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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