Features - News Feature

DECEMBER 26, 2001

Speaking the Formula 1 language


Paddock, French GP 2001

Formula 1 can be a baffling world for those who have not grown up with the terminology. Journalists and insiders use expressions which seem somehow unrelated to the sport and now that Murray Walker has retired from being a commentator there is no-one to explain the basics. You may be familiar with a wishbone on a chicken or a turkey but do you know where to find one on a Formula 1 car. And what part do butterflies play in Grand Prix racing?

Formula 1 can be a baffling world for those who have not grown up with the terminology. Journalists and insiders use expressions which seem somehow unrelated to the sport and now that Murray Walker has retired from being a commentator there is no-one to explain the basics. You may be familiar with a wishbone on a chicken or a turkey but do you know where to find one on a Formula 1 car. And what part do butterflies play in Grand Prix racing?

Read on to find out...


The steel safety barriers which can still be found around every racing circuit is often called Armco after an American company which produced it. The company does not like its name mentioned in relation to accidents. In recent years armco has been phased out and concrete barriers are used much more often. Some of these are still referred to as armco as bad habits die hard.


The huge mobile TV facility which is transported from one race to another. It is named after Bernie Ecclestone's TV chief Eddie Baker.


When one driver deliberately gets in the way of another and slows him down. Baulking is a source of much annoyance between drivers in qualifying.


A verb which is used only in motor racing. To be black-flagged means that a driver must go to the pits, having been shown a black flag. A race or qualifying session can also be red-flagged, which means that all drivers must go to the pits.


This is similar to baulking, but conveys more deliberation.

Blow away

When one driver goes faster than another, he blows him away.


The nickname of the Prost team and the current state in which the team finds itself.


Derived from the American expression boondock this is a large open space where a driver ends up if he has a big off (see below) into a field.

The Bouncy Castle

The Benetton motorhome was the first to feature a raised area between two trucks. It thus became known as the bouncy castle after the well-known fairground attraction.

Brundle, Blundell, Smundell

The midfield. This expression is attributed to Bernie Ecclestone who once used it to describe the drivers who never quite made it. The reference is to Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell who raced in F1 in the early 1990s.


No-one in F1 does anything without a very large amount of money to pay for the activity.


A type of engine induction system. Also what some drivers suffer in their stomachs before races.


Formula 1 is very international and there are many European words used in F1. A carambolage is a large accident involving many cars. In German it begins with a K.


Formula 1 cars are built of carbonfiber composite materials. This is known as carbon (ie: a carbon monocoque = a chassis made of carbonfiber).


In English the expression "a right charlie" is someone a little foolish but in Formula 1 "Charlie" is the man who has to be obeyed. F1 Race Director and Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting.


There are over a thousand F1 people who attend every race. They are known as the F1 circus.


A popular aerodynamic layout at the rear end of an F1 car (when seen from above) is said to resemble a coke bottle.

Concorde Agreement

The rules of the sport where laid down in an agreement between the teams and the governing body of motor racing in 1982. This is still in force.


This stands for "direct current", the kind of electricity produced by a battery. It is also the name by which David Coulthard is known in the paddock.


The wings of Formula 1 cars travelling at high-speed produce this in huge quantities. It pushes the car into the ground and enables it to go round corners in defiance of normal gravitational laws. If run upside down at 100mph an F1 car would stay on a ceiling.

The earthworm

One of the Formula 1 team bosses is nicknamed "The Earthworm" because of his rather slimy appearance and his lack of warmth. It would be indiscreet to name names.

Flat bottom

All F1 cars have flat bottoms. This is to make sure that they do not create too much ground-effect. It means that when they get air under them they tend to flip up dramatically.


A qualifying lap with during which a driver will take extra risks to ensure a better grid position. Also known as a flying lap.


A catch-all expression for any electronic system on an F1 car.

Going out

What a driver does when he drives his car down the pitlane and on to the track.

Going off

When a car leaves the track. Tires also 'go off' when they are worn out and no longer perform to their maximum potential.


A driver without finesse. In the 1970s Vittorio Brambilla was known as The Monza Gorilla. Rock-ape has a similar meaning.


When a driver leaves the track his car often throws up grass in his wake. This is called grass-cutting.


