New safety car rules for French GP

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

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47 comments on New safety car rules for French GP

  1. Sush said on 10th June 2008, 18:32

    Frecon, cracking idea!.

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

  2. 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.

  3. Rabi said on 10th June 2008, 18:39

    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?

  4. 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…

  5. Diacho said on 10th June 2008, 18:47

    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.

  6. Steve K said on 10th June 2008, 19:28

    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.

  7. sebastianbmw said on 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!

  8. 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.

  9. Sassan said on 10th June 2008, 22:03

    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?

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th June 2008, 22:47

    Sassan – you’re talking my language :-)

    Two good reasons to ban refuelling

  11. SoLiD said on 10th June 2008, 23:45

    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.

  12. Nox said on 11th June 2008, 1:19

    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?

  13. Johnny said on 11th June 2008, 1:23

    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. ;)

  14. Oliver said on 11th June 2008, 2:33

    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.

  15. “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.

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