A delayed start is better than a Safety Car start

2016 British Grand Prix

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The drama of a standing start is a vital part of Formula One’s appeal. So it’s not hard to understand the widespread disappointment on Sunday when, for the second time in five races, a rolling start behind the Safety Car was used instead.

A downpour 20 minutes before the race was due to begin left large patches of standing water across the grid, particularly on the right-hand side. While standing starts on wet tracks do still happen – as at last year’s United States Grand Prix – on this occasion it was considered too dangerous.

Visibility was too poor for a standing start
As the cars pulled away behind the Safety Car it was easy to appreciate why this was the correct decision. Even at much reduced speeds the cars behind the front rows instantly vanished in a cloud of spray. Had a standing start been used and one of the front runners failed to get away – due to a technical problem, for example – those starting at the back would have been accelerating flat-out towards a stationary vehicle they had no chance of seeing.

Formula One will always be dangerous but it is the responsibility of those in charge to protect drivers from unreasonable risk. Exposing them to a danger which no driver, however skilled, could avoid is an example of that, despite vociferous criticism from fans and pundits on Sunday.

The best self-defeating example from the rose-tinted-specs brigade came from those who dug out pictures from past wet races, such as the 1989 Australian Grand Prix, to illustrate how F1 was better before it was ruined by ‘health and safety’. Never mind that one of the two world champions who led the start of that race withdrew in protest at the conditions. Never mind that the other ultimately lost his life due to the safety standards of the time.

Never mind that other drivers on the grid that day furiously criticised the FIA for letting the race go ahead when it did. And so it was telling that after Sunday’s race drivers largely supported the decision not to have a standing start.

However many did criticise how long they spent behind the Safety Car before the start was given. Five laps lasting a tedious 13 minutes passed before the field was finally released.

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The instant the race began almost half the field appeared in the pits to replace the wet weather tyres with intermediates. This could be taken as a sign that the start was indeed given too late, but it is also symptomatic of a little-discussed problem with F1’s tyres.

Pirelli is doing more wet weather testing
While much has been said about the shortcomings of Pirelli’s slick tyres, most recently after Sebastian Vettel’s blow-out in Austria, the performance of its wet weather tyre has drawn rather less comment. Vettel made a reference to it in the immediate aftermath of Jules Bianchi’s crash at Suzuka in 2014 but understandably the focus at the time was on the seriousness of the crash which ultimately claimed Bianchi’s life.

One of the findings of the FIA’s investigation into Bianchi’s crash was as follows: “Although the characteristics of the wet weather tyres provided by Pirelli did not influence Bianchi’s accident or its outcome in any significant way, it is recommended that provision is made for the tyre supplier to develop and adequately test wet weather tyres between each F1 season, such that it is able to supply the latest developments to the first event.”

Pirelli conducted wet weather tests before becoming F1’s official tyre supplier in 2011 but its testing opportunities have been restricted since then. However changes to the rules in the wake of Bianchi’s crash allowed them to run a dedicated wet weather tyre test at Paul Ricard in January and six days are being given over to wet weather testing for next year’s new range of tyres.

The haste with which drivers ditched the wet weather tyres on Sunday suggests Pirelli still have work to do. But having better wet weather tyres is not going to reduce the visibility risk of standing starts in full wet conditions. So what more could F1 to reduce the need for Safety Car starts?

Spa’s grid has drainage channels
At Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, which sees plenty of rain, grooves were cut into the start/finish area to aid draining and prevent rainwater from forming puddles – an idea other circuits might benefit from.

But perhaps Formula One should also reconsider its insistence that the cars must be sent from the grid once the appointed start time arrives. In the circumstances we saw on Sunday where the rain has stopped, why not allow the grid to dry to the point where a standing start becomes possible?

A desire to have races starting on time to please the television broadcasters has been the justification for this in the past. But the obvious dissatisfaction many have expressed with anti-climactic Safety Car starts shows it’s time to rethink that reasoning.

