Ever noticed how, before the roar of the engines and the blazing speed, there’s a quiet moment where F1 cars are neatly lined up? This isn’t just for a picturesque view but marks the start of a tactical dance that’s central to every race.
This formation is the starting grid, and it plays a much larger role than you might think. Let’s uncover the importance of this alignment.
What is the F1 starting grid?
Think of the starting grid as the kick-off point of an F1 race. It’s the lineup of all the cars in two columns, staggered from each other, based on the order they qualified. So, the fastest car from the qualifying session will start from the very front (pole position), and the slowest one from the very back.
Exceptions from the normal starting grid
There are moments when the starting grid sees changes despite the qualifying results. For instance:
Pit lane start: If there’s a change in the car’s basics or if a driver misses the race start, they’ll have to start from the pit lane.
Here are the reasons why a driver might start from the pit lane:
👉 If a car switches up its power unit or gearbox
👉 If a driver changes their PU after the third free practice session kicks off
👉 30 minutes before the formation lap on race day, the pit lane shuts down. If any driver is still in the pit lane, they can start from the end of the pit lane.
👉 If right before the race begins, teams didn’t clear out all their equipment and personnel.
👉 During the formation lap, if a driver is lagging behind and can’t get to their starting spot.
How does the pit lane start work?
Once the whole grid has zipped past the pit lane in the Formation Lap, cars starting from there can join in.
But after the safety car gets back to the pits, that driver needs to head back to the pit lane.
The race for them starts from the pit lane exit. If any car comes into the pit lane after the formation lap, they’ll queue up and start in the order they came in.
Notable starting incidents
The start of an F1 race is a spectacle. But sometimes, things can go south at the beginning. Here are the top 10 most chaotic startline incidents, according to Motorsport.
1️⃣ 1979 US Grand Prix West – Long Beach: Gilles Villeneuve drove past his grid spot, causing a ton of confusion. This mix-up led to a race restart, but Gilles still won in the end.
2️⃣ 1981 Belgian Grand Prix – Zolder: After a tragic accident in the pitlane, drivers protested the unsafe conditions. But the race started anyway, with cars stranded on the grid and others missing their spots.
3️⃣ 1982 US Grand Prix West – Long Beach: Lotus’ Elio de Angelis parked wrongly and then bumped into his teammate, Nigel Mansell, right as the race began.
4️⃣ 1984 Austrian Grand Prix – Osterreichring: Start lights malfunctioned, causing confusion on the grid. Despite the chaos, Niki Lauda clinched the win at his home race.
5️⃣ 1987 Austrian Grand Prix – Osterreichring: It took three starts to get this race going. First, a crash and then a pile-up caused by Nigel Mansell’s slow Williams.
6️⃣ 1994 German Grand Prix – Hockenheim: 11 cars got wiped out in the first lap chaos! Yet, Gerhard Berger still managed to grab the win.
7️⃣ 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix – Interlagos: Mika Hakkinen stalled, but thanks to the safety car, the race continued. Then, rookie Juan Pablo Montoya brilliantly overtook Michael Schumacher.
8️⃣ 2005 US Grand Prix – A field of 20 cars should have lined up for the race, but on that Sunday just 6 were on the starting grid. – See the video
It was the result of a bizarre sequence of events which left fans feeling so shortchanged it nearly drove F1 out of the US for good.
9️⃣ 2015 Italian Grand Prix – Monza: Kimi Raikkonen’s car anti-stalled, showing us how technology has changed the game over the years.
🔟 2021 Hungarian GP: All drivers except Hamilton pitted right after the Formation Lap and we had one of the most memorable starts in F1 history, with a single car on the grid. – See the video
First lap strategies
The first lap after the start is crucial:
Defensive Driving: Those at the front, especially the pole sitter, would aim to defend their position by placing their car strategically, making it hard for followers to overtake.
Taking Chances: Drivers in the middle might see this as an opportunity to gain positions by capitalizing on gaps or the mistakes of others.
Safety: At the back, the aim might be to navigate safely through the first few corners without getting involved in any incident.
📊 RELATED: The driver who starts 10th on the grid has the highest odds of making contact with another car. The lowest odds occur for drivers starting in the last five positions or starting on the pole. – Read more
Role of starting grid in race strategy
Starting position greatly influences a team’s race strategy:
Front Runners: If you start at the front, the aim is usually to maintain the lead. This might mean choosing a tire strategy that emphasizes consistency and long stints.
Middle of the Pack: Here, strategies might vary. Teams could go aggressive, hoping to gain places, or they might opt for a more conservative approach, waiting for opportunities like safety car periods.
Backmarkers: Teams at the back might take risks. They might start on a different tire compound than the rest, hoping to benefit from a unique pit stop strategy.
Lewis Hamilton managed to pull some amazing overtakes in the 2021 Sao Paolo GP. Sure, his car was an outlier, but nevertheless he managed to pull out all the overtakes he needed for a successful weekend. – See video