New safety car rules for French GP

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mercedes SL 63 AMG F1 safety car, 2008, 470150

F1 is likely to have a new procedure in place for what drivers are supposed to do in the event of a safety car deployment in time for the next round at Magny-Cours.

A trial of the new system will be held before the race. The plan is that, when the safety car is deployed, the drivers will be given a message by race control and will have to activate a special programme on their cars that limits their speed.

Will this help fix the safety car problem? How will this affect the races?

The problem

The safety car rules were changed at the beginning of last year to prevent drivers from coming into the pits as soon as a safety car period was declared. This was because at the beginning of a safety car period drivers would continue racing up to the start/finish line, often out of a desire to get a pit stop at minimum cost to their race time while the rest of the field was delayed.

The first ??solution?

This was correctly judged to be unsafe and a solution was borrowed from other categories that have the safety car, notably the Indy Racing League. The pits would be closed during safety car periods.

However this meant if a driver was close to running out of fuel and had to pit during the ??closed? period they would receive a penalty. This is less of a problem for drivers in the IRL where much of the racing takes place on ovals and making up the lost positions is possible.

But in F1, where overtaking is near-impossible at many tracks, this solution was clearly flawed. However even though many people spotted the problem as soon as the new rules were introduced it has taken a year and a half to find a potential fix.

The solution

The new solution aims to solve the problem of the drivers hurrying back to the pits by making them activate a special ??safety car? programme on their cars. This will be part of the standard engine control units (ECUs) that were introduced this year.

This may be a simple speed limiter similar to what drivers currently use in the pits, or something more sophisticated (see here for more).

Safety

Is this new solution safe? A crash during the GP2 feature race at least year?s French Grand Prix highlighted the dangers of telling a pack of drivers that are jostling for position to slow down.

If one driver backs off before the other the consequences can be catastrophic (see this video of Ernesto Viso?s crash for an example).

Strategy

Presumably this change will mean it is no longer necessary for the pit lane to be closed during safety car periods.

What will be crucial is how long the delay between the safety car period being declared and the drivers activating their safety cat systems is allowed to be. If a driver can wait one or two seconds longer than his rivals before hitting the safety car button it could gain him a position on the track.

But other ways in which safety car can complicate races will remain. It will still tend to disadvantage a driver who is running behind his team mate on the track, because both cars cannot be serviced at once in F1. And there will still be occasions when the pit lane exit is closed, requiring drivers to stop because the safety car is passing, which as we saw last weekend can cause all kinds of dramas.

The new system, if it can be implemented, may at least end the unfair practice of penalising drivers who have no option but to pit while the safety car is out.

However safety car periods will still introduce an element of the random into F1 races, which is something we?re going to have to live with. At least until someone sees sense and bans refuelling during the races.

Pictures: New SL 63 AMG F1 safety car

47 comments on “New safety car rules for French GP”

  1. “If a driver can wait one or two seconds longer than his rivals before hitting the safety car button it could gain him a position on the track.”

    I would assume that the driver couldn’t pass under the yellow flags that would already be out?

  2. Not necessarily. For example imagine a situation where driver A is ahead of driver B, but driver B has already pitted and know he will pass driver A when driver A pits. The safety car comes out. Driver A knows he has to make a pit stop so he waits an extra few seconds before pressing the ‘safety car’ button. Those extra seconds spent at racing speed allow him to make his pit stop and get back out ahead of driver B.

  3. Ah- thanks Keith, that makes much more sense.

  4. I think that goes to show how horribly over-complicated things are going to get!

  5. What about if the drivers received a warning (and a countdown) to the ‘safety car’ button being activated for them? Would this be dangerous?

  6. If they are going as far as sending a message to the driver, then he acknowledges, then hits the limiter, I am surprised the FIA don’t just use the SECU to remotely limit the engine speed – and be a ‘virtual’ safety car – since they seem to want to control the racing anyway.
    The racing is either completely controlled by the FIA and the marshals, or its left up to the individual drivers to respond, and racing is allowed anywhere on the track, apart from the crash area.
    This is a strange idea, since a driver can easily acknowledge the message, and in doing so lose his concentration and crash….

