There's more to Formula One than just being the fastest driver. Every race is a showcase of F1's technical side and the rules that dictate Grand Prix racing. This can be intricate and difficult to understand. Maybe you're new to the sport and have questions about what happens on race day. How does the drag reduction system work, and why does it help overtaking? What do the different flags mean? What's the difference between a safety car and a virtual safety car? We've created this handy visual guide to explain everything you need to know for an F1 weekend.

Eight-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo explains how DRS works and how a driver incorporates it into a Formula One race.


The DRS is a movable flap on the rear wing of an F1 car designed to make the car go faster. When closed, the flap is an integral part of the wing creating downforce, but it can be moved to an "open" horizontal position when the driver pushes a button on the steering wheel. This reduces drag and increases top speed, allowing for a performance advantage on a circuit's straightaways.


DRS is a movable bodywork flap on the rear wing. When closed, the flap is an integral part of the wing creating downforce, but it can be moved to an "open," horizontal position by a hydraulic actuator when the driver pushes a button on the steering wheel.


A wing on a race car is designed to act like an inverse aeroplane wing. Whereas a plane's wings create lift, the wings in F1 are designed to create downforce to push the car into the ground and improve grip while cornering.

The surface of a rear wing is curved to accelerate airflow underneath, creating low pressure, while high pressure acts on top. This pressure difference forces airflow upward as it passes over the wing, and in turn, the car is pushed down. However, the downforce doesn't come for free as the wing also creates air resistance, or drag, limiting the car's top speed.

DRS presents a way of getting the best of both worlds by altering the wing's angle of attack depending on the circumstance.

In the corners, the flap provides downforce while sitting in its normal position, but it can -- in limited situations -- be opened on the straights to increase top speed by allowing air to pass through the wing.


Modern F1 cars are increasingly difficult to follow as the turbulent air they produce impacts the aerodynamic performance of the car behind. At the 2010 season finale in Abu Dhabi, Fernando Alonso lost out on the world championship after he was unable to pass the slower Renault of Vitaly Petrov, leaving him stuck in seventh place. DRS was introduced for 2011.


DRS can be used by a driver who is within one second of the car ahead. This in itself can create fascinating battles, with drivers jostling to be within or beyond a second of each other. However, if a train of cars are all within a second of each other, it can also negate the benefit of using DRS as all cars behind the lead car will have the same advantage.


Being within one second and having DRS enabled does not automatically mean a car will be able to overtake the one in front. DRS zones are designed to help a driver catch up with the car in front, but the actual passing moves are often still made under braking for the following corner.


Every circuit has DRS detection points and activation zones. If a driver is within a second at the detection point, they can open the DRS for the entirety of the following DRS activation zone. Different circuits have different numbers of zones depending on how easy it is to overtake at each venue and the length of straightaways around the track.

The famous Monaco Grand Prix circuit has only one DRS zone despite the race being infamous for a lack of overtaking. This is because the start-finish straight is the only straight deemed safe enough for DRS use. Use of DRS in the famed tunnel was outlawed in 2011 amid safety concerns.

The Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park has the most DRS zones of any circuit with four. However, the four zones are served by just two detection points, meaning a driver who overtakes with DRS in the first of the two zones after the detection point will still have DRS available in the second zone.

Red Bull has a particularly effective DRS this season, which was underlined at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix when Max Verstappen gained a top-speed advantage of 20 mph over Lewis Hamilton while overtaking with DRS.

Such a speed advantage made it impossible for Hamilton to defend his position against the Red Bull. The advantage led Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur to conclude Red Bull has a "mega big" DRS and "are doing something different ... doing something better, for sure."

There are rules governing the size of the DRS opening, which added to the drama of the 2021 world title battle between Hamilton and Verstappen. Hamilton, a seven-time world champion, qualified ahead of title rival Verstappen for the sprint race in Brazil but then his time was disqualified because his car had a DRS opening that exceeded the 85 mm gap permitted when the DRS is activated. It meant Hamilton had to start the sprint race from last place. He finished fifth, recording zero points, while Verstappen earned two points for finishing second behind Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas.


