Formula 1 lingo: 25 phrases that only true F1 fanatics will understand

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

Formula 1 car in a gravel trap known as the Kitty Litter

If you’re not a hardcore fan of Formula 1, then tuning in to watch a race will result in you hearing some weird lingo used by the drivers, teams and commentators.

Only true fans of the sport will understand the random slang that everyone’s using. Below is a list of the strangest but most frequently used jargon that you’re likely to hear during a Grand Prix. 

Formula 1 phrases

Below are 25 pieces of Formula 1 jargo that you’ll often hear during a Grand Prix. Call yourself a true fan of the sport? Then you should know these already. 

If you’re new to watching Formula 1 then the description below each phrase should help you get up to speed.

A box full of neutrals

“Fernando’s got a box full of neutrals

When a car’s gearbox has failed and the driver can’t find any gears, they’ll be revving their engine but not going anywhere and will have to retire from the Grand Prix.

Around the outside

“Lewis tries to make a pass around the outside

When a driver tries to overtake another by passing them on the outside of the corner, which is the longer and usually slower route which is normally a much harder way to overtake.

Bottoming

“I’m experiencing a lot of bottoming at high speed”

Formula 1 cars run very low ride heights, and at high speed when their aerodynamics produce hundreds of kilos of downforce the underside (bottom) of the car can scrape along the ground producing showers of sparks.

F1 car sparks

Box box box

“And box box box Lando”

When a driver’s race engineer speaks to their driver on the intercom and wants to tell them to come in to the pits next time around, they will ask them to box three times so it’s clearly heard.

Brake tested

“Alonso just brake tested me

When one driver is very closely following another, if the driver ahead randomly applies their brakes then it’s known as a brake test. It’s not really allowed as at best it can disrupt the following driver’s rhythm, but at worst it can cause the two drivers to crash.

Dirty part of the track

“Sainz was forced out on to the dirty part of the track”

The racing line is the grippiest part of the race track in the dry, and it’s also clean and free of any loose rubber or dirt because the cars are constantly driving it at high speed.

Off the racing line however there will be a big build-up of rubber, dust and dirt with much less grip. That part of the circuit is known as the dirty part of the track.

Formula 1 car on dirty side of the track with dust behind it

Dirty air

“Ricciardo is caught in Piastri’s dirty air

F1 cars rely heavily on their downforce to corner at insane speeds. They also punch a large hole through the air.

If one car is following another closely, the car behind will experience a lack of downforce in the corners due to the car ahead moving the air away from their car. It can make it harder for the following car to overtake, as they will lose cornering performance.

Dive bomb

“Perez just dive bombed me”

When one driver attempts a very ambitious overtake on another driver up their inside on the way in to a corner.

It’s a dive bomb when the overtaking driver begins the move very late in the braking zone and usually comes from a long way behind the driver in front. Often the driver being overtaken might have to take avoiding action.

Drive-through

“Ocon has been given a drive-through penalty”

No, Ocon isn’t being punished by picking up a McDonald’s mid race. A drive-through penalty is when the driver must drive through the pitlane, without stopping, at the pre-determined speed limit (usually 80kph / 50mph).

That usually delays them by around 15 seconds, depending on the length of the pit lane.

Exceeding track limits

“Verstappen’s had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits”

The rules state that for a lap time to count during qualifying, all four wheels cannot be beyond the white line that borders the edge of the race track, which is the track limit.

If a driver is caught exceeding those limits during qualifying their lap time won’t count.

F1 car exceeding track limits

Fallen off a cliff

“My tyres have completely fallen off a cliff

Don’t worry, there’s not been a terrible accident involving a large geological feature mid-race.

When a driver’s tyres have been used for a lot of laps and have finally reached the end of their optimal working life, the grip that they provide will rapidly decline.

This can be seen in a driver’s lap times suddenly slowing down, and that will be the point where the tyres need to be changed.

Fresher rubber

“Piastri had the benefit of 3 laps fresher rubber

Usually when comparing the tyre performance of two drivers, whichever driver is on the newest tyres that have been fitted most recently during race will be the one on fresher rubber.

Hammer time

“It’s Hammer time Lewis”

Reserved only for Lewis Hamilton and his race engineer (and MC Hammer) this phrase is used when Lewis’ team want him to drive as hard and fast as he can for the next few laps.