  7. I think FIA checking telemetries to find out if drivers who refueled in SC period, did it for strategy or because they were running out of fuel, should be so much easier.

  8. I think the rule change has good intentions but fails to recognize that any time you have a safety car period, the field will accordion and large gains on the track will be completely lost. You’ve correctly assessed that there is nothing that can be done to avoid it.

    I don’t think the drivers are required to use the pit speed limiter in the pit lane, it’s just extremely handy for them to press a button and not worry about speeding. A speed limit under caution carries the same implication, because we also have to take into account the chances that telemetry may fail. Can a car be black flagged simply because the stewards cannot read its telemetry? I also wonder why slowing for the caution period is not as much of a problem in American racing, because you never hear about drivers getting rear-ended under caution in Indy or Nascar, not even in the feeder series, and I might add that Ernesto Viso has survived several IRL cautions; commentators have implied that he is adapting to oval racing very well.

    How bad must a wreck be before the stewards resort to the red flags?

  9. Yet another example of the FIA’s never-ending convolution of the regulations. Throwing yet more legislation at a problem does not necessarily solve it, and unwittingly creates others, as we have seen time and time again over the years (qualifying rules being another example).

    I despair, I really do.

    You are absolutely right to point out the potential safety implications of this Keith – Viso’s accident at Magny Cours last year was nothing short of horrific, and we could do without a repeat performance at F1 speeds.

    The problem with Montreal remains the pitlane exit. This ruling would not have prevented what happened on Sunday. The problem generally will only ever be displaced rather than solved. When the safety car is deployed there is an advantage to be gained in the form of a ‘free’ stop at some point and while that possibility exists, teams will try to take it. Closing the pitlane for a number of laps only moves the moment at which everyone will seek to take advantage of this fact. Closing the pitlane for the duration of the safety car period will only lead to both a rash of penalties and/or drivers parked by the side of the track, with not a drop of fuel left in the car.

    Drivers need to take responsibility for slowing when the safety car is deployed. If someone is still travelling at something like racing speed in an attempt to steal and advantage, surely the stewards could simply deduce this from the split times and award penalties as appropriate in the form of a drive-through, or whatever?

    The whole thing is degenerating into a farce.

  10. My fear is what if two drivers are going down a straight, the second car is slipstreaming behind the first.

    The first driver gets the signal to slow down, the second driver also gets the signal, but is either too focused trying to make a pass, or is afraid to lose time if he slows down first. The split second difference in timing could lead to an even bigger crash.

    If this is the way the FiA HAS to do it, why not just have a remote controlled ECU, where all drivers speed can be lowered at exactly the same time. Give them a 10 second countdown prior to initiating the cut off. Take human error/reaction times out of the equation.

    I personally think there is nothing wrong with the current rule. If a driver is going to run out of fuel the teams should either pit earlier or have a reserve tank (used for ballast?) good for a lap or two. Teams cannot add oil to the engine so they carry a reserve of oil, why not the same for fuel?

  11. Dan M – what you’ve described is pretty much what happened to Viso in that video.

  12. Could the “safety catch” not be operated automatically by the FIA? For example, when the Safety Car is sent out, a telemetry-esque signal is sent to the ECU in all cars that turns on the limiter. Such a system might be possible as there was a time a few years ago when teams could send info to cars.

    This would then solve the problem of drivers slowing at different times.

  13. So the drivers have to initiate the “program map” once given instructions from race control. I assume this is required to avoid any broken engines from automated program map deployment and gives the driver the option to find a safe time to decelerate and apply the limiter.

    However, I agree with Kenth. How long since race control issue the command do the drivers have to deploy the “program map”? If they know how long they have (guessing 15 seconds), surely this will be another rule stretched right to the limit to gain valuable seconds over their competitors.

    So we’ll see more drive through penalties for those deploying engine maps too late now.

  14. Personally, we don’t need red lights or specific ECU programmes. Just let the cars pit under safety car, I don’t remember too many examples of the field pitting being dangerous.

    Forget silly red lights or complicated ECU programmes – F1 races ran just fine before the red light rule was introduced.

