If you watch a Formula 1 race, you’ll likely see the leaderboard in a few different configurations. The race usually starts with a “time to the leader” configuration, which shows how many seconds back each driver is from the lead car. However, once the race gets drawn out, the race will change to an interval timer. The interval timer shows how many seconds behind each driver is from the car ahead of them, which is helpful when watching a race.
So, how do driver times appear during an F1 race? What is the calculation for intervals in a Formula One race? Why does F1 use intervals during races?
Here’s everything you need to know about interval timing in F1.
How Do Driver Times Appear during an F1 Race?
If you’re a new fan learning the ins and outs of Formula 1, it’s essential to be familiar with how the timing board on the side of the screen reports driver information. The timing chart has two main views, a live leader board, which shows how far back a driver is from the fastest car in the race, and an interval timer, which shows the time difference between each driver.
When the timing chart shows interval time, you’ll see the word ‘interval’ at the top, followed by each driver’s name and how many seconds back they are from the driver ahead of them. The first time to appear on the interval chart will be the second-place driver, and the time shown will be how far back they are from the race leader.
How are Intervals Calculated in F1?
The process of timing F1 cars as they circle the track has quickly evolved over the years. When the sport began, F1 teams relied on stopwatches and officials to judge how fast a car went and the gap between vehicles. These days, a high-tech system of transponders, timing loops, and lasers is used to see how much time there is between each car.
Each Formula One car has a transponder on board that transmits a radio signal as it goes around the track. The race track has timing loops installed every hundred meters, which help define the bounds of mini-sectors around the track. The transponders can record a lap time with up to one one-thousandth of a second accuracy, meaning they’re incredibly precise. The transponders transmit timing data to F1 teams and the FIA, so they can observe how fast each car goes around the track.
Why Does F1 Use Intervals to Judge Races?
While Formula One is about race car driving, it’s a sport judged on time more than track position. When lap times are often less than a minute and a half, it’s critical to have accurate reporting that lets fans know how far ahead their favorite driver is. Interval timing makes it easy to see the time difference between rivals.
Interval timing also makes it easy to regulate specific rules in F1. For example, the FIA mandates that drivers can only activate their drag-reduction system (DRS) on the straightaways within one second of the car in front of them. As a pair of vehicles approach a track straight, the timing system can see if the trailing car is within the DRS range. If the driver is within range, the option to activate DRS will be available on the steering wheel, so they can open their rear wing and make a high-speed attack.
Finally, interval timing helps teams make and adapt their strategy throughout the race. One essential way teams use this information is by planning pit stops. In most races, a pit stop will take about 20 seconds, as drivers must slow down as they enter the pit lane and stop to get a new set of tyres. If an F1 driver is running more than 20 seconds ahead of the car ahead of them, they know they can easily take a pit stop without the next car overtaking them.
What is the Smallest Interval in F1?
When an F1 race comes to a photo-finish, teams will often use interval timing to see which driver was ahead at the end of a race. The tightest gap between any two cars at the end of a Grand Prix happened in 1971, well between teams adopted the high-tech timing methods they use now. At the time, teams relied on hand-held stopwatches and officials to tell which driver qualified faster for a race. During the 1971 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Peter Gethin and Ronnie Peterson raced to the finish. Gethin won the race by only .01 seconds, a record that still stands today.
Rubens Barrichello holds the record for the tightest finish in the modern era. During the 2002 Grand Prix in Indianapolis, Ferrari teammates Barrichello and Michael Schumacher were allowed to compete for the finish. Schumacher had already earned the title of World Champion a few races before. As the pair rounded the last corner, they drag-raced to the finish, crossing over the line with just 0.011 seconds between them.
What is the Largest Interval in F1?
The driver’s largest lead over their opponents in F1 happened during the Portuguese Grand Prix in 1958 when Stirling Moss finished 5:12:75 ahead of Mike Hawthorne.
Lewis Hamilton has the largest race lead in the modern era of Formula 1, with a 1:08:577 lead on second place Nick Heidfeld during the 2008 British Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg has the largest lead during the turbo-hybrid era. Rosberg beat Sebastian Vettel while driving for Mercedes in the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix by over 37:776.
These days, regulations and rules make it much harder to get results like those in historic Formula 1 races. Since engine makers and constructors work within a strict rule set, they often operate similarly. However, the disparity between constructors is enough that you’ll only see a particularly tight finish between teammates with the same equipment in their vehicles.
Conclusion: What Does Interval Mean in F1?
Understanding what interval means when you see it on the timing chart during an F1 race is important for fans who want to get into the action and enjoy all parts of a race. Seeing the car gap lets you realize how evenly matched today’s drivers are and how fast they circle the track.
Understanding interval timing is a skill you can use when you watch different motorsports. For instance, you can use this same knowledge and thought process when watching NASCAR, Indycar, or motorcycle racing.
When watching your next F1 race, pay attention to the gaps between drivers and predict who will be next to make a move and try to overtake their opponent.