Video: the safety car rules danger

There’s been an excellent discussion in the post on Nick Heidfeld’s misfortune in the Spanish Grand Prix about how the problematic safety car rules might be fixed.

Part of the difficulty in finding a solution is how to safely slow down a pack of racing cars when the safety car is deployed. This video shows what happens when it goes badly wrong:

I originally posted this video of a GP2 race during last year’s French Grand Prix weekend. The chain of events begins with two drivers crashing at the start, which causes the safety car to come out as the cars are halfway around the first lap.

As the first cars to get the message about the safety car slow, others behind them are caught unaware, with disastrous consequences.

Ernesto Viso hit Michael Ammermuller’s car so hard he cleared the safety barrier and almost hit a bridge. Viso was fortunate to to be very badly hurt.

The problem F1 had with the pre-2007 safety car rules was that drivers were rushing back to the pits when the safety car came out to get in a ‘free’ pit stop, potentially having to drive quickly through the scene of an accident.

It was in circumstances similar to this that Fernando Alonso crashed in the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix:

So what’s the safest way of slowing the pack down when the safety car is deployed? Some have suggested having automatic systems to slow the cars operated by race control, but I wonder if they can be reliable enough to be safe?

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14 comments on Video: the safety car rules danger

  1. The GP2 video is strange in that there’s no indication on screen that the Safety Car has been deployed until after Viso has been airborne and crashed – but you say it was brought out in connection with the crash at the start, so I wonder why it wasn’t indicated prior to the second crash rather than later?
    It was a heck of a crash though, and could have ended up much, much worse!

    As for the crash at the start, that seemed to be mostly down to the guy on the right lining up with his car pointing directly across at the guy on the left – always looked like an accident waiting to happen!

  2. It was a very strange way to handle the first lap. Apart from the things Craig pointed out (and if Zuber was pointing directly at Glock, why did Glock then drive straight into him?), I notice that Kazuki Nakajima managed to run over a mechanic (which would make it three mechanics in one season). Why did none of the drivers seem to notice the yellow flags (which mean "slow down, be careful and no overtaking") and carry on as usual? Also, one of the commentators is a "Sven Heidfeld". Any relation to Nick?

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 1st May 2008, 14:34

    Craig, on the first GP2 incident, the car on the left is Timo Glock and the car on the right is Andreas Zuber.

  4. Robert McKay said on 1st May 2008, 14:49

    "Why did none of the drivers seem to notice the yellow flags (which mean "slow down, be careful and no overtaking") and carry on as usual?"

    An excellent question – this is largely because the yellow flag is used in too many situation covering too broad a set of possible circumstances. It can be used for a minor off, or a big shunt: it seems far too context-sensitive for my liking. Drivers might ease off a tenth like we see in quali (remember Bahrain) or they might need to stop like in Brazil 2003. I know there are cases where double waved yellows are used, but I’m not sure that single yellow flags are being used correctly a lot of the time – maybe there’s a need for an extra flag to bridge the gap a bit?

    Failing that, the governing body really needs to crack down on yellow flags – anyone not seriously slowing down regardless of whether they actually needed to or not should be getting penalised to preserve the seriousness of the flag. It’s not a "slow down a wee bit" flag, it’s got to be a "be ready to stop" flag.

  5. Seb Carter said on 1st May 2008, 16:07

    The Problem is that if we side with one side of the rule, then something unwanted occurs with it. Although the new safety cars rules are stupid, and plenty of drivers have unfairly been penalized for something out of their own hands, at least it does rule out any accidents like the two above. It only takes one major accident when the safety car is deployed like the Alonso incident above to justify the new rule. Can you imagine in The Singapore GP, without these rules, someone racing back to the pits under yellows and crashing? Not only would that put the driver at enormous risk (especially on a high speed STREET track) but the close proximity of other marshalls and the crowd would also be under risk. Criticize the FIA all you want (and i am a staunch Critic of them myself) but you have to admit, they do know how to keep F1 safe. I think that a rule that limits the speed of cars trying to get back to the pits under the safety car is fully required. Then again, on the other side of the arguement, i also do agree with the fact that results are achieved through skill, not luck. Kovalainen suffered the misfortune of going from 1st to 5th in Australia, and lost a hatful of points in the process, as did Heidfeld and numerous drivers at the Canadian Grand Prix last year. I think its ridiculous that drivers lose points because they are forced to pit when they have no other option. If you ask me, i believe that a system needs to implemented that fairly lets drivers pit at a safe enough speed. How about a controlled reserve fuel tank in the car that allows cars to last until the pitlane opens again? this tank can only hold a handful of laps,  and if every car can have one, then its equal. OR the cars must have their first lap time after the SC has been announced to be at least 10 seconds slower than their fastest race lap.  Its a very complicated matter but one i feel must be solved with both sides of the arguments thought of with extreme detail. 

  6. bernies nemesis said on 1st May 2008, 17:21

    The french GP2 race was a series of unlucky events that conspired together, but thats what can occur to create a tragedy. Motor racing is by its very nature a dangerous sport, but both the french GP2 race and Alonsos crash in Brazil show the teams nonchalance to abiding to the yellow flag rules.

    We can only speculate as to the radio transmissions between team and driver, but it’s very likely to be along the lines of ‘Webber crashed, safety car deployed, get to the box as fast as possible’, especially in this win at all costs modern era of motor racing.
    Somebody elses mistake is a mistake to be capitalised on.

    All of the drivers ignored multiple waived yellow flags in France, and Viso nearly paid a big price for it. It’s only because of the amazing chassis technology inherant in both classes that all 3 drivers (Webber too) survived.