2016 British Grand Prix

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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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    54 comments on “A delayed start is better than a Safety Car start”

    1. Starting with all that water on the strait would have been dangerous, i agree. But in the last years when they start under SC they lose too much time, the track gets drier and drier and by the time the SC comes in, everyone pits for inters. Solution: just 2 laps under SC not 5-10

      1. How about having for example 3 formation laps behind the safety car and then starting the race from the grid places – reducing race distance by 3 laps. That way they all know where the lakes and rivers are on track, they have had more than ample time for sighting and the spectacle of a grid start is still in place?

        Just at thought.

        1. (Adrian HX) I think that would be the right solution.

        2. That would just waste more time.

      2. Doesn’t the track dry quicker when these cars go along though?

        The problem was standing water and after that had gone the track was indeed so much dried that it was ready for inters, but otherwise we would have had to just sit and wait for the puddles to go away on their own.

        1. @patrickl

          “Doesn’t the track dry quicker when these cars go along though?”


      3. this was my thought exactly on Sunday. Starting behind the SC didn’t bother me at all and the cars help dry the track, but 5 laps after 2 laps the track was safe enough for full wet tires.

      4. Why not a few warm-up laps behind the SC (so the track dries up because of the spray etc) and then a normal start.

    2. The reason they go for Safety car starts rather than delaying the start is that if they simply delayed the start it would take longer for the track to get to the point where its considered safe to race as there would be nothing clearing away the standing water.
      Even at slow speeds behind the SC an F1 car with full wets on is able to clear away a lot of water & that is going to enable the track to get to a point thats considered safe a lot sooner than if they did nothing.

      As far as how long it stays out, They look at a lot of things before deciding & that includes driver feedback & as we heard over the weekend over the 1st few laps most of the feedback from drivers was that it wasn’t quite ready & as soon as there feedback began to come back that things were ready to race the SC came in.

      1. Then maybe these tracks need to invest in some track drying equipment. A few years ago NASCAR developed the Air Titans that are used to remove a lot of the standing water in one pass. This was done in an effort to speed up the drying process in an effort to get the full race in. I can’t see why the FIA wouldn’t invest in some sort of equipment like this. Although I do realize that the logistics and track designs, might not make this feasible.

        1. Easier to do things like that on an oval compared to a road circuit as you don’t have a great deal of standing water on the tracks thanks to the banking. The jet dryers & air titans therefore only have to dry the surface rather than clear/pickup any standing water.
          Also with the banking the water all collects at the bottom on the apron/infield so its easier to clear away & find drainage solutions that help with that.

          On a road/street circuit the water collects on the circuit itself & on tracks that have a lot of undulation or bumps you get a lot of standing water collecting on the circuit itself & the Nascar/Indycar solutions won’t be anywhere near as effective on those kinds of circuits as they would be an oval.

          An additional problem is that with the jet dryer for instance on an oval they blow any water thats on the track down the banking & onto to the apron/infiel where the circuit drainage can then do its work (Aided by sweepers that push it towards the drains). On a road circuit blowing the water in one direction will just end up with you blowing it from 1 part of the track to another as it will find the undulation & dips on the circuit & just collect in a different location or just go back to where it was originally.

          1. @gt-racer, While I agree with you that it is not as simple in F1 as in oval racing surely it is not too difficult or expensive to expect tracks to have vehicles with some kind of squeegee blade fitted and/or one of those giant street sweeper/vacunm cleaning trucks to quickly mop up standing water. I realise the tracks are already suffering financially so Bernie should pick up this bill out his 30/50 million dollar fee.

      2. Hey GT,
        You have it right on the head, and really no reason to change the format as every wet race will have a different set of circumstances. I was glad the race went full length.

