Safety Car, Mugello, 2020

Why Vettel’s criticism of F1’s “embarrassing” restart rules was misplaced

2020 F1 season

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Sebastian Vettel made a strongly-worded criticism of Formula 1’s restart procedure last week, following an incident during the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver was one of six who encountered a group of marshals on the circuit during a Safety Car period in the race at Imola. The drivers had been released from behind the Safety Car in order to complete a lap of the circuit and rejoin the rear of the queue.

This obviously involved driving at speeds significantly greater than the Safety Car was lapping at. Several of the drivers were therefore surprised, despite the presence of yellow flags, to discover the marshals on and at the side of the track approaching Acque Minerale, the approach to which is blind. Vettel described the situation on his radio at the time as “very, very dangerous”.

He was undoubtedly correct in this regard, and FIA F1 race director Michael Masi confirmed afterwards they would “evaluate changes” in light of the incident.

Vettel later claimed that similar situations could be avoided entirely in future by making changes to F1’s race control software. The Ferrari driver argued that instead of sending cars all the way around the field to gain an extra lap, they could drop to the rear of the field an have an extra lap credited to their totals.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Imola, 2020
Vettel called for a better software solution for race restarts
“The reason why we are physically un-lapping ourselves is because we can’t work out a software which actually just resets us,” said Vettel. “So we have to do the extra lap, which sounds quite embarrassing, but I believe it’s the truth.

“So I guess going forward we would just probably put some effort into a software that the lapped cars are not forced to physically un-lap themselves but you can just reset the lap on the screen and put them in the place that they are. I think that would be the solution.”

There is a clear problem with the solution Vettel proffered, however. Any driver who gained a lap in this way would do so without putting an extra lap of wear on their tyres or using an extra lap of fuel from their limited allocation.

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This would make what is already a very advantageous situation for these drivers even more beneficial. Not only would they gain a significant amount of race time, as they already do, but in Vettel’s scenario they would also do so at no cost. Artificially altering the race situation in this way could also give rise to other unintended and undesirable consequences.

Unsurprisingly, then, it’s an idea which F1 has already previously rejected during discussions around its restart rules. This happened before Masi took over as F1 race director, as he explained on Sunday.

“That was looked at many years ago when the regulation was first put in,” he said. “And the discussion at the time, from what I’ve been advised, is that the teams were actually not in favour of that because you’re talking about different tyre degradation, different fuel loads, and what are the further consequences around that of just doing it as a software change versus what the sporting downside would be in an overall sense.”

The reason drivers are allowed to overtake the Safety Car and regain a lap is so that at restarts front-running drivers are not separated by lapped cars. Moving the backmarkers out of the way creates a greater opportunity for racing.

Formula 1 has not been wedded to the rule. It was originally introduced, then rescinded, and reintroduced in 2012. While F1 is unlikely to drop it again, Masi acknowledged the need to look closely at its safety implications again in light of the Imola near-misses.

Stroll passed three marshals on the track
An F1 marshal explains why Stroll’s Imola near-miss raises safety concerns
“We reviewed the following week the whole process around it,” he said. “We’ve made some procedural changes which were discussed with the team managers and the drivers at the respective meetings on Thursday and Friday night. All of which both groups were completely supportive of.

“So there’s been procedural elements that have changed regarding the suggestions of what can and can’t be done for future, 2021 and beyond. It’s a topic that’s on the Sporting Advisory Committee agenda, which is a group representing the FIA, F1 and all of the team managers.

“We’ll discuss it overall and see what the positives, negatives and unintended consequences are. Because I’ve found over the years that anything you do is a knee-jerk reaction in a regulatory sense will generally have an unintended consequences.”

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56 comments on “Why Vettel’s criticism of F1’s “embarrassing” restart rules was misplaced”

  1. But you have to unlap yourself as it’s also about fuel, Sebastian, right?

  2. ”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
    – I agree with Masi. I, for example, don’t like his unnecessarily excessive approach to policing track limits this year compared to last, but he’s spot on here. A sporting advantage in fuel and tyres indeed, so no point. There’s nothing wrong with unlapping in general. Communication or lack of it was the cause of what happened in Imola, nothing to do with unlapping, so merely an isolated case rather than a norm.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      18th November 2020, 8:53

      But why did we start this in the first place. What exactly is wrong with lapped cars simply moving out of the way of the leaders when the green flag is waved.