    Now whilst I appreciate that this is a hard and competitive sport involving millions of pounds, I don’t think that we should test the rules to the limit by blatantly disregarding some aspects of them.
    Sennas death was a direct result of not thinking out rules.
    The introduction of the safety car was to take danger out of the equation for trackside marshalls, but the implications to the cars ride height were simply not taken into account.
    The sports safety record has been improving continually, but you quite simply cannot legislate for every eventuality.
    We can’t (and shouldn’t) wrap the drivers in cotton wool.

    Currently we have rules introduced that are shown to be ineffectual, or don’t please the viewing public, or somebody shows how ill advised they are and manipulates the new rule to gain an advantage.
    What we should be worried about is that we keep on coming up with ever more complex rules to deal with basic things.
    I’m sure Sir Jackie Stewart has gone on record as saying he believes that many of the todays drivers ‘play chicken’ with each other, but he really does appreciate how the safety has increased as he saw many team mates and friends die.

    So I think we can introduce as many rules as we like, and resolve them and discuss them ad infinitum, but we will still come back to discussions about how Heidfelds race was disrupted because of so and so.
    Life is unfair sometimes, and whilst someone is looking to gain an advantage out of some misfortune then we will have to have a governing body that is tied up in rule writing and red tape.
    Or actualy make people be responsible for their actions and fine them HEAVILY for flaunting safety procedure.

    PS> I remember thinking when Alonso crashed ‘What the hell is he doing going that fast? What a ****’
    Had any marhalls been on the track they would have been mincemeat.

  7. I still don’t understand why it’s not just; an in car yellow light comes on, and the field is frozen.  Yellow and red led’s are cheap, if the knowledge is that the field is frozen. Green and yellow flashing so no passing but be aware in sectors where there’s an incident but caution is needed. If they can show lights in the cars (can it be that hard? They can show engine telemetry, I think they can make a little light that shows pits red or green on their onboard). So the end lights (think lightbar on the upper edge of the dash) would indicate pit status (green or red) and the 4" of light bar in the center would indicate track status (yellow or red, otherwise off).
    Starts lights could even be inside the car (when you’re 24th back they’re just dots!)

  8. Sush said on 1st May 2008, 18:23

    couldn’t race control just send out a signal to change the engine maps ?

    lets say, the same one as the pitlane limiter for 45 seconds.

  9. Rabi said on 1st May 2008, 19:51

    alternatively the pitlane is closed for the first lap under SC conditions. After that the pit lane is open. That would not penalise anyone and it will also stop the point of racing around the track past the accident at full pelt.  

  10. Noel said on 1st May 2008, 20:09

    I thought about the idea of a speed limit but we’re already aware of the difficulty drivers have in keeping the tyres and anywhere near racing temp when they’re behind the safety car, so I think the option of field-wide speed limiting is unlikely. Other difficulties, such as when you end the limit (track clear, safety car lights out, when first place crosses the line?) increase my doubt further.

    I agree that more firm enforcement of penalties for ignoring yellow flags could help. While I’m against race officials penalising drivers on track, the raft of data available to scrutineers post-race would make it easy to spot anyone not taking flags seriously.

    As far as a closed pit lane for the start of safety car periods is concerned, I honestly don’t know what to suggest. I guess it’s a shame that the desire to win overtakes common sense… but this sport wouldn’t be what it is if that were any different!

  11. The F1 incident is a prime example of when the safety car should not be used- once it became obvious that there is no safe way to cross the debris, the red flag should be shown immediately.

    That having been said, it doesn’t matter what color the flag is if the drivers do not look for them.

    Reacting a bit to Robert’s comments, I like the ambiguity of a local yellow flag, maybe what is needed is that a single yellow can simply mean “do not pass” and crossed double-yellows can mean “slow for a hazard ahead.”

    FIA do have a flag that means “debris on track” they may help here too.

    I think it all comes down to training the marshalls and briefing the teams.

    Viso now races Indy, where situating yourself less than a carlength behind your opponent is the norm. Good thing that outside fence is tall! (Actually, I don’t think he’s hit anyone yet, and he’s been running middle-of-the-pack.)

  12. Just to underscore your point, Keith, I speak German, and after the start incident, the sportscaster says he hasn’t seen an incident quite, like that in, well, ever, but after the safety car incident, he says that unfortunately one sees incidents like it all too often in safety car situations. And after the pit incident one of them says, paraphrasing, "What the hell kind of motor race is this?"

  13. Nathan said on 2nd May 2008, 8:59

    i reckon they could have yellow flags on the dash!
    flashing is for yellow at a turn stuck on for safety car!
    with the gp2 start crash, they didnt need safety car as both cars we in the pit entry!
    a waved yellow would have been sufficiant!

  14. TonyC said on 10th May 2008, 13:40

    The problem is the natural born competitiveness of the teams and drivers. There is a simple answer to the safety car rules which could work without any changes to the regulations… Indeed, I believe this is how they were mean t to work in the first place.

    A driver planning to stop on (for instance) lap 18 would start the race with 23 laps of fuel in his car. This will slow him down a bit, but if everyone saw the logic of this, the whole field would have the same amount extra, meaning no net gain.

    Should there be a safety car on lap 18, no problem, the driver has 5 extra laps of fuel in his car to wait for the pit lane to open.

    If he’s not doing as well as he’d hoped (and there isn’t a safety car period), he has a five lap fuel stop ‘window’ to try and improve his position. If he chooses to gamble on this and there is a safety car, he can’t complain, he gambled and lost…

    Instead of this sensible way of approaching things, the teams daren’t send out cars with an ounce more fuel than they need to complete the stint. When it goes wrong, they complain about the rules. It seems to me that the rules are fine, their just being bent to an extreme…

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