A description used for a track when it has not been used for a long time and does not have any rubber down.


An aerodynamic phenomenon by which movement of air around a car creates low pressure under the vehicle and sucks it to the ground, allowing faster cornering.

Hand grenade

A special engine for qualifying, designed to run very quickly for only a short space of time.


An antiquated way of measuring engine power outputs. The current F1 engines produce power equal to that of 850 horses.


An Australian expression for a sand trap, a safety device designed to slow a car if it goes off the track.


Every circuit has a good racing line. If one is off this line one may encounter marbles, small pieces of debris which are very slippery and may cause a car to go off.


Abbreviation for maximum. Also the name of FIA President Max Mosley.


All modern F1 cars have wooden strips on the bottom edge of the front wing endplates. These aid under-chassis aerodynamics.


When a car leaves the racing circuit it has an off.

The Oranginas

When the Orange mobile phone company came to F1 it arrived with a bevy of young ladies who looked after the F1 program. They became known as "The Oranginas" after the famous French soft drink.


When one driver brakes later than another going into a corner. If he goes off doing this a driver is said to have outbraked himself.

The Paddock Police Man

Sardinian Pasquale Latteneddu's job is to make sure that the paddock is kept in the style to which Bernie Ecclestone has become accustomed. Pasquale is the man who tells people what they can and cannot do.


Sections of the F1 paddock have been known to use this nickname for the former boss of British American Racing, Craig Pollock.


The worst possible situation. Also the garages (sometimes known as boxes) where the cars are prepared.


Every F1 car has aerodynamic boxes on either side of the cockpit. These are called pods or sidepods.


A wooden dais on which the first three drivers stand after the race. To get a podium means to finish in the top three places.

Prancing Horse

Ferrari's insignia features a black horse rearing up. The team is often called The Prancing Horse. It is also referred to as 'Maranello' after the team's base in Italy.


F1's doctor, the eminent brain surgeon Professor Sid Watkins, is The Prof. He should not be confused with 'The Professor', which was Alain Prost's nickname before he became a team owner.

Ragged edge

A driver goes to the ragged edge when he is pushing the car to its absolute limit, usually in qualifying.

The Rat

Niki Lauda has been "The Rat" in F1 since the 1970s.

Red mist

When drivers lose their cool they are said to suffer from a red mist coming down.


When one's car stops in a race. Also what drivers go into at the end of their careers.


A marketing patois named after McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who peppers conversations with expressions such as "interface", "envelope" and "window of opportunity".


When F1 cars run in the wet they throw up trails of spray behind them. These are rooster-tails because of their shape.


In F1 circles anyone English is referred to by the French and the Italians after a celebrated national dish. The French equivalent of the British expression Frogs.


Tires leave rubber on a racing track. When rubber has gone down (been laid) a track has much more grip and is quicker. This can become complicated when explaining to girls.


The area available for a driver between the track and the barriers.


Another word from a hand grenade


An accident involving impact with anything solid. In his youth the late James Hunt was known as Hunt the Shunt because of his spectacular style.

Silly Season

In the old days mid-July was when the F1 teams began to maneuver into new alliances for the following season. This period of negotiating was known as the silly season. Nowadays the Silly Season is a permanent state of affairs.


Paul Stoddart, the boss of Minardi, is generally referred to as "Stoddy".


Drivers use several see-through plastic attachments on the front of their visors so that they can always have the best visibility possible. When the strips are dirty they tear them off.


This is the name of the Ferrari team's enthusiastic fans. It derives from the Italian word for the fever typhus.

Understeer, oversteer

Terms which reflect the way a car handles for its driver. A car which will not turn corners suffers from understeer, while a car which turns too quickly suffers from oversteer.

Variable trumpets

Each cylinder of an F1 engines has a trumpet through which air enters. The height of these trumpets can be altered by high-speed hydraulics and thus they become variable trumpets.


Many of the younger drivers in F1 do not bother trying to have personality. They are thus known as wallpaper.


The lap before a flying lap is used by the driver to make sure the car is ready to go to the limit. There is also a warm-up session on Sunday morning before each race.


Aerodynamic devices fitted to cars which create downforce by transferring lateral wind forces into pressure which pushes the car towards the ground.


Suspension triangles which are shaped like the chicken bone.