Luca di Montezemolo is right: F1’s safety car rules are humiliating for the sport

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Luca di Montezemolo (left, with Felipe Massa) is unhappy with the Safety Car rules
Luca di Montezemolo (left, with Felipe Massa) is unhappy with the Safety Car rules

Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo was not impressed by the role the safety car had to play in Singapore:

When we race on tracks where staging a circus or something else would be better, anything can happen, because the spectacle is supplied by the Safety Car. This is humiliating for F1.

Montezemolo may be sore about Ferrari’s first point-less Grand Prix in 47 races, but I share his frustration with how the current safety car rules can spoil drivers’ races.

Clive at F1 Insight said of Montezemolo’s reaction:

Apparently, it is ‘humiliating’ for the sport to rely on Safety Car periods to spice up races. Strange that Luca should never have mentioned this before, considering that the Safety Car has been around for years and its appearance always has an effect on race results.

It’s a fair point and although Montezemolo targeted some of his criticism at the Singapore circuit I don’t think he has more reason to be upset with how the safety car affected the race than some other team bosses. The error that ruined Felipe Massa’s race could have happened at a normal pit stop – indeed, it did for Kimi Raikkonen at Valencia and Ferrari’s failure to learn from that was the real cause of their woes.

If anyone should be annoyed at how the safety car changed his race it is Robert Kubica. He, like Nico Rosberg, was forced to pit under the safety car when the pit lane was ‘closed’, and was given a penalty. But because he pitted a lap later than Rosberg he became stuck behind Giancarlo Fisichella and wasn’t able to capitalise on the timing as Rosberg did.

Pit closure rules ruin races

Kubica is not the first driver to have his race ruined by a safety car appearance that coincided with a pit stop, thereby ruining his race. And it had a potentially significant bearing on the world championship: his 14-point deficit to Lewis Hamilton is now 20.

Since the pit lane closure rules were introduced in 2007 we’ve seen several occasions where drivers’ races have been ruined by the appearance of the safety car such as:

The fact it is not in use yet, when the FIA originally aimed for a solution before the Monaco Grand Prix, suggests it is not working well.

The FIA should have seen it coming

Max Mosley may think some F1 fans are “stupid” but his regime’s failure to anticipate the obvious faults with the ‘pit lane closed’ rule are hardly a sign of good governance.

Now F1 is faced with either scrapping the ‘pit lane closure’ rule – which I doubt will happen as it was brought in on safety grounds – or find some new solution.

Since the French Grand Prix the drivers have been testing a system where, when the safety car is deployed, they have to go into a special ‘slow-down mode’ and lap the circuit at a prescribed pace. But some drivers have expressed concerns about this complicated new system. Mark Webber said:

I know I always get in trouble when I say this, but Charlie [Whiting] keeps saying we can improve it, but I don’t think there is anything we can do to make it more complicated than it is now.

What if…

The fact such an ill-conceived rule was created in the first place is damning criticism of the FIA’s governance of Formula 1. As is the inconclusive attempt to find a solution which has dragged on for over a year with no success.

The threat of the safety car deciding the title was a concern last year and it’s the same again this year.

Imagine a scenario where one of the championship challengers has their race ruined by the safety car at Interlagos and misses out on the title because of it. The sport’s credibility would be dealt another hammer blow by the people in charge of running it.

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76 comments on “Luca di Montezemolo is right: F1’s safety car rules are humiliating for the sport”

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  1. Once again, the speed which with the various officials act is the key issue. I understand the basis for the pit closure rule, and I think it has merit at some level. However, that safety gain is realized in only one lap – why not let cars in one lap after the safety car is deployed rather than waiting three or four (and thus putting some competitors in the position of deciding between a penalty and running out of gas)?

    It’s unlikely that anyone would be forced to take a penalty with just one extra lap, the crews would have time to make preparations, and the drivers would be able to make an orderly entrance into the pits.

  2. Hilarious – reading how he’d his panties rucked up about this made me roar with laughter, I’m afraid, Keith.

    And after that I wasn’t really in the state of mind to seriously analyse what he was saying.

  3. Montezemolo may or may not be right about the saftey car issue, I make no comment on that.

    The massive shame is that he chose the weekend when both his drivers bombed out of the race for reasons utterly unrelated to the saftey car to make his complaint about it, it smacks of being a sore loser. I am entirely unconvinced that he would have made the same statement about the car had it worked to his teams advantage.

