Debate: Will the safety car decide the title?

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Such a finely poised world championship battle – with four drivers still in close contention with five races left – comes along only once a generation.

The slightest misfortune could easily tip the balance in favour of one driver. We saw at Montreal how the dubious safety car rules can easily compromise an unlucky driver.

Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg can justly claim they were robbed of a better points finish at that race. Might we get a repeat in the final races?

Adrian Sutil’s crash on lap 21 of the Canadian Grand Prix could not have come at a better time for Lewis Hamilton – or a worse time for Alonso and the rest of Hamilton’s title rivals.

Hamilton had just made his pit stop, and the appearance of the safety car as Alonso (and Rosberg) was heading to the pits doomed the Spaniard. For the first time this year drivers are not allowed to pit under safety car conditions, and are punished with a drive-through penalty if they do.

There hasn’t been a similar re-appearance of the safety car yet. But if it were called for at a crucial stage of a race late in the championship, and ruin one of the title contenders’ races, the F1 rule makers would have some awkward explaining to do.

Is it a realistic concern? Is the rule fair?

Photo: Allianz

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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13 comments on “Debate: Will the safety car decide the title?”

  1. Funny to compare the first optimistic sentence of this article with the tone of the previous article, the “Ben Evans Column” :-)

    The safety car rules seem to have been be made with good intentions, but a rule that imposes penalty for violation that drivers have no way to avoid unless running out of gas is simply ridiculous (as many other F1 regulations these days).

    But are the odds of safety car spoiler any bigger than an engine blow up or tyre failure or Sato on a rampage :-) ?

  2. Milos’ first sentence is exactly what I thought too as I read the opening paragraph.

    As for the new safety car legislation, it is a classic illustration of how the FIA’s meddling with the rules just makes things worse. It is no good trying to mend bad rules with more rules that complicate the issue – the way to go is to scrap the rule entirely and introduce something simpler.

    Safety cars ruin races period. Get rid of them and give us a better way of dealing with situations that require the cars to slow down and not overtake. Oh, wait a minute, the yellow flag was supposed to do that, wasn’t it…?

  3. I will have to disagree with this. Safety cars are a necessary evil. They do promote safety at the right times without stopping the race altogether.

    Milos, it is not a rule that imposes a penalty for drivers who have no choice but to pit. NASCAR and IRL teams have a very simple solution to this: don’t run on fumes. Always have an allowance of 3 laps or so in the fuel tank. That way, you have enough to go round for 3-5 laps if the SC comes out, the pitlane closes, and you’re forced to delay your stop. (The pitlane rarely stays closed for more than 3 laps, anyway.)

    The teams will have probably figured this out by now, though. They are masters at adapting to the rules. So don’t expect anyone to repeat Alonso and Rosberg’s feat from Canada. The teams (and their strategists) are just too smart for that now.

  4. 3 laps would be roughly 15 pounds of fuel which would mean the difference if you are racing for position. Gambling on fuel is also a necessary evil.

    I have a different scenario: what if there was a SC when McLaren (or Ferrari) were running one two, would they stack them as soon as they were allowed to pit? It would be unlikely that this would happen because they would be on different strategies, but if the caution was out for a couple laps then they may have to pit at the same time…… Hopefully Alonso will be in front while that happens!

  5. Not the way I see it, Journeyer – safety cars are an unnecessary evil. They provide no more safety than does a yellow flag and they do stop the racing altogether – the only difference is that the cars continue to circulate (as they would under yellows) instead of stopping. There is no race as the cars are not allowed to pass each other, apart from the silly rule of lapped cars going around again to join the line at the back.

    Waved yellows have exactly the same effect as a safety car except that they preserve hard-won gaps. Thus, when the race starts again, it is a resumed race, rather than a completely new one.

    Safety cars look safer only because they keep the field down to a speed possible for a road car (except in cases where the road is so badly flooded that F1 cars can’t keep up, as at the Nurburgring this year). But it’s appropriate speed that matters, not just slowness. We are effectively saying that these F1 drivers can’t be trusted to keep to an appropriate speed to suit the circumstances. But hang on a minute, these are the guys whose lives are at stake if anything goes wrong – why would they exceed a sensible speed through dangerous areas?

    In fact, the yellow flag rule worked for decades before the safety car was introduced as a gimmick from America. And the only thing it has achieved is further complication in the rules as its total unsuitability for F1 has become apparent. There’s an old saying that should have been applied to F1 years ago: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  6. Would you rather have the race decided by the safety car, or the crane?

  7. Safety cars are safer than full-course yellows, Clive – it’s the difference between a track worker being in significant-but-manageable danger for 30 seconds out of every 100 (and totally safe for the other 70) and being in a smaller amount of danger for the entire 100 seconds. The total risk per lap is the same, but the guaranteed safe period allows for such things as sweeping the track and craning machinery from dangerous locations while no cars can interfere.

    It has the additional benefits of preserving TV schedules (remember this is Bernie’s show, and it is largely paid for by TV companies) and avoiding the complexities that are associated with modern-day F1 race stoppages, which remain even more complicated than Safety Car procedures. Also, drivers often do misjudge yellow flag speeds in the types of situations that trigger Safety Cars. Take Jarno Trulli attempting to catch the Safety Car after his pit stop. Without the car, he was effectively guided by double waved yellows, and even then this experienced driver came off the road.

    It was only when the primary function was forgotten, or misapplied, that problems have occurred with the safety car format. The occasional deployment of a Safety Car when either yellows or reds were more appropriate has caused problems on several occasions, but the recent rule change indicates that the purpose has been forgotten.

    Blocking the pit stops during a limited time frame means that cars are having to pit whether ready or not, or carry more fuel. The latter may be the safe option, but races can and are won on risk. It was the latter that indirectly led to Trulli’s misadventure in Canada. And if it’s safe for backmarkers to go at (near?)-full speed around a circuit, then it’s safe for the others to do the same, and at that point, the Safety Car is redundant.

    Chances are that there will be a Safety Car at some point – I’m guessing Spa. That’s going to be a nightmare for everyone regardless of circumstances, and I am not looking forward to it. Allowing lapped cars to regain position made sense to me last year, but now? Get those rules rewound to last year! (OK, Clive will probably still want the SC rules rewound to 1993, but there you go…)

  8. Thank you, ali. That’s my thoughts exactly! :) The new rules are stupid, yes, and must be re-evaluated. But they’re not without a solution.

  9. I should have known not to get too radical with Alianora on the prowl! ;)

    But at least she highlights the very real problems of the present rules. And I still dislike having races reset by the safety car. So let’s think of a better system that excludes the safety car and still keeps those poor track sweepers safe. How about we have helicopters flying around with giant vacuum cleaners that can suck up any debris before any cars get around? Or, better still, we could give Max and Bernie brooms…

    Oh, you guys probably haven’t heard my idea for a much better way to start races. I’ll save that for another day. :D

  10. Does it involve the FIA and FOM officials, Clive ;)

  11. Strangely enough, it does, Alianora. :D

  12. With standardized ECU’s why not have some sort of a speed limiter during extreme situations.

    If there is a really bad accident, then everyone speed is cut to 60MPH (or whatever works) until it is all cleaned up. This way everyone will stay the same distance apart. Obviously this would piss people off but its better then a SC or red flag and it certainly is better then penalizing people for going too fast under yellow conditions (talk about a controversy!).

  13. That’s not such a bad idea, Dan M – especially if the marshals in the area could have some input into what limit they felt was safe for a specific area.

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