You must have seen the red rear lights on Formula 1 cars that flash occasionally.
If you’ve assumed this is an F1 brake light, you’re not alone!
This red light you see flashing on the back of F1 cars can easily be mistaken as the brake light.
But is it a brake light?
No, F1 cars don’t have brake lights like you might expect!
While a required feature on all F1 cars since the 1970s, this light is indeed used for safety reasons, but the purpose might not be what you expected.
Why Don’t F1 Cars Have Brake Lights?
To answer this question, let’s first picture this.
You’re racing in an F1 car (cool, right?), and you’re doing over 200 mph in true F1 style.
You’re battling another driver, and you’re in their slipstream, potentially looking at overtaking at the next corner.
Suddenly, a brake light appears for the car ahead to signal that they’re slowing down.
Would this be helpful? Or a hindrance?
The answer is simple, the last thing a driver would want to be looking for or need in that situation is the braking lights of the car ahead.
While brake lights on average road cars are important to avoid getting rear-ended, this is not necessary – and rather useless – in Formula 1.
Brake lights on F1 cars wouldn’t fulfill this purpose as F1 cars are driving at incredibly high speeds, meaning they would not be able to react fast enough to the brake lights of the car ahead.
This may seem dangerous at first, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.
These are the top drivers in the world, and they all have an excellent idea of when they should hit the brake pedal, otherwise known as braking points.
Braking points are almost identical for all drivers, so they’re highly aware of when the car ahead will likely slow down.
Moreover, racetracks are well protected, so the chance of an errant pedestrian or animal crossing onto the track is zero.
It’s now pretty clear that the valid reason for equipping a standard road car with brake lights doesn’t apply to high-speed racing like Formula 1.
With little to zero outside intervention from racegoers and animals alike, drivers no longer have to warn each other when braking.
What is the Light on the Back of F1 Cars?
If you assumed Formula 1 cars have brake lights, we don’t blame you!
The red light on the back of F1 cars can easily be mistaken as the brake light.
However, this light serves other purposes.
In 2019, the FIA ruled that rear wing lights would be fitted to the cars.
These are a pair of LED running lights that run up the rear endplates, as well as one large light on the back of the diffuser.
These lights serve two purposes.
The times you notice the lights on the rear of an F1 car flashing, you see the driver activating the Energy Recovering System (ERS).
The ERS light is incredibly useful and acts somewhat like a brake light in the sense that it warns the driver behind that the car will be slower in the straight line while this is flashing.
For those wondering, when the car is in this mode, the hybrid engine is harvesting electrical power from the hot air of the exhaust pipes (courtesy of the combustion engines) and the kinetic energy of the wheel spin that the car is generating.
You’ll usually see this towards the end of a straight when these racing cars are coming up to a braking zone.
Low visibility conditions, such as heavy rain, can make it difficult sometimes for drivers to estimate whether there is another car in front of them and how far away they are.
Therefore, the running light on the back of an F1 car doubles as a warning light for cars behind.
Think of it this way, when you’re driving in mist or fog, you put your rear fog light on for visibility.
This is the same for F1 cars, apart from the fact that they don’t have headlights!
So, drivers rely even more on the rear lights of the car ahead.
During rainy conditions, F1 cars can throw up a great deal of spray, making visibility for other drivers behind the leading vehicle poor and, at times, incredibly dangerous.
In these conditions, cars’ braking abilities can also affect the tires’ grip on the racing tracks.
For these poor visibility reasons, the LED rear light will be used as a rear fog light so drivers can at least estimate the distance to the car in front and avoid any collisions.
Green Light for Rookies
Occasionally, you may see a F1 car displaying a green light on the back instead of a red light.
This green light color is used for novice F1 drivers and often means that the driver does not yet own a Super License.
The green light simply warns other drivers on track about the rookie, and it is usually deployed during Free Practice sessions.
Related F1 Brake Light Facts
What is a braking point?
The section of a circuit on an entry to a corner at which an F1 driver starts braking for the turn.
The key to this is not braking too early, as drivers will lose momentum, and braking too late can cause the driver to end up off track.
What does it mean if the light on the back of an F1 car is green?
The green light indicates that a rookie without a full FIA Super License is driving the car.
Although the common belief is that the lights on the back of a car are brake lights, the lights on an F1 car indicate that the driver is harvesting energy.
Or otherwise, driving in low visibility conditions.
Brake lights on an F1 car serve no purpose, as F1 cars drive at high speeds and wouldn’t be able to react fast enough to the sudden flash of brake lights.
Remember, these are the top drivers in the world, so they have an excellent idea of when they should be braking!