The surging success of Netflix's 'Drive to Survive' series has driven legions of new fans to Formula 1, not all of whom will be up to speed with the sport's laws and traditions.
And one of the most confusing aspects of the race weekend comprises a dawdling drive around any given track before the green flag is waved to get the action underway. A circuit at low speeds and no overtaking might sound rather pointless, but the formation lap—or formation lap—has been part of the schedule for half a century.
Rather than pure pantomime, however, the display serves numerous practical purposes and has played a big role in improving safety in the sport. The formation lap gives drivers a chance to warm up their tyres and brakes, and it has helped cut down considerably on the number of first-corner crashes that used to be less rare.
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This allows teams to get a head-start on improving the grip of their cars, with drivers usually seen weaving from side-to-side on the track in order to spread the heat. Tyre heaters have become commonplace in F1 with the evolution of technology, though they still can't quite compare with on-track momentum.
The formation lap is also a vital means of ensuring all 20 cars can in fact get off the grid, with stalled specimens having led to instant panic in the past. It wasn't unheard of for cars to fail in getting off the line at race start in years gone by, which can have a knock-on impact for those lined up behind the failed engine.
Testing out the optimal clutch position is another benefit for drivers. Even though one would think such details are nailed down in practice prior to the Sunday, something as simple as sussing out the perfect bite point can undo a driver's prospects before so much as a lap has been completed.
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Should any problems arise during the test sample, a driver can pit their car to have engineers work some last-minute magic while the rest of the field undertakes another formation lap. Red Bull's Sergio Perez did just that at the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix before having his car successfully restarted, serving as proof of the parade's purpose.
As for the drivers themselves, who wouldn't want a last reminder of the circuit one's about to loop on repeat for the next 90 minutes or so? Although the stars of F1 undertake tedious testing, practice and revision of each race on the calendar, it never hurts to remind one's self of the layout in the current conditions.
Aside from the more practical points, the parade lap also has a healthy helping of pageantry and elevates that pre-race anticipation as fans get a closer look at each livery. Spectators will see the tradition wheeled out for the first time in 2023 as the season gets underway in Bahrain, with fingers crossed for no unexpected surprises on Sunday.
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