  4. Arguably Ferrari didn’t lose any points at the weekend due to the pit lane being closed; Massa wa already at the back fighing with Force Indias having driven down the pitlane with his fuel pipe attached, and Kimi hit the wall without any help from anyone.

    Montezemolo is right though – the current system does throw an unnecessarily random deal of the cards mid-race.

    I don’t know why no-one’s been listening to the BMW drivers and Mario Thiessen saying the same thing all season. Do you need to wear a red shirt to be heard or is it just that people are enjoying seeing the head of Ferrari in a mood over their result on Sunday??

  5. What I thought was ridiculous was how it took the stewards about 3 laps to decide that Rosberg had illegally entered the pits when it was obvious he had. How difficult can it be to realise a car came in when the pit lane was closed?!! After all, the stewards were the same people who closed it!

    This, and the ridiculous rule that a car can wait 3 laps before coming in, meant Rosberg had something like 7 laps out front of Fisichella, over whom he had about 20 seconds after those laps, so the stop and go really did absolutely nothing at all.

    Bit of a mess really.

  6. diseased rat, my thoughts exactly. Can’t take him seriously because this just appears to be a case of sour grapes and thus it detracts from his argument.

  7. Again, it all comes down to the sheer amateurish nature of the policies and procedures of the FIA.

    But yes, it would have been nice had Luca di Montezemolo had made his comments at a time when other teams had been put at a disadvantage in a race, rather than at an incident when he own team cock everything up without any help from a safety car.

  8. Awww, did Fewwawi not win a wace? Sounds like sour grapes to me.

    His World Champion driver spent another race yo-yoing his lap times around, and in the end couldn’t be ***** any more and stuffed it in a wall. Add to this the shambles that is his pit crew royally screwing up yet again, followed by Massa’s pootle to the finish line after landing back in 18th. The safety car was and always has been completely random, and can ruin races for some, and make them for others. This time round it was Ferrari’s turn

    Deal with it Montie.

    Whilst I agree the godawful ‘pit lane closed’ rule needs to be scrapped, you can’t go on and on AND ON about safety in F1 and then just go damning something like the safety car.

  9. Although I really dislike the pit-lane closure rule (but I also disagree with in race re-fueling) I’ve got to side with Charlie Whiting when he said to the teams, “just run 2 laps more fuel than normal”. It’s an obvious answer to the problem (until it is sorted out properly) and if you’re willing to take the risk for the gains then you have to accept that sometimes that gamble may not pay off.

  10. The safety car period is lame, before you’d just lose time….now you can be put to the back of the pack. I don’t know, kind of lame to have it closed for 3-4 laps. Also, it took them way too long to penalize Kubica and Rosberg, who would have been at the back if they did it on time.

  11. At last somebody from Ferrari to open his eyes and see the reality about FIA :-) Unfortunately this only happens when they get hurt. Ferrari never sees issues with FIA when somebody else suffers. But what goes around comes around ;-)

  12. a bit off-topic: do you remember the comment on ITV when Massa drove off with the fuel hose? :-) It was “I’m sure that at this moment back at his expensive home in Italy Luca Di Montezemolo threw something soft at his no doubt expensive TV” :-) :-) :-) An almost Clive James remark :-)

  13. I’ve got to side with Charlie Whiting when he said to the teams, “just run 2 laps more fuel than normal”.

    I’m sorry but that’s just so very wrong. Let’s do the maths.

    A pit stop in Singapore happens every 20 laps on average.

    Running 2 laps extra fuel loses you .5 second every lap.

    So that’s 10 seconds per pit stop.

    The penalty for coming in at the wrong time is a 10 sec stop and go, so that’s a total of 30 seconds.

    2 cars out of 20 got this penalty.

    But the ratio of losing 10 seconds to being sure of not losing 30 is 1/3.

    So you’re asking cars to guarantee losing 10 seconds so they don’t lose 30, but yet the chance of them doing this in the event of a safety car (which itself may not happen) is 1/10.

    Sorry, it just doesn’t make mathematical sense, the teams know this and this proposed solution is illogical.

  14. I knew about the system being developed by the FIA, but it all seems rather complex.

    As I understand it, the driver would receive an alert when the safety car was deployed, they’d then have to acknowledge receipt and slow down to the prescribed speed.

    But it just raises an extra set of issues – how long do drivers have to acknowledge the alert? Can an alert be reliably received by all the cars at roughly the same time, e.g. what about cars in the tunnel at Monaco? What happens if a driver doesn’t acknowledge the alert, is a penalty due? Likewise if the driver doesn’t slow down sufficiently?

