Formula 1 has a range of different flags which may appear during competition, all carrying their own specific meaning.
When Formula 1 drivers are out on track and in the heat of battle, the visual aid of a flag is vital, its design making a situation clear, whether it be making an order to a driver, giving a warning of a hazard, letting them know the condition of the track or informing of the status of the session which they are competing in.
It is not always easy to figure out what each different flag means, especially since some are more common than others, so we have put together this guide to help you recognise the different Formula 1 flags and what they are signalling.
The yellow flag is used to warn drivers of a hazard on or close to the track, but the meaning actually differs depending on whether one or two yellows flags are waved.
If it is a single yellow flag, then as described in the FIA Sporting Code, drivers should ‘reduce your speed, do not overtake, and be prepared to change direction’ as ‘there is a hazard beside or partly on the track’.
A driver risks being punished if they can not prove that they passed the area where the yellow flag is being waved at a reduced speed.
But a pair of yellow flags being waved means ‘reduce your speed significantly, do not overtake, and be prepared to change direction or stop’ because ‘there is a hazard wholly or partly blocking the track and/or marshals working on or beside the track’.
If a driver is on a ‘meaningful lap’ during practice or qualifying, then they must show that they have not attempted to complete that time at the pace which they intended.
A red flag is shown to signal that the session has been suspended, at which point drivers must significantly reduce their speed and return to the pit lane. Overtaking is strictly prohibited and also pointless, as if the session does resume, it will do so with drivers in the order they were in when the red flags were shown.
Drivers are warned by the red flag to proceed with caution on their way back to the pits, as the track may be ‘wholly blocked’ and ‘service vehicles may be on the track’.
As well as in response to incidents, a red flag may also be triggered by the weather conditions, if it is deemed at that point that the track is not safe for the session to continue.
The green flag acts as an all-clear, indicating that any incident which was causing a single or double waved yellow has now been resolved.
At this stage, the session resumes under normal conditions.
When a driver is preparing to ‘lap’ another in a race, meaning their pace advantage has seen then complete a full lap more, then the driver about to be lapped will be shown the blue flag, ordering them to allow the approaching car through at the ‘earliest opportunity’.
If a driver ignores three blue flags in succession, then they risk getting a penalty.
The blue flag is also used in practice and qualifying to warn that a car is close behind and preparing to overtake, if the driver in front is holding the other up, while it will also be held stationary if at any time a driver is leaving the pit lane and another car is approaching on the track.
Yellow and red flag
This flag is held still rather than waved and indicates an upcoming change in the track surface.
Commonly it warns the driver that there is oil or water on the track ahead of the flag, meaning a drop in the level of grip, and thus an increased risk of losing control of the car without caution.
Black and white flag
The design of this flag sees it divided diagonally, with a black section and a white one.
It is used to warn a driver for unsportsmanlike behaviour, the flag is held motionless, accompanied by a display of the driver number to identify the recipient of the warning.
If a driver does not change their conduct after seeing the black and white flag, then the next stage of action will be a penalty.
Black and orange flag
When a car has a mechanical problem that is ‘likely to endanger himself or others’, then the black and orange flag, featuring a black background with an orange central disk, is shown to order that driver to come into the pit lane on the next lap. The flag will be accompanied by the number of that driver for identification.
If the team are able to fix that issue to a satisfactory level, then the driver may rejoin the track.
A rare sight in Formula 1, fortunately for the drivers, as the black flag means disqualification from the session.
The flag will be shown alongside the number of the driver it is intended for, instructing them to return to the pit lane immediately and end their involvement.
The white flag is used to warn drivers that a slow-moving vehicle is ahead, such as service vehicles or the medical car.
It is also used at the end of a practice session, where commonly drivers like to stop in a grid slot and practice their launches ahead of a race.
You’ll all know this one! This flag is waved to signal that any session, whether it be practice, qualifying or a race, has come to an end.
It is the greatest sight of all for a driver who reaches it in first place in a grand prix, because it means they are the winner.
Read next: What is F1’s ‘DRS’ and how does it work?