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

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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?

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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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47 comments on “The new safety car rules are an improvement but could still go wrong”

  1. Just seems a load of rubbish to me, its too complicated. Fans will not be able to understand this very easily. Good job they’re gonna get rid of refuelling altogehter next year.
    Im an avid racing gamer aswell, and this just gives codemasters another thing to do!

  2. Pedro Andrade
    27th January 2009, 20:49

    What a mess…

  3. Why not just make every hit the pitlane speed limiter?
    If that’s too slow to keep temps up etc, make a safety car speed limiter?

    1. Because if two drivers are following each other closely and the driver in front hits his speed limiter, something like this happens:

      Video: the safety car rules danger

      Admittedly it’s probably impossible to be certain this sort of thing could never happen, but making the drivers hit their pit lane speed limiters would make it much more likely.

    2. What if everyone’s standard ECU engaged the pit limiter simulataneously, perhaps giving a second or two’s warning to let drivers get out of dangerous situations beforehand? Technologically it should be possible because the FIA has Race Control and a device necessary to the function of the car within its remit. All it would need is to add a wireless system to send the signal round.

  4. What they need to have is a system whereby the f.i.a can send a signal to all car when the safety car is deployed. This would cause the electrics to put the engine into a kind of pit lane speed limiter. This would be the same for all cars. of course it would have to made so that the drivers cannot turn it off. just make it shut off automatically as it enter the pit lane.
    This way nobody could gain an advantage as everyone would be travelling at the same speed.

  5. Simple – when a safety car is on the track there should be a maximum speed for all cars….. some people wil luck in and some will luck out – but the important thing i to have the marshalls safe.

  6. just rubbish…

    they are trying to avoid the danger of something that never happened or happened very few times in recent years…

    1. they are trying to avoid the danger of something that never happened or happened very few times in recent years…

      Better that than wait until something does happen – it has happened in other series, I think a marshal was killed in a CART race in 1990 in similar circumstances. Martin Brundle hit a marshal at Suzuka in 1994, although in his defence the conditions were appalling.

  7. bernification
    27th January 2009, 22:08

    I have no sympathy for the drivers on this one.

    This rule was introduced because of the drivers irresponsibility. Alonso’s crash at Brazil was ridiculous- he must have been told by his pit that Webber had crashed and the pit car was out, but he put his life and others in danger. That is unforgivable for me.

    Okay, some one might lose some places through having to pit in the SC part, but hey, thats life!

  8. Terry Fabulous
    27th January 2009, 22:24

    I vote that we make every car pull over to the side of the road as soon as there is an issue of safety. The drivers then have to get out of their cars and sign autographs for the fans in that area.

    No, thats too silly.

    Lets have double waved yellows in the area of the race track affected by the incident which the drivers need to obey.

    Although that is probably too sensible since it works in every other form of motor racing.

    1. bernification
      27th January 2009, 22:59

      Do drivers think they are more important than the sport in other forms of motor racing?

      I think not- in many of them people are thinking about having to work as well and their families welfare.

    2. If there’s a Safety Car, there are automatically double-waved yellows in every part of the track. If drivers always automatically obeyed double-waved yellow flags, the only reason a Safety Car would ever be needed would be if the marshalls needed a time when they could guarantee no cars were in the area (for example, to send in cranes).

      The moment a Safety Car is needed, then people will lose out, but if people obeyed double-waved yellows consistently, then they’d already be slow enough.

      There’s another advantage to this year’s method over last year’s version. The 2008 rule did nothing about people who’d pitted and then dashed round to rejoin the back of the queue. The fact that some would receive a penalty for this depending on their timing would merely make it more important for them to dash round – but it’s still dangerous. Now there will be no point because there’d be a separate drive-through penalty.

  9. Only a slight tweak to the current rules are required. Make it okay to take fuel while pits are closed, but ban teams from taking tires. Cars who need it will take enough fuel to make it until pits are fully open, then make a full pitstop with everyone else.

    1. I don’t think that would work either: Any of the drivers who had to take on on fuel in your example would be sent to the back of the field just for having the misfortune to need a fuel stop when someone had crashed…

      Really the best solution to this problem is to ban refuelling. Good thing it’s coming next year.

  10. Whats wrong with having cars race back to the pits and have the danger area yellow flagged a couple of turns before and one after and then have all hell break loose before and after? If you wreck your car, you get to deal with the consequences. Why so complex?

    1. This is why:

      someone could have easily have died there

  11. I think they should only be allowed to pit after being cued behind the safety car. Normal cautionary rules applying up to that point.

