within the white painted line that defines a track's limits.
Other rules are more procedural, such as running two sets of tyres during the race and maintaining enough fuel for the FIA to test a sample after the Grand Prix concludes.


The four tyres on an F1 car come in five variations known as compounds, although they are all simple rubber discs at their core.
Drivers race on tyres without tread, known as slicks, in dry conditions. These come in soft, medium and hard compounds, with the soft offering the most grip but the least durability and vice versa for the hard.
Wet and intermediate tyres also exist, but these grooved tyres are only used when it rains or the track is damp from earlier rainfall.
In a dry race, each driver must use at least two sets of the slick compounds before they finish the Grand Prix or else the FIA will disqualify them.
If you want to know more about tyres, we covered everything you need to know about 2023's tyres last season.

Pit Lane

The pit lane homes all ten competing F1 teams and serves as the only point where anyone other than the driver may touch the car once the race begins.
It is here during a race where a team will change a driver's tyres, perform any repairs, or make rudimentary setup changes to the car to help with performance.
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Pit Stops

A driver may perform as many pit stops as they wish during a race, but due to their time-intensive nature, they will seek to minimise the number of pit lane trips they make.
Equally, a pit stop can take as long as is necessary as there are no maximum time limits, but a driver will want to remain in the pit lane for as little time as possible to finish the race quicker.
However, there are minimum time limits for safety reasons in an effort to reduce the likelihood of mistakes as pit crews rush to achieve the fastest possible pit stops.
There must be at least 0.15 seconds between mechanics attaching the wheels and the car dropping to the ground and then an additional 0.2 seconds before the driver leaves the pit stop area.
A driver must also not exit the pit area in a manner that impedes a competitor otherwise they will receive a penalty.

Pit Lane Speed Limit

F1 might be all about speed, but that's not the case in the pit lane, where drivers must strictly observe speed limits.
An 80 km/h pit lane speed limit is in effect at most events in every session, with some circuits having an even slower limit.
Should a driver be found guilty of speeding, they'll receive a 100 euros fine for every km/h above the limit the speed gun catches them doing, up to a maximum of €1000.
You don't want to be caught speeding in the pit lane!

Parc Fermé

Another French-originated word used in F1 is parc fermé, which translates into 'closed park' in English.
There's nothing romantic like a grassy park with a lake involved here, though, as parc fermé refers to closing the 'car park' (AKA parking lot) to prevent the teams from modifying their cars.
Parc fermé conditions start when Qualifying begins, meaning the car's core setup is the same from Qualifying into the Grand Prix.
Only minor alterations to the front wing, refuelling, and draining/replenishing fluids may occur in parc fermé. The teams must do these with an FIA scrutineer present to oversee the work.
On a Sprint weekend, parc fermé begins with Qualifying and continues on for the Sprint and the Grand Prix.


Introduced in 2011, the Drag Reduction System, commonly initialised as DRS, refers to an opening in the rear wing that lowers the air resistance as an F1 car speeds around the circuit.
The intention behind DRS's introduction is to encourage more overtaking during a race and increase entertainment for fans.
By reducing the drag, an F1 car can travel faster than it otherwise would, making it easier to close in on any competing driver whose car is not using DRS.
DRS is only usable in designated 'zones', usually straight sections of the track, and the driver cannot activate the system at any other point on their lap. During Free Practice and Qualifying, DRS is available for drivers anytime they enter the DRS zone.
However, to benefit from the system in a race, they must be within one second of the car in front at a detection point before the zone begins. The car in front can be the rival they are chasing or a driver one lap behind.

Car Regulations

Every F1 team designs their cars to meet regulations the FIA specify in advance that cover almost every aspect of development from the engine performance to tyre pressures.
The genius of F1 is how the engineers interpret the rules and create a vehicle that adheres to the regulations while finding innovative ways to maximise performance they hope rival teams may miss.
The Formula 1 regulations detail everything, including a car's minimum weight (796 kg), the size of the rear-view mirrors (150x50 mm), how much fuel must be available to sample after a race (one litre), and the areas an engineer can – and cannot – have design freedom in when it comes to aerodynamic design.
If you're ever in the mood for some light reading, the FIA publishes all the regulations the teams follow on their website, so you can casually browse the 177 pages (at the time of writing) at your leisure.


A points-scoring system is in place for the top 10 finishers of every Grand Prix to rank the drivers and teams over the season.
Should a driver win a race, they score 25 points for themselves and the team they drive for to add to their season tally.
There are 18 points for second place, 15 for third, 12 for fourth, 10 for fifth, 8 for sixth, 6 for seventh, 4 for eighth, 2 for ninth, and 1 for tenth place.
An additional point is available for the driver who sets the fastest lap in a Grand Prix, but only if they finish in the top 10.
The only other point-scoring opportunity comes in the aforementioned Sprint weekends, where in 2023, the top eight finishers scored points, with first place picking up 8 points and eighth taking home 1.
The teams share any points either of their two drivers score in a race, meaning 44 points are on offer on a standard race weekend should they finish in first and second places, with one of their cars also taking the fastest lap point.

F1 Flag Rules

Flags that trackside marshals wave are a common theme across all motor racing to give a driver a visual indication of a situation, and F1 is no exception.
Although all the cars have radio systems and information fed through to the drivers as they lap a circuit, the flag system, complemented by LED boards in the modern era, is a surefire way to make all drivers aware of the track's status.

Yellow Flag

The yellow flag indicates that a driver should be aware of an incident ahead of them where they may need to take avoiding action and must not overtake.
When a marshal waves a single yellow flag, the driver must slow down due to the upcoming hazard, but if they wave two yellow flags, this denotes a more serious incident where a driver must prepare to come to a stop.

Green Flag

The green flag is the antithesis of a yellow flag and indicates to a driver that the track ahead is incident free and that they may drive or race at full speed.
A green flag usually follows a yellow flag to indicate to a driver that the incident area is behind them, and they can race freely from where the marshal is waving the green flag.

Red Flag

If conditions on the track reach a level where driving is unsafe, either from weather, a crash, or something else, the red flags wave at every marshal post to inform all drivers that they must proceed with caution and return to the pit lane.

Blue Flag

A driver will see a blue flag to warn them that a faster driver is approaching them from behind, and they should be aware of their presence.
In Free Practice and Qualifying, this may be from a rival setting a fast lap while another driver is on a slower lap.
Blue flags in a Grand Prix indicate that the car behind is coming up to 'lap' a driver, meaning they have completed an extra lap or more of the track, and the driver must let them by as soon as possible.
Race control will penalise drivers for impeding their rivals if they ignore three subsequent blue flags during the race.

Black and White Flag

Should a driver drive in an unsportsmanlike way, such as cutting a corner or being too aggressive with other drivers, a black and white flag warns that their behaviour must change or risk disqualification.

Black Flag

The level past a black and white flag is the black flag, which indicates that a driver's driving standards are too low, so race control has disqualified them from the race.
A driver should return to the pit lane when they see this flag accompanied by their car's number.

Black Flag with Orange Disc

Affectionately called the meatball flag for the orange circle's resemblance to the food, the black flag with an orange disc indicates a driver has a mechanical problem with their car and must pit for repairs immediately.

Chequered Flag

The chequered flag, the one most associated with racing, waves at a session's conclusion to tell the drivers that the Free Practice, Qualifying, or Grand Prix is over.

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