Drivers can open DRS in DRS zones by pressing a button on the steering wheel during a qualifying or practice lap without the presence of another car in front. When DRS was first introduced in 2011, it could be activated at any point around the circuit during practice and qualifying, but its use through high-speed corners created safety concerns, so it was limited to zones on straights.


DRS is not available for the first two laps of a race or the first two laps after a safety car or red-flag restart. It is also deactivated in the rain if the circuit is deemed "wet" by race control and when an incident has occurred in the same area of the racetrack.


Flags are waved by trackside marshals to convey messages and warnings to drivers on track. Different coloured flags have different meanings, and in modern F1, the colours of the flags are also displayed on light panels around the circuit to improve visibility for drivers. The use of flags has been part of F1 since its first race in 1950, and they were used in other forms of motor racing before that.


Travelling at 200 mph means you're often reliant on marshals' flags to inform you about track conditions. Here's what each of them means.

Incident ahead

This is a cautionary flag for danger ahead. Drivers must ease off the throttle and be ready to change direction. Double yellows means drivers must slow significantly and be prepared to stop.

Track clear

Follows a yellow flag and denotes the track ahead is now clear of the hazard that prompted the yellow flag beforehand.

Slippery surface

This flag is used when low-grip conditions are observed, most often due to rain or oil on track.

Session suspended

An incident has occurred that stops the session immediately, and drivers return to the pits. Races resume with either a standing restart on the grid or a rolling restart like you would see in NASCAR or at the Indy 500.


The 2023 Australian Grand Prix featured a record three red flags after separate incidents spread debris across the track. The first two red flags resulted in standing restarts from the grid, but because the final red flag happened on the penultimate lap, there were not enough laps remaining to complete a third standing start and the race finished under safety car conditions.


A second set of flags is specific to telling drivers what they must do either because of their own car or because of cars around them.

Driver must let car pass

Denotes a car is about to be overtaken by a car that is a lap ahead. The driver must move off the racing line to let the car behind through.

Slow-moving vehicle ahead

A car ahead is moving slowly on track.

Car must return to pits

A driver seeing this flag will be driving a car deemed to be unsafe due to damage or a mechanical issue, with either a part about to fall off or something else that could cause a dangerous incident on track.

Session complete

This denotes the end of a session or a race.


Sometimes a driver will overstep the mark. Whereas the NFL has yellow flags for transgressions, F1 has two flags with black that indicate bad news for someone.

Driver warning

This is F1's equivalent of a yellow card in soccer -- a final warning before a penalty is applied. This could be for driving standards or excessive abuse of track limits.

Driver disqualified

This flag is rarely seen in Formula One but is a way of disqualifying a driver midway through a session or a race due to poor driving standards.


Formula One loves an acronym, and while their use is commonplace within the sport and during TV broadcasts, they can occasionally be baffling for newcomers. Now that you understand DRS, here are four other F1 acronyms you'll likely come across while following the sport.


Quite simply shorthand for "did not finish". Any driver who fails to make the finish by more than three laps is classified as DNF. Similar acronyms include DNS (did not start) and DNQ (did not qualify).


A safety car. Either a Mercedes AMG GT or an Aston Martin Vantage, which will be deployed on track when there is an incident that will take significant time to resolve with marshals and recovery vehicles on track. The use of a safety car is at the race director's discretion. When the safety car returns to the pits, the leading car will control the pace of the pack ahead of a rolling restart over the start line.


Nowhere near as exciting as a TD in football, a technical directive is a clarification to the rules to help clear up questions teams might have raised over the interpretation of the regulations. F1 teams are constantly looking to gain advantages from grey areas in the regulations, and TDs mean F1's regulators, the FIA, can close loopholes without rewriting the rulebook.


A virtual safety car. An evolution of the safety car that allows race control to neutralise the race without altering it too dramatically. No physical safety car comes on track, but drivers must drive to a set delta lap time on their steering wheel while a VSC is active. This helps maintain gaps between drivers rather than bunching them up behind a safety car.


See all the action as Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton race at one of the most prestigious tracks in the world at the Monaco Grand Prix this Sunday, May 28, from 8 a.m. on ABC, ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes.