A few times this season I’ve heard people saying that someone pitted because there was a chance of safety car due to a crash or a retirement.
And it made me think – why would you do that? A few years ago it was an advantage to pit before the safety car, as you weren’t allowed to pit under the safety car conditions until everyone lined up (Singapore 2008?).
But now, with the delta times, I reckon it’s even better to pit under safety car. For example, if two drivers are very close to each other, each with one stop to go. Driver A stops, and is around 20 seconds behind in the next lap. Safety car arrives, Driver B pits, and because they’re all driving slower while a pit stop still takes as much time, he comes out well ahead Driver A. The difference was 20 seconds, for example 25% of the lap, and that 25% became 40 seconds under delta times.
That is, of course, if Driver B pitted right away, before the safety car would pick up everybody.
Therefore I don’t get why someone would pit expecting the safety car, as it would actually lose you time. Perhaps it’s better to delay a pit stop if you’re expecting the safety car.
Because if you pit before the safety car, you won’t get caught up in the queue when you return to the circuit. Any driver who came out ahead of the safety car would have to do another lap to join the end of the queue because the safety car picks up the lead driver.
It’s a huge advantage if you’re the leader (except possibly if it’s early in the race and nobody else follows you in) because the Safety Car doesn’t seem to go until it picks the race leader now. Either others pit behind you (meaning you lose few to no positions) or you end up a pit stop up on those ahead.
The further back you are, the worse a proposition it is – unless you’re the last person over the line on your lap. Then you will probably lose nothing by pitting under the Safety Car and gain a stop on those ahead.
It’s the ones in the middle who have to think strategically (and might not benefit from anticipating a Safety Car). If they need to stop due to worn tyres or the times indicate a dry/wet changeover (or the reverse) is in order, and are sure the safety car won’t pass them, they might as well. If the Safety Car is likely to still be out when any of the foregoing applies, but there’s a risk the SC may pass them, they need to wait until they’ve caught the Safety Car and then pit on the last lap of the Safety Car. Otherwise, it would be better to continue with the normal strategy.