      Unlapping under the Safety Car artificially extends stabilised conditions because before we unlap the track in theory has to be clear. Under normal circumstances we’d get an extra lap, but then this becomes two or three to allow the lapped cars to catch up, who still have to lap the circuit within the time deltas remember.

      The average SC period is about three or four laps usually, this becomes bloated up to seven or eight with the unlapping procedure

    2. @jerejj but it is broke. Otherwise we wouldn’t be having these debates. Even without potential safety issues like at Imola, currently we waste an additional 2 or 3 laps possibly 10 minutes of real time waiting for the lapped cars to catch up.
      And then, either they don’t fully catch and complain, or catch up with warm tyres and the waiting drivers complain.
      Plus the longer we’re stuck under safety car conditions, the longer the commentators spout rubbish!
      Also the argument of 1 lap less tyre use is tenuous as they’re not (or shouldnt be) pushing full tilt to catch up, so ots not a true push lap worth of wear.

      1. @eurobrun Catching up the pack doesn’t take that long due to the speed difference between those behind the SC versus the ones catching up around the track at a more or less full push. I don’t have a problem with the additional lap or two after everyone has rejoined the lead lap. At Nurburgring, this process could’ve started earlier given the positioning of Norris’ car (which didn’t necessarily require a full SC, to begin with, though), but otherwise, okay to wait a bit before allowing lapped drivers to overtake the SC. The fuel advantage is more relevant than tyres, as essentially one lap worth of extra fuel would allow those drivers to use it more over the remaining laps compared to those who’ve physically driven one more lap around a given track. For the same reason, lapped drivers drive around once during a red flag-stoppage as well, to get on a level with the rest on fuel load.

  3. I think the rules are fine as is, the only problem I have with it is that they want the unlapping cars to fully close up the gap before they restart the race, that takes another 1 or 2 laps from the race for no good reason, but given it would give an advantage to the first (few) of the cars that weren’t lapped yet, but that would otherwise only be seconds ahead of the first of the lapped cars, I don’t think it’s fair to release the unlapped cars and then pull in the safety car before they closed up the gap to the cars in front.

    So keep it as is, what else are you going to do?

    1. To save time, how about they let the lapped cars shuffle to the front immediately behind the safety car right at the start of the safety car period? Then they can be released quickly half way around the SC in lap, they don’t need to be more than say 10 secs in front of the leader at the point the SC enters the pits.

  4. I don’t see what the problem is. Let the backmarkers pass the leaders on the lap where the restart is supposed to happen and let them go at a bit above VSC speed. There is no need for them to catch up to the back again. They already gained an advantage and they’re already out of the way.

    1. Exactly like that, kuvemar.
      – the lapped cars can unlap themselves behind the safety car (overtake the leader, but stay behind SC);
      – when the track is clear the SC can immediately release the ‘unlapped’ cars.
      – the leader pack will be released at the end of the same lap as per current rules (don’t waste time for the unlapped cars to catch up with warm tyres).

    2. petebaldwin (@)
      18th November 2020, 13:10

      What if a car in 10th is 3 seconds behind a car in 9th. 10th place gets lapped and immediately, a safety car is called which picks up the leader. 9th place joins the back of the pack but 10th place only gets released a lap before they go green and is now a full minute behind 9th place… That seems a huge disadvantage whilst 9th place is given the opportunity to join the back of the pack, can take a free pit-stop and remain in position and gains a minute on the driver behind him.

      1. What if a car in 2nd, just after a pit stop, is 3 seconds ahead a car in 1st. 2nd place is about to get lapped and just before that, a safety car is called which picks up the leader. 2nd place joins the back of the pack and all cars between 1st and 2nd get released a lap before they go green and is now a mere second behind 1st place… That seems a huge disadvantage whilst 2nd place is given the opportunity to join 1st, and had a free pit-stop and remain in position and thus gains a minute on the driver in front of him.

