The rules of racing differ depending on what series you race in or what race car you drive. Or even where you are in the world.
From technological to mechanical, rules come in many different forms. Motor racing is often a complex structure of rules and regulations that drivers and teams must follow.
However, there are some things that remain (generally) universal when it comes to the rules of racing.
Flags, for example, feature in most forms of motorsport. Sometimes the colour and the meaning of the flags differ, but many racing series have standardised flag-use.
For example, flag definitions are consistent for all FIA-sanctioned events. IndyCar and NASCAR use a very similar system. It makes the rules of racing easier to follow for drivers and fans alike.
Here is a handy guide to what each flag means.
Rules of Racing: What the major flags mean
GREEN FLAG – The solid green flag signals the start of a race or session. It is also signifies a racetrack is clear of danger or debris, following the use of yellow flags. Used by race starters and track marshals.
YELLOW FLAG – The solid yellow flag indicates caution. It represents there is danger either at or ahead of the point of the flag being waved. When the yellow flag is held motionless, it tells the driver to slow down and take care as there is a hazard near the track. No overtaking or passing other vehicles until the track is clear (green flag). Single-waved yellow flags indicate a hazard partially covering the track.
Under the rules of racing, double waved yellow flags indicate great danger either at or ahead of the point of the flag. Usually signifies multiple vehicles involved in an incident. Drivers must slow down and be prepared to stop if necessary. Strictly no passing or overtaking until clear of the emergency area (green flag).
YELLOW FLAG WITH RED STRIPES – This flag indicates a slippery surface ahead or at the point of the flag – such as the presence of oil, water or debris on the racetrack. Advises the driver to drive with care.
WHITE FLAG – Indicates the presence of a slow-moving vehicle on track. This could be an ambulance or firetruck. In IndyCar and NASCAR, the waving of the white flag signals the last lap of a race.
Flags - The Universal Language Of Racing?
BLUE FLAG – Under the rules of racing, a solid blue flag signals a driver is about to be lapped/passed by a faster vehicle. It means they should yield the racing line to the quicker driver. During a race, it is used for cars about to be lapped. But a blue flag can also be waved in practise/qualifying towards any car to let the driver know there is a faster vehicle behind. In some racing series, the blue flag is not mandatory and moving aside is good courtesy.
RED FLAG – The solid red flag signals a race or session has been suspended or stopped. This is usually due to an accident/incident or if conditions become too dangerous to continue. The red flag is seen at the start/finish line, with marshals either waving a red or black flag around the circuit.
BLACK FLAG – In FIA-sanctioned events, a solid black flag shown with a driver’s number indicates the driver has been immediately disqualified from the race/session and must report back to pitlane at the quickest opportunity. For most racing series based in North America (such as IndyCar or NASCAR), the black flag shown with driver number signals that driver to complete the current lap and return to the pits (usually for a penalty). A race starter waving a black flag could mean they are suspending a race session for reasons other than an accident or incident.
Black Flags Spell Trouble
BLACK AND WHITE TRIANGLE FLAG – According to FIA rules of racing, a divided black and white flag shown with driver number issues a warning to that driver for unsportsmanlike/unsafe conduct. A penalty sanction could follow.
BLACK FLAG WITH ORANGE CIRCLE – Used in FIA-sanctioned events. The black flag with an orange circle (known as the mechanical flag) shown with number informs a driver that their vehicle has a serious mechanical issue or loose body work and that they must return to the pits to be fixed. Usually shown if issue is of danger to other drivers.
BLACK FLAG WITH WHITE CROSS – In IndyCar and NASCAR races, a black flag with white cross shown alongside driver number indicates the driver is being disqualified and is no longer being scored.
CHEQUERED FLAG – A black and white chequered flag waving at the start/finish line signals the ending of the race or session.