    3. As some people point out each time there is an on-time safety car start, F1’s slot in TV programming will be grossly affected if a race start is delayed simply because of rainfall.
      I would go further to say that the drama of racing on wet track albeit after a few laps behind a SC is a welcome thing in F1 racing. Waiting for the track to dry just so there is a standing start makes no sense and robs fans of the spectacle of watching so-called world #1 drivers display their skills on a wet track.
      Sundays also are days that are full of sporting and family events so for some to have to be robbed of some of those events due to a delayed F1 race is not good for the sport. Eventually, people might have to choose which of those options is better for them and I doubt F1 will be the first option.
      Teams, engineers, drivers and all F1 personnel also have to make arrangements to start getting back home or leave the venue for the next. Every extra minute they spend on a given track every given race day counts and sometimes take them further away from their families who they hardly see by the way. No need delaying even further.
      Rolling starts behind a safety car is wholly acceptable. Whichever way it is looked at, it is a perfect decision and that is something to say considering the track record of the sport authorities in decision making.

      1. Totally agree. The TV broadcaster has contracts to fulfil, e.g. to satellite owners, phone companies (use of fibre optic cables), etc, and they don’t care if the cars are moving or not, they care if their equipment is being used, and if it is they want to be paid. Some of these contracts are booked years in advance. Delaying the start of the race … well actually the end of the race could easily mean penalty fees apply which reduce the profit margin of the TV broadcaster.

    4. ColdFly F1 (@)
      12th July 2016, 14:03

      I’d prefer 2-3 reconnaissance laps behind SC (+ drying race line) and then a standing start.

      1. @coldfly

        Exactly. Standing starts add to the excitement of the race and we cannot have starts where there is 0 visibility, so having a few laps would dry the track up

      2. I have often wondered that also. Why don’t they? Bernie is so focused on “the show” but when it comes to incredibly simple ways of appeasing the fans, no action is taken.

      3. @coldfly Because of Fuel. But i thinnk you can deduct the reconnaissance laps from the race lenght so the race will be effectivly starting at lap 3 or 4.

      4. The only issue with that @coldfly would be the cars starting on the racing line would have an instant advantage. I guess the drivers could split into two lines down the pit straight to try dry the track more evenly.

        1. In such cases, drivers would be expecting a standing (re)start, so self-interest would encourage them to prepare their starting points.

          They might not be so keen to dry the track for the starting slots behind their own though :)

      5. great minds ColdFly – I have put a similar post above on the first comment before read got down this far – additionally reducing the length of the race by a couple of laps would offset 2 or 3 laps behind the safety car and STILL give us more racing than we saw last Sunday.

      6. Great idea. And it doesn’t seem so far outside the realm of possibility when you consider that we almost had standing starts on all restarts last year.

      7. Actually within the current rules, we can do SC car rolling start for 2-3 laps, then red flag it. That way the lap count will be effectively reduced without additional rules. They surely can make some reason to red flag it.

    5. I’m sorry either delay the start, or why bother having wet weather tyres when almost as soon as the safety car pulled in from the snooze fest start, cars started coming for inters anyway

    6. Why not just run four or five formation laps (and reduce the lap total by 4 or 5). That way drivers get to see the conditions and clear some standing water. Then stop the cars on the grid for a standing start.

      FIA could also introduce more technology to overcome the reduction in visibility caused by spray. GPS technology could alert drivers to track limits, braking points and other drivers in a number of different ways. It could also lead the way for road safety.

      Also why not cover just the grid area of the track when it starts raining – the way cricket matches cover the crease and tennis matches cover the court with tarpaulin. Appreciate this is not always possible and won’t eliminate all water, but would keep the start area relatively dry.

      Me and my son thoroughly enjoyed watching the race on Sunday from the (covered) Abbey stand this weekend. The drama of the way drivers like Perez, Alonso and many others fought the slippery conditions was not captured on TV – it was truly a spectacle to behold live.

      However, we paid a lot for seats in this stand so we could see the drama of the start. But there was none.

    7. Remember the uproar about the suggestion for grid starts after a safety car?
      In my opinion this should be the way to go only in the event of a safety car start due to wet weather.

      The cars pull away behind the safety car, race neutralized, essentially carrying out multiple formation laps. Just as when a second formation lap is required (eg: stalled car on grid), the additional ‘formation’ laps behind safety car will count towards the overall distance of the race.

