Lift and coast is an invaluable technique embraced by every driver on the track in Formula 1 racing. It boils down to fuel saving. F1 cars are limited to the full tank of gas they start the race with, as there are no more pit stops for refueling in the middle of a race.
When the driver of an F1 racecar lifts off the throttle and allows the car to coast through the corners, they are performing a lift and coast technique. That’s all there really is to it. Allowing the friction of the track and the lack of fuel to slow the car.
It's a perfectly timed, precision technique because going into a corner too fast or too slow negates the driver’s ability to use lift and coast. That’s because they will have to get on the throttle or brake when they shouldn’t have to. Every drop of fuel saved could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Although lift and coast used to be something that drivers did almost constantly, its only use in today’s races is as a measure to save fuel, especially in the final ¼ of the race. That’s because engines in today’s era have been precisely tuned so the drivers don’t have to engage it as much.
It helps that the powers that be in Formula 1 have allowed the fuel allocations per car to go up in recent years. For some, depending on how well the engine and transmission are tweaked, they’re running on fumes when the car hits the final lap.
Fuel consumption ten years ago was a lot more than it is today, thanks to a steady progression in engine technology, along with everything else that goes into a Formula 1 racecar.
When you are watching a Formula 1 race, the audience is frequently privy to the team and driver communications, which is where the words “lift and coast” are often heard. The team keeps a close eye on fuel consumption and they’re able to make split-second calculations on how their fuel will hold up to the end of the race.
If things are looking a little on the short side, you will hear the team communicate with their driver to lift and coast in the turns. When the driver approaches the turn, he lifts off the throttle and allows the car to drift through the turn with no brakes and no throttle.
There are other reasons that drivers may need to lift and coast throughout the race. Fuel is only one of those reasons. However, the driver may need to conserve their brakes or go easy on their tires.
Lifting and coasting through the turns will effectively cool hot brakes off, using the air to cool them and, of course, not using them whenever the driver can get away with it. Oftentimes, it's not just to save gas for the final lap, it's to simply get the drive back on target.
Because of those reasons, you may hear the term “lift and coast” periodically throughout the entire race, even in the beginning stages.
If a Formula 1 racecar driver were to find a way to stay on the gas the entirety of the race, they would run out of fuel long before the final lap rolled around. The fact is, there isn’t enough fuel in the car for it to go the distance if the throttle is engaged all the way.
The ingenuity in the Formula 1 rule on fuel weight forces the race to be less about going as fast as humanly possible and more about the innovations and quick thinking of the individual teams.
They spend a lot of time tweaking the engines and transmissions, as well as the oil and the fuel that goes into the car. Every racing team is provided with particular brands of fuel and oil. Their leeway with oil tweaking is a lot more open than it is with fuel.
However, teams are allowed to tweak some of the additives in their fuel as well. With various additives in the oil, it's almost an entirely different oil by the time it goes into the car. Teams are also allowed, within certain limits, to tweak the engines and transmission systems.
It wouldn’t make any sense to put a volume of fuel in an F1 race car that’s not enough to go the whole race, then ban the teams from making any tweaks or modifications whatsoever. So there is a limited degree of freedom allowed.
Thanks to their own ingenuity, innovations, and inventions, the teams behind the racecar driver place the most efficient and fast car they can provide on the racetrack.
The truth is, fans of racing enjoy watching racing because each car is trying to go faster than the other. Change Formula 1’s name to “Lift and Coast” and you will see the biggest drop off in ratings the sport has ever witnessed.
There is nothing really exciting about the term and fans who know what it means are continuously scratching their heads at why Formula 1 doesn’t just shorten the race or allow the drivers to have more fuel.
Love it or hate it, Formula 1’s rules have taken much of the driver out of the race and made it almost entirely about the team and their innovations with the car. It doesn't matter if you are the best driver on the field, if your closest competitor simply keeps their car in its most efficient mode, they’ll win the race 9 times out of 10.
Whether most fans prefer it or not, that’s the way things are in today’s Formula 1 racing. Lift and Coast are about saving fuel, saving brakes, and saving the integrity of the tires. What little is left boils down to driver inspiration and quick-thinking on the track.