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).


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).


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”

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  1. 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.

  2. 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 day maybe!

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

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

    Two good reasons to ban refuelling

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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. ;)

  9. 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.

  10. “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.

  11. “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 ‘’

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. @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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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”

  18. 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?

  19. 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 :)

  20. 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…

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