      Once we are happy with the conditions, the safety car pulls in and cars form up on the grid for a standard start in their current positions (ie: if they’ve pitted for inters and fallen to the back of the field they do not regain their qualifying position), with the race distance reduced by the number of laps under the safety car.

      The safety car should give notification one full lap before it comes in so that those that choose can pit for inters (losing track position) with one lap before the start. When the safety car pulls in, the pits are closed so that every car starts from the grid and we don’t have the farce of 20 cars queued in the pit lane.

      During the extended safety car period, marshals can attack the grid spots with brooms to help remove standing water.

      I think this would have minimal impact on the start time and is not too different from the current procedure, but with the excitement of a race start restored.

      1. Grid starts after an initial SC period is worth considering. But I suspect that the safe point for a standing start would come long after the safe point for a rolling start, so we would end up waiting even longer for the race to start in your plan.

        The only realistic alternative to a full-wet standing start is to delay the race, if the rain looks to let up. And I don’t want the race delayed. I don’t have time for that.

        Also, regarding the USGP, wasn’t that start on inters in basically drying conditions, rather than in a downpour on a soaked track? I think it’s not quite a full comparison. As I noted in another story, though some people are clamoring for a full-wets standing start as some kind of reasonable alternative, we haven’t seen that in a generation. It’s simply not in the universe of credible alternatives. A rolling full-wet start is just a normal and necessary now having an SC period.

    8. The problem, in essence, is the capability of the tyres available. Back in the day we had 3 different tyres for wet weather conditions: inters, wets, and extreme wets. Now we only have the Inters, which work from almost dry to almost monsoon conditions, and the wets which, as Seb puts it, work at a very small window.

      For something that’s inherently more dangerous (driving in the wet), they should spend a lot more time testing for those conditions. Maybe Bridgestone didn’t have as much problems as Pirelli considering their vast experience, specially since hte days of unlimited testing.

      But Pirelli doesn’t get anything. Only 8 days a year for testing, and with the ever changing performances of these cars, it’s not sufficient.

      1. @fer-no65, I might be mistaken, but I’m fairly sure that the monsoon tyres were dropped in the early 2000’s, if not before that given that people tend to refer back to Goodyear (which left the sport at the end of 1998) when talking about monsoon tyres.

        Whilst some might talk about reinstating monsoon tyres, I believe that it was quite rare for teams to actually use them in the past – it was normally the case that the race would already have been stopped before the tyres were actually used. The tyre manufacturers also found them to be very difficult to produce – they were so infrequently used that they had very little data on how they actually performed, so it’s hard to tell whether they really were all that effective in the first place.

        That was in fact the main incentive for getting rid of them – the tyre manufacturers didn’t want to waste resources on tyres that would never be used, whilst the teams didn’t see the point either in paying to transport tyres around the world that they weren’t expecting to use.

        1. As Anon mentions, the problem with the Monsoon tyres was that they hardly ever got used @fer-no65. The biggest issue at Silverstone with a standing start, as mentioned in the article, would have been visibility – only the guys in the front rown would have been able to see where to go.

          That means, that even when monsoon tyres could clear a lot of water, they still were not used because it was too dangerous to race with them on in almost all cases. they ended sitting in stock and as you might know, rubber gets worse over time, forcing the supplier to build new ones every few months, that again just take up space in transport, storage etc. We do not need monsoon tyres.

          What we do need is wet tyres that are better for being driven on. I think that one factor not mentioned with early changes to the slicks is actually a positive one for Pirelli. I remember how with the early Pirelli tyres, the wet were used somewhat more. Probably not because they were better, but because the Inters gave up afer only a small amount of laps. So now that Pirelli has improved the inters (they seem to work very well and last long enough) with the extra testing, drivers/teams prefer to change to them as soon as possible

    9. Lets just have the normal warm up lap behind the safety then either straight into lap 1 or VSC at a speed more appropriate to an F1 car.