  12. The FIA/FOM where a long time in introducing the safety car to begin with, and now I think they are just using it as means to create enough time for a decent advertising break. They could keep it nice and simple and just use double waved yellow flags, but now everyone has to slow down, wait for the SC to come out, then wait for the SC to return to the pits before they are allowed to race again.
    Of course, there are occasions when there is debris all over the circuit or recovery vehicles in awkward places, and then the SC should be used in a similar way to other racing series, and slow the cars down and either lead them into the pits or to the grid ready for a restart.
    Why does everything in F1 have to be so complicated? Are the FIA trying to catch the drivers and the teams out with the rules?

  13. I agree with that point Ross. That sounds like the best solution. No one will be speeding then and no one will get an advantage or disadvantage.

    When Refueling is banned next year. Does that mean races will be shorter? Or will they modify their fuel tanks

  14. Just to make it clear. Everybody has to Cue behind the safety car. When the Safety Passes the Pit entry, whoever whants to pit, can pit. No one will be speeding then. When leaving the pits to join the back of the SC no one is allowed to pass another car.

  15. Banning refuelling won’t fix anything unless they also ban tyre change.

  16. But when refuelling is banned the pitstops will still happen. And most probably twice during the race because of the 2 tyre rules. They will still rush to the pits, this time to change tyres, won’t they?

    1. I think getting in a quick early refuelling stop hands you more of a tactical advantage than just stopping for tyres does.

  17. Well; the safety car will always be a lottery. But, I fail to get the cynicism of the people here. This actually will stop the 2007 style misfortune and 2008-style Canada fiasco. Keith you write:

    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

    I think you have mis-interpreted what Charlie Whiting has said.
    Suppose a car is at turn 9; and car in front at turn 11 in a 17-turn track. If the time set to car at turn 11 is say 50 seconds; the time set for car at turn 9 will be tentatively 60 seconds. So; even if the car behind comes “as close as possible” to the car in front; it has to cross the pit-lane entrance only 10 seconds later. So; the cars will maintain track position as they were before. No races between pit-crews; no traffic in pits.

    You write:

    What happens if a driver who is rushing back to the pits comes another who is not?

    It won’t make a difference, since after the pits the driver who was slowed down can race to catch up the driver in front. Effectively the driver in front gains no time in doing so.

    1. If the time set to car at turn 11 is say 50 seconds; the time set for car at turn 9 will be tentatively 60 seconds. So; even if the car behind comes “as close as possible” to the car in front; it has to cross the pit-lane entrance only 10 seconds later. So; the cars will maintain track position as they were before.

      Not necessarily. Say the first driver in your example decides to head to the pits at an average speed of 60mph. And the driver behind decides to race back at 180mph and then slow right down for the final bit. The second driver will catch the first one, but as long as he slows down before the pit lane entrance, he won’t have done anything wrong.

  18. For goodness sake just let the drivers drive. If they breach the pit lane speed or rules or spirit of fair racing etc, then just apply a drive through or ten second penalty or black flag them…

  19. Do it like the police does on the highways – start slowing down from the last car to the firs, but by different amount so that the time distance between the cars remains the same. Very similar to FIA’s current proposal as it keeps the time to get to the pits constant, but also avoids the rush-then-slow pattern and the accidents of the front car slowing.

  20. It’s a tough one! The first thing I thought when I read the news was that I don’t see what’ll stop the drivers from racing to the pit entrance and just “parking” their cars there and let the time run out. Kind of the opposite of what used to happen in ’07 with the fuel burn laps in Q3 when the cars would race to the pit exit and park their cars there to be the first out on track.

    But on the other hand, the tracks are already broken down into 3 sectors for timing purposes. They can impose time restrictions for each sector under the safety car.

  21. Wow! Talk about complicated rules attempting to solve a pretty simple problem.

    It’s really quite simple, especially with today’s technology when every car is electronically tracked with GPS on the track.

    When the decision is made to send out the SC (or a double yellow flag), simply freeze the field (all cars) in their current race position. Close the pits until all cars have caught the SC and then open the pits the next time around. All cars enter and exit the pits at roughly the same time and gather up behind the SC again. Then restart the race after the SC exists the track.

    Really simple; eliminates cars racing back to the pits because there is no advantage to doing so; eliminates any advantage for anybody; encourages more overtaking (something sorely lacking in F1) because cars start packed together after a SC situation; and it’s safe for all involved. Like I said, it’s pretty simple. Oh, and it gives them times for more TV breaks which raises revenue for Bernie.

