What is an undercut in F1?

F1 Grand Prix of USA - Max Verstappen battles Lewis Hamilton in Austin, Texas.
F1 Grand Prix of USA - Max Verstappen battles Lewis Hamilton in Austin, Texas.

To the uninitiated, the F1 world can seem full of confusing terms and phrases. With buzzwords like "undercut" and "overcut" thrown around during every grand prix, new fans tend to get stumped.

In this article, we'll explain the undercut - one of the most commonly employed strategies in F1, used in almost every other race as well as the overcut.

Simply put, the undercut is when a driver makes a pit stop a few laps earlier than the car ahead of them in order to pass them at a later point in the race. This ensures the driver who stops first has a fresher set of tires than his opponent, who is running slower laptimes due to being on older, worn tires.

The driver ahead would inevitably have to make a pitstop of their own to fend off the gains made by the undercutting driver. While the opponent would get a set of fresher tires too by doing this, if the driver who pits first is able to run some quick enough laps on his new tires, he might just be able to emerge ahead once the stops cycle through. It is a very tricky strategy, but pays off well if done correctly.

The undercut in F1 doesn't come without its share of problems though. Since the undercutting driver stops before his opponent, he is on the backfoot as far as having fresher tires is concerned. This can eventually lead to a loss of pace and grip compared to the opponent and give the late-stopping driver an opportunity to regain his lost track position.

At the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix today, we saw Max Verstappen and Red Bull F1 attempt an undercut on Lewis Hamilton by making his first stop early but the deficit was too great for it to pay off.

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What is an overcut in in F1?

Just like the undercut, the overcut is another strategy employed in F1, however it is not as frequently used as the former. The overcut is the exact opposite of the undercut. The driver in question stays out when the driver in front of them pits. He then gets an advantage from the clean air which flows over and through his car, aiding performance.

The overtake happens when the driver in question comes out of the pits ahead of his opponent. The driver benefits from a clear track and can push his tires as hard as he pleases, since he will soon be pitting for fresh ones anyway.

Overcuts can also prove advantageous when the Safety Car is deployed and the overcutting driver manages to make it into the pits before they close. He'll essentially get free track position since the cars will all be bunched up.

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Edited by Sandeep Banerjee