  15. Sav – it’s not the field coming into the pits that’s dangerous, it’s that they might have had to go through an area where an accident has happened at racing speed. It’s not to do with the red light rule.

  16. Frecon, cracking idea!.

    unfortunatly teams like Mclaren and Ferrari don’t really like showing that sort of telemetry even to the FIA.

  17. How about setting a maximum speed through yellow-flag areas instead of the whole ECU programme thing (maybe the same speed as the pits)? This sorts out two problems at once – it means yellow flags actually get respected and it means drivers will automatically be going slowly under a safety car (since the whole track is yellow-flagged at that point). In fact, you could do away with the safety car entirely.

  18. Maybe I’ve missed this but from what I understand the SC is deployed and, for argument’s sake, all drivers hit their speed limit button at the same time.

    We won’t have a bunched field would we? Just a slow procession with the gaps not increasing or decreasing?

    Surely the idea of a SC is to bunch up the field so that the stewards have maximum time possible to clear debris etc while the field comes and goes in one group?

  19. The trouble is that drivers don’t hit all the buttons at the same time – and that assumes that the electronics send the message out at the same time (remember the e-mail that took half-an-hour longer to reach Ferrari than anyone else in the pitlane?)

    The point of a safety car certainly is to bunch up the field, but if the safety car rules encourage collisions, it does contradict the “safety” part of its job a bit…

  20. How much do we really need SCs? they were introduced to F1 around 94, how many accidents have happened prior to that because of the lack of safety cars? and how many of them were relevant (if any)?

    Worst, it seems to me the FIA (or FOM) is using SCs to artificially enhance the spectacle. Now that’s LAME.

  21. Every Driver needs his own pit crew. This way every driver can get serviced in the pits at once whithout a rediculas wait. The other problem is the red light. How on earth can a car go into pit lane, get serviced, and beat the pace car and cars behind it out? That right there screams that it would be stupid not to pit.

  22. sebastianbmw
    10th June 2008, 21:23

    Ive always dreamed of a fueled all the way grand prix!! (meaning no stops full stop!) god how many problems would that solve eh..one day maybe!

  23. There is no doubt that safety cars are being used to make the race more exciting. Lewis had built up a decent lead on Sunday and on merit alone should never have been at the end of the pit lane at the same time as Kimmi and Robert.

    In terms of rule changes, the first rule change should be that there are clear guidelines for when a SC is deployed. Atm it is up to Charlie’s discretion. Each track should have ‘zones’ where if a car is parked in one of those zones, then the SC automatically comes up. Same principal when it comes to debris on the track. If at Montreal they had better cranes and marshall areas they wouldn’t have required a safety car at all – so this needs to be addresses on a circuit-by-circuit basis so that we only see the SC after big, on-track accidents.

    Second, drivers should get a notice and then a 5 or 10 second indicator light on their wheels after which they must have engaged a speed limiter. Most drivers will engage the limiter at the last moment anyway (unless they are passing through the crash zone).

    The pits should remain open, but they should then be closed during the last SC lap to allow the field to re-take their positions as they were prior to the SC without anybody missing out and without anybody having to rush into and out of the pits.

    A question nobody has answered in terms of the Montreal race is, if Lewis stopped in time and then Robert and Kimmi got out infront of him anyway – wouldn’t they have had to let him pass once they formed behind the SC anyway? If that doesn’t count as passing under yellow, then it should!

    Unlike other most other people commenting, I blame what happen to Hamilton mostly on the rules and then on his team. He was under pressure as a driver to maintain his position, and that takes 100% concentration.

  24. Yeah but why did kimi, lewis etc go in the pits in the first place?

    To re – fuel. Frankly i would ban refuelling for a start because it turns the racing lame. That was used to spice up racing and has done the opposite, anyone agree?

  25. Sassan – you’re talking my language :-)

    Two good reasons to ban refuelling

  26. It’s a first good step.
    But to avoid things like what happend to Viso and Hamilton, F1 needs to introduce brake lights. It would help you see everyone brake and you can react more in time.

  27. With the cars on some kind of “limiter” behind the safety car. How will they be able to keep their tyres and brakes warm without the occasional burst of power followed by braking hard?