      1. I’ve also wondered why the VSC has not been used to bridge the gap between the SC and the wet racing speeds.

    10. Proffessional Pro Pro Pro
      12th July 2016, 14:47

      So Why Pirelli create Wet and Intermediate tyres. If they are scared to see them on the track. I think FIA is going to Kill F1 by too much orders to save the Pilots. I think they get enough salary to show their talent. They will forget drive in wet condition later LOL

    11. * Run behind the saftey car to help clear the track, running down the lap count.
      * When the track is ready, _then_ have a standing start.
      * This also helps not having everyone diving into the pits when the SC pulls in, but rather when the field is a little more spread out.

    12. Why not start the race under the safety car and as soon as the track is dry enough have the grid form and do a standing start.

      1. You might end up with enough spray that those at the back just crash into those in front of them due to lack of visibility. I feel like that would be more of an issue tightly packed on the starting grid than for a rolling start, but I might be completely wrong.

    13. The essence of the sport is long gone. Real racing and unpredictibility.
      These people used to be called Pilots. For a reason.

      In any case, now it’s all about Pay TV contracts and star system.
      So many stupid “health” and “safety” rules. FIA now is just protecting the “show”.
      Definately does not care about what the word RACING means. Too much MONEY to jeopardise.
      Nothing more nothing less. And these people now they are just drivers, just stars of the “show”, in a totally controlled enviroment. If tomorrow 2-way wireless communication becomes allowed, there will be no actual need for a person inside the cockpit. We are half way there. So here is what I suggest:

      Don’t let the biebers start their show when there is a slight chance of raining. Red flag. This way you also respect the fans who actually paid a huge amount of money to buy a ticket on the starting line, to witness a possible and thus enthusiastic dramatic rain start.

      In star system everybody’s smiling, is happy etc.
      F1 should go on par with this. Only sunny conditions.

      Totally controlled, totally predictable, totally…boring.

    14. As much as it pains me to watch a Saftey Car start, it is a necessary evil. As Keith pointed out, no one wants a Paletti style accident just because we decided to start in atrocious conditions.

      However, my issue is how long the safety car is being left out when there is a Safety Car start. They could have had 2-3 laps behind the Safety Car and then started the race, that would have given the drivers plenty of time to get used to the conditions and suss out where the worst parts of the track were.

    15. I believe the “minimum” laps behind the SC after a rolling start is three, simply because less than that would be pointless. I was thus surprised when we had to wait two more laps on Sunday, and my guess is that without those two extra laps much less drivers would have pitted straight away. The track was drying up quickly as it was no longer raining, and the wets had a window of a couple of laps anyhow. The SC overshot that window and the wets are becoming tyres only used behind the SC. In a non-race session a red flag (qualifying) or no running (practice) is what we usually get in wet-tyre conditions, and that only lowers the level of confidence the drivers have with it and the amount of data Pirelli have.

    16. Why on God’s big green earth would you limit the amount of testing Pirelli can do?

      1. Because some teams then complain @sdbarry.

    17. It’s so good to know the average f1fanatic commenter knows more about f1 than the current drivers…

      I hear TONS of Monday morning quarterbacking… If Lewis Hamilton doesn’t think it was safe enough to pull the safety car away after two laps… Let’s just put these random jokers in the cars and let them kill themselves for their own entertainment…

      You might as well have said “just turn the rain off”… Because 50% of these comments are downright comical.

    18. Lol, thank god I have witnessed live F1 races with much worse conditions. And guess what. The pilots, back then, were begging for such conditions. It was a real chance to deploy their skills with a worse car. And since you mentioned “his majesty” LH, I remember Ayrton Senna calling Alain Prost a coward (actually he used another word, starting with P, having double S in the middle and ends with Y) for not wanting to race on extreme conditions. Too bad he is not alive to witness the castration of F1 that takes place nowadays.

      1. I’m wondering if you truly appreciate the words of your last sentence.

        Also you are invoking a man who wept beside Martin Donnelly’s bed one week before ramming another man off the road in a 5th gear corner as he was angry at the FIA, he’s not someone I would use to back your argument.

