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On the last lap, at the start-finish straight, just as they are ending the race, F1 drivers (especially those at the front) move their car off the racing line towards the wall.

I'm guessing that they do that to make sure they won't be overtaken, but I can never find an explanation anywhere.

Why do they do so? Is there a rule that says you can't be overtaken on the outside at the end of the race?

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    AFAIK there's no such rule, but they might want to be as close as possible to the public to celebrate? – Glorfindel Sep 17 '19 at 8:36
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There's definitely no rule precluding being overtaken on the last lap / corner; it's all fair game (yellow "no overtaking" flags permitting in the event of an incident). Drivers simply do this "for show" and/or to acknowledge their team who may be gathered and celebrating on the pit wall as they cross the line. It's not limited to the leader either. For example a driver finishing unexpectedly higher than normal (e.g. 4th or 5th place) may do the same thing whereas a driver who is unhappy with their finishing position would typically not (even if they were in second place).

For example in this clip, Vettel (red car) crossed the line first but knew he had a penalty so knew he was effectively in second place. He very much did not celebrate as he crossed the line. Behind him, Hamilton (silver car) won and was happy so he swerved to his to team to celebrate:

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At first this question seems to be off topic because any possible answer would be opinion based. However, if we analyse the speed and trajectory of all race winners when crossing the finishing line we could back up an answer with actual data. Of course, such data would be very hard to collect, so we have to use our (sometimes imperfect) memory.

I've been watching F1 races since the 70's. Back then it was very common (actually we could say it was the "rule") to cross the finishing line at full speed. The iconic image that comes to any F1 fan's mind is Colin Chapman throwing his hat in the air:

https://youtu.be/pSS6zONI0Zk?t=419

Look at the speed of the car, with a bunch of people on the track! The one at 7:20 is particularly scaring, completely unacceptable by modern safety standards.

The first driver I remember seeing slowing down at the finishing line and driving next to the pit wall was Schumacher. He started doing that during his Ferrari years, because during his Benneton years it was still common the race official waving the checkered flag at the track, which made impossible driving next to the wall1, as you can see here: https://youtu.be/aklM6-sjdl0?t=73. Then, almost all other drivers started imitating Schumacher and now it's quite common.

The reason? The other answer already explained: celebrating with the crew. By the way, until today I always pay attention to the driver crossing the finishing line, just to see if he will cross at full speed, like Leclerc at the last race on Monza (on that occasion because Bottas was on his tail).


1 Actually, we can argue that slowing down and crossing the finishing line next to the pit wall became possible only after the checkered flag started to be waved at an elevated position. Since the checkered flag being waved at an elevated position was part of the mid-90s safety improvements, even if my memory fails and Schumacher was not the first one, we can determine that drivers started crossing the finish line next to the pit wall around that period.

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  • Is there a cynical answer in that's where the cameras are, so being closer to the lens will give a better photo ? – Criggie Jun 4 at 6:05
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    @Criggie well, it's complicated because most of the times the cameras shooting the main straight are at the end (of the straight) or opposite to the pit wall. Actually, since F1 cars are so low, driving too close to the pit wall will hide the car (from the cameras positioned in the pits). But I agree that the car with the crew cheering gives a good photo, which is only possible driving next to the pit wall, so there is a "framing" reason for that. – Gerardo Furtado Jun 4 at 6:21

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