  28. I tell you, the only sensible thing would be to ban refuelling, but since no one at the FIA will listen, we’ll have to live with this. They should make the lights at the exit larger so drivers won’t miss them as often like Rubens, Lewis and others have done but the FIA seem to be too caught up in the Mosley sex scandal to care. It sucks because I’m a big supporter of Kimi but days like these will be coming to everyone else too, and I would definitely predict Kimi will stand tall at the end of the year for WDC #2. ;)

  29. What I’d really like to know is how easy it is to see the lights from far back in the pits especially as that is one area where a driver needs to watch out for not just other cars, but also people, be they crossing or in the path of the driver, while at the same time trying to minimize time spent loitering within those tight confines.

  30. “F1 needs to introduce brake lights”

    There is a very good reason why they don’t have brake lights, because it reveals when a driver is braking! Imagine you are chasing a car down, it would make it much easier if you knew at what point he was breaking (a very big part of overtaking since you have to brake later and then slingshot through the bend).

    I don’t mind refueling in races, especially because of the strategy element it introduces. I really dislike it in qualifying though as the fastest car isn’t always on pole.

    If they sort out the dirty air issue and we see more slippery cars and more overtaking, you probably wouldn’t need refueling strategy as a part of F1. For now, it is a good stop-gap in terms of excitement.

    Also if next years regulations do remove 30% of downforce, you will see a lot less tire wear which may make it possible to run an entire race with a single set of tyres (esp the harder compounds on circuits like Canada). With that and KERS, we might not be too far away from zero-stop strategies anyway.

  31. “F1 needs to introduce brake lights”

    @Nik – if its not done to have them in open-wheelers, since it allows the opposition to see when you are braking, how come they are used in Touring Cars, GT Racing, ALMS etc? Surely its still down to driver skill to outbrake an opponent?
    I agree with your comments that each F1 circuit needs to be looked at on an individual basis to improve its safety procedures and crane locations etc, and it makes you wonder why they aren’t being judged on these merits already – since Magny-Cours is being dropped purely on its lack of hotels!
    But that would mean Bernie, Max and Charlie actually having to talk to the circuits, the marshalls and the teams about real issues, and none of them are ever going to do that. They much prefer to make silly rules and aim for ‘entertainment’ and not ‘racing’!
    It would be good to go back to a ban on refueling, as it would turn the race back into the endurance spectacle it used to be – maybe its time we organised trackside demonstrations, with big banners etc to get the point across? It would seem to be the only way to do it…..’F.A.R’ ‘FansAgainstRefueling’?? I’m already considering starting ‘AntiBernie.com’

  32. Brake lights are not needed for F1. All other racing formats mentioned are mainly based on road going cars and brake lights are therefore included. Even ALMS that have them for the multiple class of racing.
    They should though add multiple sets of lights down the pit lane. So the drivers can see as they drive down the pit lane what the current exit lights are. In Nascar \ Indycar they have plenty of flashing yellow lights around the circuit, so why not have multiple sets down the the pit lane? If such a sequence had been deployed at Montreal I would reckon that crash would have been avoided.

    Rabi – I think you’ll find that the SC will run slower than what the cars are limited at, otherwise your right it would not bunch up the field.

    Sebastianbmw – That’s going back in time, when drivers only pitted for fresh tyres. Teams actually had to have an economical and quick engine to finish a 2hr race on 1 tank of fuel. Larger fuel tanks though.

  33. DG: I think you hit something there, in that the fans of F1 have never really been organized in any way to counter the FIA and F1M. Lets face it, we can talk about a ban on refueling for as long as we want, nobody from F1 is ever going to notice. Almost every other sporting organization out there has an ear close to what the fans are thinking, while FIA and F1M seem to actively do what they can to _not_ consider the fans – thats just how arrogant they are.

    It seems like we fans have been talking about this stuff forever in a vacuum, and its always the fans who first notice problems or shortfalls in decisions that FIA/F1M make. You *never* see F1 respond directly to issues that fans raise, they live in a fantasy world and they just expect us all to show up at each race and watch/pay for the telecasts.

