By Stefan Kristensen
July 21, 2023

All About The Yellow Flag In F1

Getting into F1 for the first time? Great! It is a terrific sport, and you’re about to have a ton of fun. However, F1, like most sports, is packed to the brim with rules. F1 probably has more rules than any other popular motorsport (in the name of driver safety). Multiple times during a race, you’ll spot people waving all sorts of different flags. But what do they all mean? More specifically, what does the yellow flag mean in F1?

On this page, we’re going to tell you exactly what the yellow flag means in F1. We’ll tell you what the drivers need to do whenever they see those flags waved. If you’re new to the sport, don’t worry. We’re going to explain everything clearly, so the next time you’re sitting with your mates or family watching those cars blitz around the track, you’ll know exactly what is going on! 

What Does The Yellow Flag Mean in F1?

There are two different yellow flags in F1: 

  • Yellow flag
  • Yellow flag with red stripes

The yellow flag is the one that you’ll see appear the most. The action the driver needs to take will depend on the number of yellow flags waved:

  1. A single yellow flag means slow down and be prepared to avoid minor obstacles on the track. There should be no overtaking. 
  2. A double yellow flag means slowing down significantly, and overtaking on the track is completely banned. In some cases, the driver must be prepared to come to a complete stop, although this is avoided wherever possible.

The yellow flag with red stripes is pulled out when a slippery surface is ahead. This often means there is oil in the road or, in severe weather, that the track is incredibly wet. This flag isn’t telling drivers to slow down. It means they must be careful as the track conditions may make handling their vehicle tough. 

What Is The Difference Between Yellow and Double Yellow in F1?

We’ll put the yellow flag with red stripes to one side. What that means is pretty clear. What people often struggle with is the single yellow and the double yellow flags. Each means that there is an obstruction on the track, but the way that the driver needs to act is slightly different.

Single Yellow Flag

As we said, the single yellow flag is the most-flown flag in F1. It happens in the following situations:

  • There is an obstruction either beside the track or on the track.
  • The obstruction is only minor.

When the single yellow flag is flown, it’ll be for a section of the track. Throughout that section of the track, you’ll spot multiple track marshals waving the flag. The driver knows that as long as they see those track marshals waving the yellow flags, they need to drive slower. When they see the green flag, they know their restriction is over.

During all sections where the yellow flag is flying, the driver must:

  1. Slow down
  2. Not overtake
  3. Must be prepared to steer around an obstacle.

There are no guidelines about how much the driver must slow down. Although they are expected to demonstrate that there was a speed reduction, otherwise they could end up with a penalty. The FIA will be looking at whether the driver braked, whether they were slower than normal in that section, etc.

Double Yellow Flag 

The double yellow flag is much rarer. If this is flown, it means:

  • There is a serious obstruction on the track e.g. a broken down vehicle.
  • There are marshals working either on the track or by the side of the track.

Broadly the same rules as a single yellow flag are in place here i.e. no overtaking, and steering around any obstacles. However, the driver must also follow these fuels:

  1. The reduction in speed must be significant.
  2. The driver must be prepared to stop their vehicle wherever necessary.

Basically, when the double yellow flag is flown during an F1 race, it means that there is a threat to life on the track. This could be either the driver’s life or that of one of the race marshals

If either of these flags is flown during F1 qualifying sessions, the driver must not attempt to set a decent lap time. According to F1 rules, they are meant to consider the lap abandoned. Obviously, they can’t abandon a lap during the proper race, so the only restriction is slowing down. Since all of the other vehicles behind them should be slowing down too, they shouldn’t lose their place. 

Does Yellow Mean Safety Car?

Not necessarily, though. Sometimes the yellow is only used to tell drivers to slow down. The safety car will only be called out if the obstruction is serious and the drivers on the track need to be properly controlled.

You’ll know if the safety car is coming out as the yellow flag will be flown next to a sign that says either:

The safety car is normally only called out if the obstruction is serious. F1 rarely calls it out nowadays due to the major impact it can have on the race. You’ll likely find the safety car called out in the event of serious incidents, severe weather, etc.

The ‘VSC’ is a virtual safety car. The virtual safety car gives a speed restriction around the track (in most cases, the drivers will be asked to slow down around 30%). The VSC doesn’t always come out when the yellow flag is flown, though.

Final Thoughts

When the yellow flag is flown, it means that there is an obstruction on the track. If there is a single yellow flag flown, it means that the obstruction is minor. The drivers need to slow down slightly. If there is a double yellow, the obstruction is more serious. Not only will drivers need to slow down significantly, but they should be prepared to stop if required. In both cases, there will be no overtaking. 

(Top photo attribution: Gregory Moine, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Written by Stefan Kristensen
I have been passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many technical features, strategic plays, humans and their stories that all together drives this amazing sport to make it as interesting as it is.
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