    I can think of two other, less complex, options.

    Firstly, change the rules to require that all teams must incorporate reserve fuel tanks that can at most carry enough fuel for two laps. Ahead of the race, all teams submit their fuel strategies to Charlie Whiting in sealed envelopes. Unless there has been a safety car deployed that interferred with the strategy, the tank must be full at the end of the race. The envelopes are returned to the teams, still sealed, after the race – unless the reserve tank has been used.

    Secondly, reduce the minimum weight of F1 cars by two laps of fuel specifically for safety car deployments. If teams opt to use ballast rather than the extra fuel then they have to accept the risk of running out of fuel behind a safety car.

  15. Any solution that we propose to this problem will have some disadvantage. It is only a question of whether you can live with such a disadvantage when your favorite driver is penalized.

    Consider this. Let’s say the running order is RAI, MAS, HAM with less than 10 second difference between RAI and HAM.

    There’s a safety car incident just before the first pit stop. What is Ferrari’s strategy now? No matter which driver you bring in first, you lose one of the two spots. If MAS is the championship contender, then Ferrari will pit MAS and McLaren will pit HAM. This will have the running order as MAS and HAM after the stops. So, RAI loses his #1 spot.

    This seems just fine until the race demands that MAS had to win by 3 points over HAM to get the championship. In the original running order, the second pit stop would have seen MAS overtake RAI, but that doesn’t happen anymore.

    To make the situation even worse, let’s assume that both RAI and MAS are contending and for either one to win the championship, they have to win by 3-point margin over HAM. No matter which driver Ferrari selects to pit, they will lose the championship.

    I would like the people who make decisions to understand that a safety car rule WILL indeed bring some unexpected changes in the running order and is part of racing.

  16. The safety car did affect Ferrari’s race in Singapore – thanks to having to wait while Massa was re-fuelled, Raikkonen went from third to 15th when the pit lane was re-opened. Kimi has always been Luca’s golden boy (although patience must be wearing thin by now) so he would have noticed how the luck of the draw hit his star driver – and hence his annoyance. Note that the Ferraris must have been fuelled to within a lap of each other and that it was the SC that forced the team to bring them in together.

    Charlie Whiting’s solution needs to be treated with the contempt the man deserves. Kubica did two laps behind the SC before being forced to pit for fuel – in this instance the pit lane was closed for three laps and so anyone taking Charlie’s advice and due to pit on the first SC lap would have been caught out too. The length of pit lane closures varies enormously and so for Charlie to make his suggestion was indicative of how the idiots are running the show.

    It is also illogical to rail against the SC rules and then carp about Rosberg managing to minimise the effect of his penalty. The rule is stupid, yes, but full marks to Nico for taking advantage of the three laps he was allowed after being given the penalty.

  17. What if the teams provided to the race officials, at the start of the race and after each refueling pit stop, a lap number indicating when the tank will be absolutely empty? This number would be used only in the event of a Safety Car appearance and should be kept in total secrecy (perhaps deleted without even being seen by anybody if there are no SCs during the race), and carefully documented IF they are in need to be used. Teams can bring their cars to pits any time they like provided that the race status is normal. But, once the SC is deployed, the officials should refer to the info provided by the teams, and every lap under SC they should allow refuelling those cars whose numbers are coincident without them incurring any penalty. It is not the best solution perhaps, but could be a stop-gap measure.

  18. These suggestions of teams telling Charlie Whiting before the race their strategies are ridiculous. For the first stop it may work at a stretch, but so often strategies are changed mid race by events such as a safety car (see: Piquet @ Hockenheim). You can’t ask teams to pre-determine their race strategies because they change all the time due to weather, safety cars, tyre blow outs etc. Silly idea.

  19. I think I have a mighty great idea here. Have your #1 driver pit. Then a lap later, your #2 driver (who’s hopefully not in contention for the championship) crash/stop his car in a place where the safety car would have to be called to clear the car/mess. Basically what happened with Renault at Singapore, only do it intentionally. If your competitor hasn’t pitted yet, consider your #1 driver the winner of the race :)

  20. AmericanTifosi
    1st October 2008, 13:31

    Luca is right. Everytime the saftey car comes out, you can chuck all your predictions in the bin. It shouldn’t be that difficult to find a better format!

    P.S. In that picture on the top, don’t you just love Massa’s face?

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