    I would love to see an organized web and track campaign to try and get the FIA/F1M’s attention on not just the the SC and other issues, but a campaign around getting these guys to not take us for granted and to actually pay attention to what the fans think and what they have to say.

    As somebody who tunes out of F1 for a period of 6 years or so and came back to the sport last year, I can tell you now that I am as frustrated today as I was back then . At least when I watch football/tennis/rugby or whatever else I know that the organizing bodies are doing what they can to attract and please fans. The English football clubs bend over backwards to accommodate their fans, and F1 has a lot to learn from them. Thats also the reason why F1 will never get close to Indy or Nascar (which is bigger in $ terms than F1 despite only having a single market).

    To me the only thing that has saved F1 in the past 2 years has been the quality of the new drivers (even though they are mostly PR drones outside of the car – again because of F1M) and the teams who have somehow found a way to work through ridiculous regulations to provide us with a good race every now and then and an exciting series.

    I am sure that I am not the only one who feels this way, it seems that 80% of posts on all F1 blogs are dedicated to talking about silly rules, regulations or various controversies.

  34. @Nik – I’m with you on this, your #33 says what I have been thinking for a long time. How many fans out there have joined a team fanclub? Are they listened to any more than if they hadnt?
    Remember the last FIA survey? It didnt ask a lot of questions it should have asked, didnt include some options it should have done and more importantly didn’t allow for comments and suggestions from the fans. If that proves they aren’t listening, nothing does!
    Also I’m not impressed with how the TV companies have to bow to the whims of FIA and FOM. I know they are tied into contracts, but when was the last time they raised any issues with Bernie?
    Keith, as a man of the media, do you think its possible to get the fans organised on this? Perhaps not sit down demonstrations, but we should be starting with letters to the FIA, FOM and the various affiliated organisations at least!

  35. DG – it’s an interesting idea and I’m giving it some thought. When I decide what to do with it I’ll put something up on the site.

  36. I’ve never joined a team fan club – at the point where I had enough money to join one, the team club I would have joined stopped existing and hasn’t been reinstated yet – but it’s been a long time since I heard of any fan club be able to have more than cosmetic influence on a team, let alone the sport. Says a lot about the power patterns in F1.

  37. DG – “but when was the last time they raised any issues with Bernie?”
    Well Martin Brundle (ITV) always has a little dig at Bernie normally, as I see it, when a circuit is below par compared to Silverstone.
    His remarks on the grid walk to Bernie about turn 10 got news coverage because of the wording he used. But, he’s the only TV commentator I know that challenges him when he sees him about.
    BTW – Bernies reply on the resurfacing of turn 10 before the Canadian GP was “It’s the same for everybody”.
    Martin was probably thinking “You wouldn’t see that at Silverstone”

  38. Peter Boyle
    12th June 2008, 0:57

    If the cars are speed limited by ECU’s during periods
    of unsafe track conditions (the new proposal) who needs
    a safety car any more?

    Why not just have *no* safety car and only the speed
    limiters and yellow flags?

  39. Keith – why don’t we write an open letter to the FIA with our list of what we want – you can post it on the site and everyone can add their signatures?

    Then send the lot to Paris – asking for a response of course. See how far we get !

    For starters our demands are :
    – Better TV coverage negotiated. No ads. Prime time slots(where possible). Pre race & support categories included.
    – get rid of Max
    – option to view races/quali etc on the web
    – reduce aero devices to encourage overtaking
    – ban refueling
    – no more stupid regs like engine freeze
    – consistency in decision making ie penalties
    – remove the Ferrari International Assistance members from the FIA
    – get rid of Max
    – add ‘protected’ status to some races ie Monaco, Montreal, Spa, Silverstone, Melbourne, Magny Cours etc so Bernie has to stop threatening them all the time
    – get rid of Max
    – allow teams to experiment with alternative fuels etc
    – if possible rescind on the 100 year deal with CVC and allow most of the revenue from races to remain with the teams, organisers, FIA. Anyone other than Bernie
    – allow Michelin or other tyre suppliers back in
    – find a solution to the customer car problem
    – get rid of Max