    The Alonso crash situation was simply his stupidity. Drivers have a tendency to be pretty stupid at times and that one was world class stupidity.

    1. The problem with closing the pits is that you never know when you’re going to get a yellow flag, which means that it can be when a driver is about to run out of fuel. That’s what led to the pitlane incident in Canada in 08.

    2. Correct me if I’m wrong Jim but how is that any different to current safety car rules? BTW, does the rule that lapped drivers can overtake SC and regain position still apply?

      Besides, all of you are missing the point here – safety car is there to avoid further crashes while the track is being cleared from debris and wreckages, not to give drivers a ”free pit-stop”. There were times last season when drivers didn’t even pit during Safety car as they allready did all their planed stops…

  22. They should have abolished the Safety Car totally. I don’t believe its too hard to have a one or two lap full course yellow, then followed by a speed limiter.

  23. My idea would be that soon as the Safety Car is deployed, the pit lane is shut and remains so until all cars on the track are queued up behind it (not including those that had to pit), which really shouldn’t take more than two laps.
    If you have to pit before the pit lane re-opens you can do, but you then get a drive through as the Safety Car crosses the start/finish line for the last time.

  24. This rule actually might work – it’s getting a bit of unfair bashing here.

    I don’t think, as you say Keith, some cars will be rushing back to the pits to be “as close to the car in front as possible,” because as ‘sumedh’ says above, in the end the net time will result in no advantage at all.

    I guess we’ll find out soon $ : )
    It’s only for one season anyways.

  25. The problem with F1 is that, they’ve often tried to fix what wasn’t broken, with what was broken, then hastily retreating back to what wasn’t broken, claiming that they changed because it was broken.

    Clearly, the chaps taking these decisions do not think through the effects these decisions will have, which shows they are not thorough in their analysis.
    It really makes me very happy to know that Max Mosley doesn’t design bridges.

    1. It really makes me very happy to know that Max Mosley doesn’t design bridges.


  26. What about teams that think the time “limit” they are given is unfair?

    1. That’s a good point – in order to know it was being done properly we’d have to know exactly what time limit every driver was set and where they were on the track when they got it…

  27. I see the following happening.. Stewards will award wrong time limits to certain teams only to penalise them after the race. Cant wait for Next years No refueling Rules. Why cant they just impliment it this year and get it over with, then they wont have this SC issue to worry about

  28. Oliver haats off to ya… u spoke the words which i cud not hab prolly put into words…
    This rule is another mess alrite! In 2010 we will see another new rule, i think they are finding it fun to play with the ‘guinea pigs’ and they lyk being scientist… mad scientists or just mad…. :@

  29. If i were ahead of 2 cars and knew the SC was deployed and my team said to me that the 2 cars behind me wanted to get to the pits. I would instantly slow down and would not allow them to reach the pits in time and they couldn’t pass me cause they would get penalized for passing under yellows.
    Aren’t F1 officials smart ?

  30. I’ve got a completely different idea!
    The core of the problem is that going into the pits, when there’s a safety car, is beneficial for the drivers. That’s why they rush into the pits.
    Making it not so beneficial would be the best way to get rid of the problem.

    So what if a pit-stop during a safety car phase HAD TO last no less than, say, 30sec.? (Or more – it just needs to be long enough for it to be disadvantageous) You know that’d be very easy to implement.

    Then, only the cars that are about to run out of fuel would go to the pits – but them are a rare case anyway.
    So, usually all cars would slow down and follow the safety car, knowing there’s nothing for them to gain if they go into the pits.

  31. Well if they are putting a time limit on their steering wheel, might as well automatically limit the car speed like someone already suggested. Just make sure it happens at the exact same time for everyone, the only problem i could see with that is a driver losing power in a fast sweeper and potentially being affected by lift off oversteer, so it would have to give the driver a 3-5 sec warning and then very gradually cut the power down til a safe speed is reached, said speed limit should be determined by race control based on each track/reason for safety car.
    Speaking of marshal incidents, something that happened a few months ago in an event i assisted, not my pics though:

    EDIT: spam filter did not like pic links…

  32. come on miki , i love you forever.i think you just r very lucky ,but i believe you can be the biggest winner.

  33. sorry ,sth, wrong with my hand ,i want to say miki r not a lucky man .but finally you will win .
    i don’t think kese r a good ssystem,definitly,it is a new or sth. seems environment, but do not you think that The technology has not yet so refined .even some of terms do not have .i think it is unfair.
    and i think my weekends r so boring.

  34. I also heard that recently that some teams KERS systems wont be ready. I wonder why.

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