By Stefan Kristensen
July 20, 2022

What is a Purple Sector in F1 Racing?

If you are watching an F1 race with commentators, you have probably heard them say many things that don't quite make sense to you, one of which is the mention of a driver "setting a purple sector." They usually won't go on to explain what exactly a purple sector is, leaving the less informed viewer a little lost as to why it is important.

This is unfortunate, as purple sectors are actually an important aspect of F1 racing, as well as the viewing experience for the audience. If you're dying to know what exactly a purple sector is and why it is important in F1 racing, look no further, because we've got you covered.

The Illustrious Purple Sector

What is a purple sector in F1 racing? Well, it indicates that a driver has set the fastest sector time during either a qualifying or practice session. The track itself is divided into three sectors. When a driver sets the fastest time going through any one of these three sectors during a session, they are said to have "set" a purple sector.

During a qualifying lap, a purple sector is the ultimate goal of any F1 racer. But it isn't actually the only color in the F1 lingo used to describe sector performance. After all, if you can set the fastest time, there has to be a color code for times beneath the fastest as well. This is all mostly relevant to qualifying laps.

In fact, sector times don't really mean all that much in full-blown races with many laps. Their main purpose is to give the audience and the driver a good idea of their performance and standing compared to other racers during qualifying laps or practice sessions. Let's talk about why that is.

Track Sectors and Qualifying Laps

As mentioned previously, all F1 tracks are divided into three sectors. Sector one begins at the starting line, sector two is in the middle of the track, and sector three ends at the finish line. Basically, the track is divided into thirds, though the sectors don't actually have to be equivalent in distance, since all F1 circuits are different lengths.

That means that sector one could be shorter or longer than sector two, but this doesn't matter much. The main purpose of dividing the track into sectors is to better help both teams and fans understand the performance of a driver in regards to where they are losing or gaining time compared to everyone else. 

For instance, if you had the slowest time in sector two, it would be obvious that you are losing the most time there and need to work on it. This is most important in qualifying laps, because when you only have two or three laps to set a best time, speed is everything and you need to know where you are falling behind.

So, if a driver was faster than all of the competition in sector two by any margin, they will have set a "purple" sector. This just serves to let the teams and the audience know that said racer has outperformed everyone in that sector thus far, which is a good metric to judge them by during qualifying laps.

Other Sector Colors Besides Purple

Setting the best time compared to the competition makes for a purple sector, but obviously, there have to be many other colors to describe racer performance, seeing as how only one person could set that best time. However, the way these other colors work might come as a surprise to some people. The other colors in question are green and yellow.

These colors do not describe a fixed performance such as "second best time" or "worst time." Rather, they describe a racer's sector performance related to their previous performance in that sector. A green sector means a driver improved their time in a sector over their previous lap, while a yellow sector means their sector time is worse than before.

For example, say a racer finishes sector one in thirty seconds on their first lap. They will set a green sector on their second lap if they finish sector one in twenty-eight seconds, but a yellow sector if they finish sector one in thirty-one seconds. It's important to note that this information is only relevant to the one racer.

A yellow sector does not mean a racer was slower than everyone else in a sector, nor does a green sector mean they were faster. It just means that they performed better or worse in that sector compared to their previous lap. Only a purple sector indicates a driver's superior performance to all of the competition.

Why Not Just Time the Whole Lap Instead of Using Sectors?

You may be wondering why a track is divided by sectors instead of just measuring racer performance by the whole track. Well, this is for a number of reasons. First of all, breaking the time up into sections make it easier to keep track of things. Secondly, it provides more detailed information for fans and teams.

That's because most F1 tracks vary by sector. For instance, sector one in a track may be full of long straights, while sector two has many sharp corners that require heavy braking. Different cars and drivers will perform better in different sectors depending on what challenges they face there.

So, measuring time by sector not only allows teams to see where their cars excel and fall behind but also allows drivers to see where they need to improve to perform better. For the audience, it gives them a better understanding of the action, which makes the viewing experience much more enjoyable. 

After all, watching a sport is a lot more fun if you know how and why things are happening, as opposed to being totally lost while watching the spectacle. This is why sectors in F1 are so important, and why setting a purple sector is the ultimate goal of a driver during qualifying laps.

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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