Drivers will not get penalties for pitting during a safety car period in 2009

Safety car periods should no longer bring controversial pit penalties in 2009

Safety car periods should no longer bring controversial pit penalties in 2009

Alianora la Canta’s rigorous analysis of the 2009 sporting rules turned up a surprising and un-announced change. The ‘pit lane closure’ rule has been dropped.

The controversial rule required the pit lane to be declared closed at the beginning of a safety car period, and any driver who pitted during that time received a penalty. This unfairly ruined races for drivers on several different occasions.

Although the dropping of the rule is good news from a racing point of view, you have to ask why the rule was brought in in the first place.

The ‘pit lane closure’ rule was brought in for safety reasons. When a safety car period is called drivers can save themselves time by taking a ‘free’ pit stop before cars behind them have had a chance to catch up. However this potentially means drivers racing flat-out to get to the pits at a time when there is a serious incident on the circuit.

The revised sporting regulations don’t make any obvious provision to prevent that scenario from happening in the future. Last season the FIA ran several trials of a complicated system that required driver to stick to a pre-determined lap time when a safety car period was called. But that too seems to have been quietly dropped – presumably because it was too difficult and/or expensive to implement.

That said, the ‘pit lane closure’ rule caused safety problems of its own. Bunching the field up before most of them pitted together contributed to potentially dangerous incidents at Montreal and Singapore last year.

I’ve gone into the problems with the ‘pit lane closure’ rule at length in previous articles (below). I think abandoning it is the lesser of two evils because it was never going to work in Formula 1. We can chalk this up as another Max Mosley U-turn I think.

With a ban on race refuelling set for 2010, the pit lane closure rule was going to become irrelevant after the 2009 season.

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34 comments on Drivers will not get penalties for pitting during a safety car period in 2009

  1. muckymuck said on 16th January 2009, 0:35

    Keith, Alianora’s post mentions:

    “A penalty has now been defined for anyone who refuels during a race suspension despite not being in the pit lane when the suspension was triggered. The penalty is ten seconds of time. “

    How does this 10-second penalty come into play? Doesn’t that still discourage cars from booking it into the pitlane when the safety car comes out?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th January 2009, 0:38

      That’s when the race is being suspended which is when they bring out the red flags. That’s explained in article 41:

      Should it become necessary to suspend the race because the circuit is blocked by an accident or because weather or other conditions make it dangerous to continue, the clerk of the course will order red flags to be shown at all marshal posts and the abort lights to be shown at the Line.

  2. muckymuck said on 16th January 2009, 0:41

    Gotcha. That was a quick response! Thanks Keith.

  3. Very interesting that this was not announced.

  4. Filipe said on 16th January 2009, 4:21

    FIA obviously didn’t want to admit loudly that they made a mistake.

  5. Robert McKay said on 16th January 2009, 9:07

    Funnily enough I said in the thread about the unheralded engine changes that I wondered what else the FIA had changed, not deigned to tell anyone about, and left it to the likes of Domenicali and Alianora to explain. Seems like I was right to wonder.

    Anything else they want to tell us about? I’m expecting to hear quali has been changed, or the points system quietly altered or something!

    The rule change is probably a good thing – I think it, either directly or indirectly, resulted in just too many freak podiums last year (DC in Canada, Piquet in Germany, Rosberg in Singapore etc.), although I suppose that could also be seen as a bad thing.

    I’m surprised the fancy electronic system has seemingly been shelved, though. If it got as far as on-track tests after practice sessions, they must have been reasonably close to making it work?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th January 2009, 10:01

      I doubt they were anywhere near making it work. Whenever a driver talked about it they were usually negative. It sounded complicated, and though ‘training’ the current drivers for it was all well and good in theory, what about when new drivers join F1? I thought it was a typically F1 over-complicated solution to a problem that needn’t exist, and I’m glad they’ve dropped it.

    • Alianora La Canta said on 16th January 2009, 12:30

      The only changes I could find to the Sporting Regulations were recorded in the blog entry Keith linked to. I will look through the Technical Regulations at the weekend to see if there are any surprises there.

    • Update: I’ve posted the changes to the Technical Regulations – but only up to and including Article 3.7. My head was spinning too much to do the others in one go :(

  6. ajokay said on 16th January 2009, 9:14

    Nice to see they’ve repealed this law. It was an absolute mess, and as the article says, it ruined many races.

    That being said, it did provide welcome and refreshing wins for Fred and Rob.

  7. Finally some common sense has prevailed…

  8. Patrickl said on 16th January 2009, 12:24

    Sounds like a good idea. I guess we will see a race suspension more often now though. They will now have to stop a race to prevent an accident like Alonso had at Interlagos when he ran into the debris of Webber’s crashed car.

    But yeah now often the safety car is deployed when there really isn’t a great risk to the drivers, but only to the marshals (who are cleaning up). I wonder how they will guarantee the safety of the marshalls during the first few laps when drivers are going flat out to the pit.