    I could go on for a bit longer, but I’m sure you get the point :)

  40. It’s a bit late of a reply, but I agree with the commenter that maybe it’s time to spell out exactly when a Safety Car ought to come out, because Sutil’s car came to a rest in a very vulnerable place, and a good 30 seconds went by before the safety car was deployed. All it would’ve taken was a single car to have understeered at the previous corner…

  41. @Chalky #37 – Yes, but that was the first time in about 3 races that Martin had been anywhere near Bernie. I was wondering if either FOM had said ‘no interviews until after the FIA vote’ or if ITV had been diplomatic for once (since they are never diplomatic with the teams)
    I had the impression that Bernie hadnt been briefed about what had been done in turn 10, only that something had been done!
    I still think that Bernie is waiting for the BDRC to give up fighting and sell Silverstone, to add it to his (or his wife’s) collection….

  42. In an effort to uncomplicate matters, perhaps once a SC condition is declared, each driver has a time limit (say maximum of 3 seconds) to engage into SC mode. Each car to be monitored by an onboard computer for compliance.
    The concept of brake lights is interesting,; why not have them deployed only in SC conditions.

  43. I thought F1 was trying to put more emphasis on the driver by eliminating electronic aids. I know this is for safety, but the teams can radio their drivers to tell them what they need to know. And why not adopt the yellow flashing tail lights from Indy? If the Indycar drivers can slow down from 225 mph while inches apart surely the F1 drivers can as well. Seems like an overly-complicated solution.

  44. K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid.

  45. Pink Peril.

    Can you also have on your list the return of V10 engines, or even V12’s. There was no better sound to my ears than a Ferrari V12.
    Give us that, and Max can stay, just so long as he ditches the gimp suit.

  46. Pink Peril,

    Some good points there, but I believe the following are unlikely:

    – get rid of Max
    Now that the FIA has voted in favor of him, and the teams seem to be settled after some sabre-rattling, we need to get used to the fact that he will be there and will probably remain a while longer.

    – Better TV coverage negotiated. No ads. Prime time slots(where possible). Pre race & support categories included.
    These guys spend a fortune on acquiring F1 television rights, and they need to make it back somehow. What you describe used to be available (and still is in some countries) but it costs anywhere from $10 to $30 per race. How the TV part works is mostly driven by audience and advertisers, not by the licensing contracts.

    – option to view races/quali etc on the web
    Again, this would come down to ITV – since when F1M did the broadcast deals they packaged web right in with that as well (a big mistake – but F1M don’t understand the web, a topic for another time)

    – no more stupid regs like engine freeze
    We have yet to see the impact of engine freeze, as it is supposed to reduce spending. With engines what they are, getting the last 1-2% of performance out of them was taking up 80% of engine budget – hence the freeze. You an get a lot more out of aero anyway (consider that the 1986 Lotus had 1,100hp and would lap Monaco 25 seconds slower than a 780hp 2004 Toyota)

    – remove the Ferrari International Assistance members from the FIA
    Ye thats a bit tough as well, since it is supposed to be a representative body

    – add ‘protected’ status to some races ie Monaco, Montreal, Spa, Silverstone, Melbourne, Magny Cours etc so Bernie has to stop threatening them all the time?
    Bernie threatening a circuit is usually a pretty good sign that he is either interested in buying it or has no intention of doing anything with it, but wants something changed. Bernie’s negotiating skills are almost entirely limited to reverse psychology, and we keep on falling for it!

    – allow teams to experiment with alternative fuels etc
    Its happen, albeit slowly. Also a bit harder because of the engine freeze. We also have KERS coming up

    – if possible rescind on the 100 year deal with CVC and allow most of the revenue from races to remain with the teams, organisers, FIA. Anyone other than Bernie
    I doubt it, CVC paid a lot for those right. The teams are getting a better deal atm with a 50% split, but other parts of the sports revenue (like trackside advertising) are Bernie domains and aren’t touched by Concorde.

    – allow Michelin or other tyre suppliers back in
    Possible, it seems they might not be interested in entering though, esp after Indy

  47. Your internet site is awesome I assume you will need to translate it to other languages.

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