        “Life isn’t fair” said my aunt who would be my uncle if she had ‘some’.

        1. In your example first would pit long before 2nd caught up to the safety car

  5. …the teams were actually not in favour of that because you’re talking about different tyre degradation, different fuel loads, …

    Really the only valid reason why the lapped cars should have to unlap themselves by driving that extra lap before the restart after following the Safety Car is because of the difference in fuel load and tyre wear. On the other hand, if the lapped cars were asked to drop to the back of the field sort themselves out in correct order, then credit those cars with one lap, then the race could restart that lap. So on the downside those cars would have one lap more fuel on board and on the plus side one lap less tyre wear. But if it took a whole lap for them to catch the rest of the field then the rest of the field has one less lap of fuel and one lap more of tyre wear than if the lapped cars were to move to the back of the field. I don’t see what advantage an extra lap of fuel might be, but a lap less of tyre wear might be beneficial.
    Also, there’s the point that the cars unlapping themselves should be aware that if they see Double Yellow Flags then they need to slow down and prepare to stop.
    I think the idea of shifting the cars that have been lapped to the back of the field, credit them with having completed the lap, and then restarting the race looks simpler and safer. The question is would doing that give those lapped cars an advantage compared to the cars that weren’t lapped?

  6. Why not drop them to the back without adding a lap? Yes, it would kill any battle between a driver who has just been lapped and the one immediately in front of them who was about to be lapped. We already accept that the safety car has a huge impact on the race in terms of pit stop strategy etc., so this doesn’t seem any worse.

  7. I suppose they could go immediately back to the pits for a pitlane restart. Aren’t the garages arranged roughly fastest to slowest anyway

    1. @RocketTankski The standard garage order is based on the previous-season WCC standings.

  8. I think they should do what (I thnk) oval races do in America, they let the lapped drivers overtake the field under safety car conditions once safety on track is assured (ie no marshalls or cranes, OF COURSE!), and the safety car prepares to get in the pits… if the lapped drivers can’t catch the field, so be it. Don’t lose a lap then, you’re already given it back.

    It’s a waste of time when the Safety Car period is extended for no reason other than to let the drivers catch up the field. If they gain a lap and resume the race half a lap behind the field once the safety car pulls in, they’ve basically gained at least half a lap and they are in free air with tyres warmed up. It’s still an advantage for them, and also for the leaders since there are no lapped cars between them and there’s a lot more race left to go.

    1. Good points and I agree, this would be the best approach.

    2. @fer-no65 I actually thought that’s mostly how it works in F1 too. That they wait for the track to clear and only then allow the backmarkers to unlap themselves. Apart from that F1 does wait for them to catch back up.

      1. That’s how i thought it worked (that there was no obligation for the race director to wait until they caught the field), can anyone clarify? I never look at tracking data etc, if it is that we wait until they get back around, that’s a big advantage, you could easily go from being a minute and half behind someone to being on their gearbox. The oval system works just fine, the race starts earlier and those lapped get an advantage regardless.

        1. It was. But the last couple of years they stretched it until the pack was complete again. So the once backmarkers now have nicely warmed up tires AND a lap back.

          I still believe the old system was fair. Just maintain the racing order. The leader already had to pass those guys using up resources (tires) doing so. The one behind already has the gap nullified, should they really get a free pass as well? I rather have those 2-3 extra racing laps instead of having very long SC’s when the race is underway quite some time.

          1. (@Señor Sjon) I agree 100%! “Moving the back markers out of the way creates a greater opportunity for racing” was clearly to “improve the show”. But as you explain very well, it was at the expense of fairness. And since passing is even more difficult today, the rule is even more of a penalty for those in front now. At least DRS doesn’t advantage anybody; heck, even Bernie’s “circuit wetting on demand” would have been fair while creating “a greater opportunity for racing”!

  9. OK, so we will leave it as it is, DO NOTHING, then revisit it when some poor volunteer marshal is hit.

    1. @ancient1 Exactly. And for what. Some backmarkers have their fuel and tyre wear minimally adjusted.

