By Stefan Kristensen
October 23, 2021

What Is the Blue Flag in Formula 1?

Flags are used in a variety of motorsport events, including Formula 1. The purpose of these flags is to quickly and effectively communicate simple messages from the race officials to the drivers. Many racing series use the same flags to convey the same messages.

In Formula 1 and other racing series, blue flags inform backmarkers they need to let faster cars overtake. If a driver receives a blue flag, they must let the faster driver pass without unnecessary delay, or they will be penalized.

Today, we'll be taking a look at blue flags in Formula 1 racing. We will be going over how exactly the blue flag is used in the context of a race. We'll also briefly discuss some other flags you might see during a Formula 1 event.

How Are Blue Flags Used in Formula 1 races?

As we've mentioned, blue flags are used to tell drivers that a faster driver is on track to overtake them. And that they need to move over so that car can pass without losing unnecessary time. This may seem like a counterintuitive practice to use during a race. However, it's done entirely in the name of safety to stop potential accidents from occurring.

The blue flag is usually given to drivers who are driving particularly slowly or have already been lapped once. If the driver doesn't immediately comply after being given the first blue flag, the race officials will give them two more blue flags. If they haven't complied by the time the third flag has been waved, the driver will be given a penalty.

The blue flag is also sometimes shown to drivers just about to exit the pit lane, to warn them if a faster car is approaching the pit exit. When the blue flag is used in this context, however, it's held stationary; in the context of telling a slow driver to move over, however, the flag is always waved.

These days, however, physical flags aren't used as much; starting in 2008, the FIA has been using electronic flags to convey messages to drivers. These electronic flags are essentially just lighted panels that can display the various colors used for Formula 1 flags.

The advantage of electronic flags is that they work much better in low-light conditions, which is obviously beneficial during night races or races where the weather affects visibility. Of course, physical flags are still kept on hand as a redundancy in case the electronic flags happen to fail.

The use of blue flags in practice and qualifying sessions

In practice and qualifying sessions, the blue flag helps drivers not being impeded on quick laps. Typically not all drivers are pushing for fast laps simultaneously in these sessions. This is because a fast lap is typically preceded or followed by a slow lap. This will create many situations where some drivers are driving slowly while others are on the ragged edge of what speed they can push the car. Imagine coming at full speed around a corner and seeing another car driving slow in the racing line - that would not be pretty. That's why the blue flag is there to tell the slow driver to get out of the racing line, as a fast car is coming from behind at possibly more than twice the speed. 

But why does the slow car not just avoid the racing line when driving slowly? Well, as the racing tracks are twisty with all sorts of corners, the racing line also changes from side to side. This means that slow drivers must also cross the racing line just to complete the lap. Here the blue flag helps the slow drivers to only cross the racing line when no fast car is approaching from behind. 

What Other Flags Are Used in Formula 1?

Aside from the blue flag, race officials use nine other flags during a Grand Prix. Here are the other flags you might see on race day and what they mean:

  • checkered flag means the race has ended. The checkered flag is first shown to the race winner and then to every other car that passes the finish line behind them.
  • yellow flag means that all drivers must slow down and refrain from passing other drivers. A double yellow flag means drivers should be prepared to stop if needed.
  • red flag means the race has been stopped due to an accident or poor driving conditions.
  • striped red and yellow flag means the track is slippery due to water or spilled oil.
  • green flag means a hazard has been removed from the track, and drivers can resume driving at race speed.
  • white flag means that there is a slow-moving vehicle on the race track, such as a tow truck or a broken-down race car.
  • black flag with an orange circle means a car has a mechanical problem. This flag is displayed along with the number of the car it applies to.
  • diagonally-split white and black flag warns that a driver has just committed unsportsmanlike behavior. This flag is also always shown with a car number.
  • black flag means that a driver has broken the rules and must return to the pit lane to be disqualified. Again, this flag is shown with the corresponding car number.
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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