The new safety car rules are an improvement but could still go wrong

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

The safety car rules aren't as clear-cut as we thought
The safety car rules aren't as clear-cut as we thought

The final 2009 F1 rules published by the FIA a few weeks ago revealed that the much-derided ??pit lane closure? rule, which ruined several drivers’ races in 2007 and 2008, is finally being dropped.

But today the it has revealed that instead of returning to the pre-2007 safety car rules, drives (and fans) will have a new complication to get to grips with.

In 2009, whenever a safety car is deployed, drivers heading to the pits will not be allowed to do so until a minimum amount of time has elapsed. This is to prevent drivers racing back to the pits at a time when the track is supposed to be neutralised for safety reasons.

Charlie Whiting explained the change to the rules:

The rule introduced in 2007 was a bad one, and we’ve gone back to the 2006 regulations. The only difference is we intend to implement a minimum time back to the pits.

When we deploy the safety car, the message will go to all the cars, which will then have a “safety car” mode on their ECUs. As soon as that message gets to the car, it’ll know where it is on the circuit, and it’ll calculate a minimum time for the driver to get back to the pits. The driver will have to respect this and the information will be displayed on his dashboard.

If you remember, the reason we closed the pit entry was to remove the incentive for the driver to come back to his pit quickly. That’s gone now, as you won’t be able to reach the pits any quicker than your dashboard display allows you to.

But how will the drivers treat this time limit?

Is this actually going to work?

If the FIA imagines the drivers will back off and cruise to the pits when the safety car is deployed, I think they?re mistaken. The drivers will want to cross the pit lane entry line the second their counters tick over to zero and as close to the car in front as possible. The best way to do that is to race back to the pits and only slow down once they?re in sight of the pit lane entrance.

There is potential for this to go wrong. What happens if a driver who is rushing back to the pits comes another who is not? This could be especially problematic in wet conditions or on narrow street circuits. What if one team chooses to use one of its driver to delay several of their rivals? How much of a penalty will drivers get if they break the rule – and could it ever be worth them deliberately breaking the rule in order to gain track position?

I?m not sure this is the best solution but it is was always going to be a compromise and it?s certainly better than the previous approach of penalising drivers for pitting ??illegally?, and the many problems that caused.

Happily, with refuelling during the race finally being banned in 2010, the problem should go away next year.

How well do you think the new safety car rule will work?