    19. F1 is not the only series to come under scrutiny for having a safety car out for too long at the start of a wet race. It happened at Le Mans this year as well, and the circumstances seemed quite similar on that day as well. As a matter of fact, it was the first time the 24 hour race had started behind the safety car, which obviously did not please the traditionalists.

      Starting the race behind the safety car was absolutely the right call. However it was simply out for too long, and it almost made me think whether Pirelli’s wet tyre is even raceable or not. Just what actually is the point of having the tyre in the first place if it cannot be raced on?

      Pirelli keep going on about how much water the tyres displace and how it increases ride height by a small amount but those are not necessarily good things. More water displacement will result in more spray and that seemed to be the problem more than anything on Sunday, not so much aquaplaning. However aquaplaning does happen on some tracks, and increasing the ride height by only a small amount does not seem to help that much.

      Perhaps there needs to be a bit of a rethink on perhaps how the water is displaced, and whether it would be possible to implement some solution to stop the cars from aquaplaning as they do (dare I say even possibly some sort of active suspension?). Of course, there are some things the tracks can do as well. The point Keith brought up about Spa is absolutely spot on, and is something I thing other circuits really should seriously consider. I think the situation at Abbey in particular on Sunday is something Silverstone must look into.

    20. Jonathan Parkin
      12th July 2016, 21:09

      Technically speaking an F1 race only starts on time when there is an SC start. Under normal conditions it starts shortly after 1pm when the formation lap ends

      I believe the decision to start behind the SC in this instance was warranted as it mirrored the circumstances of the first one in Belgium in 1997. But five laps was excessive, I would have stuck with 2-3

      To reduce the need for SC starts we need to have a morning warmup on race day, an acclimatisation period for a change of conditions, allow the teams to change their cars to a full wet set up and let Pirelli do more wet tyre testing

    21. Funny, had a friend over Sunday who knows very little about any kind of racing and we were watching the IndyCar race. He wondered what they were doing restarting behind the pace car after a yellow so I explained that to him. Then told him the difference in race starts between IndyCar and F1 and he didn’t understand what a standing start was. So, first I showed him the Silverstone start behind the safety car, similar to IndyCar, then the Austrian GP standing start. Blew his mind. I told him this is one reason I love F1. He was also struck by how beautiful the Silverstone and especially the Red Bull Ring tracks looked compared to many/most US race courses, NASCAR being his most common reference point. Also showed him the end of the Austrian GP which was fun for him too.

      Anyways, I agree the standing start is ideal and infinitely more preferred. However, delayed race starts can lead to darkness issues, depending time, weather and venue of course. Each situation is different and risks being second guessed, especially if the results are unfavorable in some way. I do like the idea of a standing start after some formation laps to help dry the track. (Only for the start though, not for all restarts as was previously proposed and wisely dismissed.)

    22. Maybe I don’t know anything about high-level auto racing but all this babysitting has become tiresome. It’s akin to making sure soldiers in the field don’t get hurt! Any kind of car driving is potentially dangerous. In spite of everything that’s been done through the years to make it less so many people still die at the wheel. Racing is no different. I’ve just read an article on eRacing in Car & Driver. Maybe that’s the ultimate solution?

    23. Or how about once they have run around behind the safety car and people are satisfied that enough standing water has been cleared and the safety car pulls in, rather than rolling start, the cars reform on the grid and start as normal with the reduced number of laps.

    24. So a lot of people like the idea of some track-drying laps behinde the safety car, followed by a standing start.

      Let’s imagine what would have happened at the British GP…
      The entire field would have followed the safety car into the pits, to switch to inters at the smallest loss of time. There would be no cars on the grid at all (well, maybe one or two back markers trying to steal a short moment in the spot lights).

      Just imagine the reactions on this forum had that scenario played out.

    25. Why not a couple of laps behind the safety car.

      When all the drivers know the track and the track is a bit dryer, the safety car comes in and
      everybody lines up at there starting posision and then have a standing start as normal.

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