In the tow

“He was in the tow of Leclerc’s Ferrari”

The aerodynamics on F1 cars produce huge downforce, but also produce a lot of drag. Whilst dirty air is bad around corners, on straights it’s good for the following car as it results in lower drag and a slipstream effect.

The slipstream can give the following car a considerable speed boost, just like it’s being towed along by the car ahead.

Kitty litter

“Sargeant’s put it in the kitty litter”

Kitty litter is simply a slang name for a gravel trap, as the gravel isn’t dissimilar to the tray where your pet cat would relieve itself indoors…

Formula 1 car in a gravel trap

Lift and coast

“Pierre I need you to lift and coast heavily until the end”

If a driver needs to use less fuel, perhaps because they might not have enough to make it to the end of the race, they will be asked to lift and coast.

This is where they’ll lift off the throttle a few metres earlier than usual before approaching a corner, coast for a short while before hitting the brakes.

Those extra few metres off the throttle can save a crucial litre of two of fuel that might just make the difference.

On the marbles

“Nico forced me wide on the marbles”

The dirty part of the track is covered in small pieces of rubber that have worn off the F1 cars’ tyres. These will collect on the outside of the circuit in small balls, like rubber marbles.

If a car drives over these, it’s very similar to driving over a floor covered in marbles. There’d be very little grip and you’d be skidding all over the place.

On a charge

“Russell is on a charge

No the cars aren’t electric (not yet anyway). When a driver has found some serious speed in their car, perhaps after putting on some fresh rubber, they’ll be setting some seriously quickly lap times and gaining on / overtaking the cars ahead.

That’s when they’re on a charge through the field.

One-stopper (or two / three-stopper)

“Yuki’s team have decided to put him on a one-stopper”

Pit stop strategy is one of the most important things for success in F1 (just ask Ferrari…)

Teams will look at data they’ve gathered of the performance and life span of the tyres, and decide how many pit stops and subsequent tyre changes they’ll ask their driver to undergo during the race.

Usually each driver will either be on a one, two or three-stop strategy.

Formula 1 pit stop

Out-braked himself

“Magnussen just out-braked himself with that attempted overtake”

When a driver performs a dive bomb overtake they’ll have to brake incredibly late to make the pass stick.

If they brake a little bit too late, past the point and which they can make the corner, then they will out-brake themself, run wide and lose the position just as quickly as they gained it.

Run out of talent

“Latifi has run out of talent and put it in the wall”

This is a Martin Brundle special. If a driver spins or crashes, then they simply didn’t have enough talent for whatever it was they trying to do. They just ran out of talent.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes crash

Shut the door

“Bottas completely shut the door on his teammate”

If one car is trying to overtake another but the car ahead swerves across the track to defend or block their position, they’ll prevent the car behind from being able to get past.

That sudden defence of their position is known as closing, shutting or slamming the door. The driver behind cannot get through.

Tankslapper

“Zhou had a massive tankslapper coming out of Turn 12”

When a driver pushes a little too hard and loses grip at the rear of the car, they’ll experience oversteer.

They have quickly add some steering lock in the direction of the slide to correct the oversteer. If they then don’t take that steering lock off quickly enough once the car straightens out, they can then experience oversteer in the other direction.

That can happen multiple times until they either straight out or spin. It’s been adopted from the motorbike world, where a rider can experience their handlebars slapping on either side of the fuel tank if their front wheel loses grip.

Thrown him the dummy

“Albon’s thrown him the dummy and overtaken”

When one driver is closing in on another they might move to the outside line of the track to make the driver in front think they aren’t going to try and overtake at that point.

If the driver ahead then also moves to the outside, the driver behind can quickly swerve back to the inside and overtake the other unsuspecting driver. The driver who was overtaken fell for the dummy.

Undercut

“Stroll made the undercut work and passed him in the pits”

When one driver pits a lap or two before another, they can benefit from the added pace of the fresher rubber and set quicker lap times when they leave the pits than the car that stayed out on track.

If their lap times were quick enough, when the other car pits it might have already lost too much time and rejoin the track behind the car that pitted first. That’s known as the undercut. The opposite is known as the overcut.

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Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport guides based on my own experience as a racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who want to learn more about racing.

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Join the oversteer48 F1 Insider's club

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