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.