      Fuel could easily be adjusted by increasing the amount that have to be left in the car after the race, and that little tyre wear means nothing in comparison to the advantage of getting them warmed up right before the restart, making it an advantage more than anything else.

  10. A safety car on the track always leads to someone profiting from it.
    The fact that those who lag lap behind will benefit from the lap less on the existing tires and those few grams of fuel for a maximum of 1 second in the race is the smallest problem of that story, they need every possible help anyway…
    And all the drivers would spend fewer laps behind the safety car and the fans would see more real racing…

  11. So Masi focusses mostly on Vettel suggesting a solution? What about the gross incompetence of unleashing a gaggle of F1 cars from behind the safety car when there are still marshals cleaning the track? That was the actual issue.

    How do you guys keep on falling for the deflecting and blame shifting that Masi keeps coming up with? Do your press credentials depend on toeing the line?

    “We will look into it” is all he can offer there? Where is the investigative journalism on what is the actual issue rather than going on and on about how dropping the cars back has some minor additional advantages for the cars that are allowed to unlap themselves that way.

    At least offer some perspective too. Apparently other races series do drop their backmarkers down the order in that way. So is it really a bigger issue to let a few slow cars have a lap fresher tyres and a lap more fuel? Rather than risking marshals lives? Or letting SC periods take say 3 to 5 laps longer instead?

  12. This is the issue with F1.

    Vettel made a good assesment how it should be,
    offered a poor explanation,
    Race director provided an accurate explanation,
    nothing will be done.

    And we are still stuck with a situation that hurts the show. Valuable racing laps are lost while backmarkers unlap themself.

    The whole business of safetycar restarts, cars unlapping, blue flags, needs to be looked at.

    The moment new rules kick in and overtaking is at-least a tiny bit better, blue flags should be removed. Maybe make a rule like Le Mans, backmarker needs to stay on the racing line, that’s it, overtake if you can.

    This will be a burden to the race leader, and promote #2 to catch up -> good for the show.

    Restart should be a rolling type, where cars roll down start straight at say 100 km/h, lights turn out and away they go.

    As it is, there is almost 0 chance of good racing in to turn one after restart. What could be incredibly exciting is watered down to formality for the race leader.

    As for lapped cars, let the software clear their status, they move to the back of the pack and have lap(s) added to them. 1 lap of running won’t change that much their tires as it will ruin our fun watching the tedious procession.

    1. @jureo the sport should not be rushing through critical safety systems and compromising on the safety of marshals because it thinks that “the show” is more important than those marshals are.

      The thought process behind the safety car operations should be about prioritising the welfare of those involved first, with “the show” coming very much as a secondary objective – it should not be used as a tool to “spice things up”.

  13. So weird, they don’t care about the integrity of the race being ruined by safety cars and all the shennanigans that happens with the pit stop advantage, but an extra lap of fuel or tyres (for cars that are already behind anyway) is just too much!

    F1 will never cease to amaze me.

    1. It is an illogical argument.

    2. Yeah, I don’t get this “tyre and fuel advantage” reasoning – these cars are a lap behind because they are generally WAY off the pace of the top 5/10. An extra lap, especially at safety car speeds, isn’t going to suddenly allow a backmarker to charge through the field and snatch a podium when the safety car comes in…

      1. That makes this part so strange.

        This would make what is already a very advantageous situation for these drivers even more beneficial.

    3. Exactly ! Also note that in some races there have been complaints that under the current system the lapped cars were at an advantage because they were doing the restart with warm tyres. Sorry to say that, but once more Michael Masi sounds a bit like a spin doctor.

  14. The benefit of one lap fresher tires or one lap more fuel is totally nonconsequental imho. We are talking about just a handfdul of slow cars which are practically out of the race anyways at that point. Being lap down and all that. Calling it artificial is also a bit rich when the whole race has been artificially suspended with safety car. Or a virtual safety car. I’d say eyes on the ball here. What is the problem? Problem is safety and time. Not sanctity of the perceived cleanliness of the sport.

    I think simply dropping the lapped cars to the back of the grid is a total no-brainer. Whatever advantage they get from having one lap fresher tires and one lap more fuel are totally unconsequental in 99.9% cases. What matters more that it is safer for everybody and it is quicker as we don’t need to wait for them to go.

