Atlas F1

Atlas F1 Guide: The Meaning of Flags

The critical positioning of flags, the highly visible link between a driver and the trackside officials and marshals for a Grand Prix race, is a painstaking operation undertaken by the race director in a series of circuit inspections which will not be completed until he is fully satisfied the placements are perfect in the competitors' eyeline.

Waving the flagsAny negligence or carelessness in the placement of warning flags could be disastrous or even lethal to drivers whose ultimate trust has to be placed in the hands of the flag marshals as they speed flat-out towards the crest of a rise or into a blind bend. They have to be confident there are no obstructions ahead, no debris or treacherous slicks of oil to catch them out.

The marshals, upwards of 180 of them per race and all highly trained, are located at strategic points around the circuit and their duties are to ensure the safe and smooth running of the race, keeping the track clear, giving advance warnings of potential dangers and attending and supervising at any accident.

Of course, there is a pits-to-car radio link and drivers can be warned of hazards by their teams, but it is the responsibility of the race direction to maintain the strictest level of information and help and flags are the only means of doing it until, or when, an electronic trackside system is set up.

Each marshal's post around the track is equipped with a full set of flags and each colour has its own specific and unambiguous meaning. Getting to know them will enhance your understanding of a race in progress.


A static yellow, (held without movement) means there is a hazard on the track and the message to drivers is: Drive within your limits, do not overtake.

A waved yellow means there is a hazard on the track. Message: Be prepared to change direction. Slow down, do not overtake.

A double waved yellow means the track is partially or fully blocked. Slow down, do not overtake and be prepared to stop.

Yellow with red stripes Slippery surface

It could be oil, standing water or a localised shower that has altered the surface and this is a warning to the driver that he is about to encounter a slippery section - a marshal will indicate by pointing skyward with his free hand that a rain has rendered the surface hazardous.

WhiteSlow moving vehicle on the track.

A static white means the driver is about to catch up with a much slower vehicle.

A waved white means there is a possible serious obstruction by slow moving vehicle.

A white flag with the initials SC on it means the safety car is on the track.

GreenAll clear, end of danger zone.
BlueA faster car is going to overtake, move over.

While the fast car is shown a white flag, indicating a slow car (back marker) in front of him, the slow car is shown a blue, and must move over and allow himself to be overtaken, or face serious penalties.

RedThe race has been stopped

When the red flag is shown, the drivers must return to pits using extreme caution and be ready to stop.

ChequeredEnd of racing, practice or qualifying
BlackPenalty, pull into pit lane

When it is shown with the driver's number alongside he knows he is in trouble and usually, to make sure he recognises the situation, he will be warned by his team over the radio link. He must stop next time past the pits.

Black and white diagonalUnsportsmanlike behaviour
Black with a gold spotMechanical problem detected

Static and shown with the driver's number, warns him that there is a mechanical problem with the car and he is a danger to himself and others and must stop at his own pit on the next lap. His back-up crew at the pit wall are notified.

Penalties for infringing the warning flags, or for speeding in and out of pit lane, can be costly both in championship points, positions in the race and in cash fines. According to the seriousness of the offence, suspensions and forfeiture of race positions may be imposed. These may take the form of a $5,000 fine with a 10 seconds stop-go penalty as the punishment for pit-lane speeding during a race. (This means the driver must come to pit lane and stop for this period of time, before resuming the race).

Atlas F1 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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