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. @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….

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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

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

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