    • Alianora La Canta said on 16th January 2009, 12:32

      I think the FIA and the teams will continue to research alternative methods of ensuring drivers don’t simply charge round the last bit of the lap after a Safety Car is called at Mach 10. It may even be that the system tested last year re-surfaces in another form, and it wouldn’t be the first time that the FIA has introduced a rule change mid-season in the name of safety.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th January 2009, 9:09

      I guess we will see a race suspension more often now though.

      That thought did cross my mind but from the point of view of television they must hate doing race suspensions. Remember how long they had the safety car out at Fuji two years ago.

  9. steve said on 16th January 2009, 12:33

    Someone – probably a marshal – is going to die and just for the sake of a few race irregularities.

    Imagine you have just gone past the pit entrance and the SC boards come out – you race at full tilt to get round straight to the scene of an accident, marshals in the road, stationary cars BANG! Its NASCAR!

  10. Amarjit Singh said on 16th January 2009, 17:06

    About time!

  11. They will now have to stop a race to prevent an accident like Alonso had at Interlagos when he ran into the debris of Webber’s crashed car.

    It was Alonso’s accident at Interlagos which lead to the pits being closed when the safety car was out. The Safety Car was deployed when Webber crashed and Alonso was racing back to the pits to get in a “free” fuel stop when he hit the debris.

    • Tim,

      That Interlagos crash was one of the scariest wrecks I have seen in F1. That is close to the ultimate accident — disabled, inhabited car versus another car at full tilt. The situation would be amplified on a street course where the driver cannot see past the next apex. I don’t think the pit-closure rule ruins races any more than rain does, if it comes at the inopportune time for your favorite driver.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th January 2009, 8:58

      I don’t think the pit-closure rule ruins races any more than rain does, if it comes at the inopportune time for your favorite driver.

      I don’t agree with this comparison. If it starts to rain then it’s the same problem for everyone. It only affects one driver more than another if, say, it starts to rain very heavily and driver A has already passed the pits and has to complete another lap, while driver B can just head straight in. But the decision about when it’s right to switch from dry to wet-weather tyres is rarely that clear-cut.

      Also, rain is a natural phenomenon and it’s part of the challenge of Grand Prix racing. This rule was an artificial construct which threatened to put a driver half a minute down the running order through absolutely no fault of his whatsoever.

  12. Oliver said on 17th January 2009, 8:35

    That previous rule was a failure in logic. An accident will happen irrespective of whether the pits are open or closed, all it requires is the right condition. Had Alonso not been speeding to get into the pits, he would be speeding to catch up with the leading driver the consequences would have been the same.

    • Alianora La Canta said on 18th January 2009, 12:31

      That is very true. Perhaps more effective enforcement and penalisation of the rule obliging yellow flags (no overtaking and be prepared to slow down/come to a complete stop depending on the flag pattern)would help. After all, there are double waved yellow flags all round the circuit whenever a Safety Car is out.

  13. Robert McKay said on 18th January 2009, 14:21

    The thing about the pit-closure rules is that, although it’s a duff rule, it was extremely easy for the teams to take action that avoided them having to pit whe the pitlane was closed. All you have to do is plan your pitstop for 1 lap earlier. So if you were planning to come in on lap 34 when you were on your penultimate or last lap of fuel, come in on lap 33 when you have 2 laps worth left. That way if the SC comes out before you pit, you’ll have enough to pootle round for the 1-2 laps maximum before they open the pitlane.

    Of course you’re giving away a small advantage, but if you choose to run the risk of completely emptying the tank before you stop when you know the risks then you are exposing yourself to the penalty.

    • Assuming it was opened 1-2 laps after the Safety Car was summoned – in Singapore, the first Safety Car came out on lap 13 and it was only on lap 18 that the pit lane was opened…

  14. Robert McKay said on 18th January 2009, 22:20

    Assuming it was opened 1-2 laps after the Safety Car was summoned – in Singapore, the first Safety Car came out on lap 13 and it was only on lap 18 that the pit lane was opened…

    Fair enough Alianora – I’ll bow to your superior knowledge on that. Really the pitlane should be opened much sooner than that though. What was the delay in that case?

    • Rubens Barrichello’s car broke down in an awkward place just before the marshalls finished moving Piquet Jr.’s car. It then took just under laps for the marshalls to move Barrichello’s car out of the way.

  15. Is there anything mentioned about the Marshalls being better trained and what they are supposed to do during a Safety Car period?
    I am thinking about that strange accident at Indy, where all the Recovery vehicles went the opposite direction to the racing – very scary! And Singapore last year where the Marshalls didn’t move quick enough to recover the cars.
    If the drivers are going to have to re-learn the Safety Car rules, then the organisers owe it to them to make the Marshalls better too….

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