    The fact is we had almost a marshall get killed. It is too big of a risk. We have had several close calls. Doing it like vettel suggest in reality has no downsides to it.

  15. To throw a spanner in the works and slightly off topic when the safety car comes out or the virtual safety car. If the race is suspended in that no car can overtake another. Why is the pit lane also not closed during these times. Is that not an unfair advantage due to position on the track. Surely the pit should be closed. If a car has to pit for safety reasons duri g the time then they should only be allowed back onto the track after the train has passed the start finish straight.

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      18th November 2020, 13:14

      Trouble is, if you close the pits, it’s an unfair advantage to those who have already pitted. Either way, you are handing a massive advantage to someone.

      The only solution I could think of is perhaps if you pit during a safetycar, you have to stay stationary for x amount of time to remove any advantage you’d gain? Not sure how that would work in practice….

      1. @petebaldwin Yes as it stands closing the pit Lane during safety car would create a much bigger benefit to some drivers than the current regs give to drivers who pit during safety car. Currently if a driver pits during safety car they gain something like 10-15 seconds over a normal pit stop (at the expense of possibly pitting at a slightly different lap than they otherwise would). If the pit Lane is closed and you are due a pit stop, right after your direct opposition have pitted, then they cruise up to you and you lose an entire pit stop in time to them. Not only that, when you do pit after the safety car is released, you go right to the back of the grid. Extreme example of this is Singapore 2008 of course.

  16. I don’t see how either an extra lap of fuel or ‘one less lap of tyre wear’ are advantages in a safety car scenario. We know that the teams almost always underfuel the car, then do some fuel saving through the race – because this is the fastest way to complete the race. If there is a safety car, the drivers will be saving even more fuel, and therefore may find themselves carrying more fuel than they actually want at that stage of the race. Not by much I’m sure, but it could be enough to offset any ‘advantage’ the lapped cars get by gaining a free lap.

    And when cars are released to unlap themselves, they drive faster than the safety car but nowhere near racing speeds – they are still under yellow flag conditions and have to drive to a delta. So I think tyre wear in those conditions will be minimal and being able to drive at higher speeds and therefore get the tyres and brakes up to temperature better than those stuck behind the safety car is actually an advantage for the drivers doing that extra, faster lap.

    So to me it looks like drivers doing that extra lap to catch up under safety car are actually at an advantage compared to those who have to sit behind it at low speed (assuming they actually catch the back of the pack before the safety car comes in, which is not always the case), and instead getting them to drop to the back and crediting them the extra lap for free would be fairer for all in a sporting sense, as well as avoiding potential safety issues like we saw at Emilia-Romagna.

  17. Masi does not like any criticism. He should respect drivers assessments and agree to always review in the interests of safety.

    1. Sports organizations is the last vestige of the old-boys club from the past where there is only one side. Look at IOC and even F1’s own Mosley for extreme examples, but it’s really everywhere.

  18. petebaldwin (@)
    18th November 2020, 13:21

    How about 1 lap behind the safetycar to assess the conditions and then let the cars unlap themselves immediately with strict delta times in the affected sector? 90% of the track is still clear so they can make up time to catch back up there and then slow down to safetycar speeds through the area where there has been an incident?

    If any car exceeds the delta time through the portion of the track where there’s been an incident, it’s an immediate 5 race ban – you’d not have to worry about drivers breaking the rules then because they’d be extremely careful. Perhaps they could even use temporary barriers to place on track (like what they use at turn 1 at Monza if you go straight on) to force the cars to slow right down.

    1. @petebalwin Allowing lapped cars to immediately run 90% of the track to get back up to the field is the perfect solution so long as they ‘tip-toe’ the affected sector, like you say, they could do it after one lap. It’s a solution to what should be a simple problem. But the issue lately seems to be that there is poor communication between race control and marshal posts.

      Going over the crest into Acqua Minerale when sat that low is completely blind and the marshals were on the racing line, drivers were aware of them very late in the day, none of them broke any deltarule , but if they’d been looking at the dash or changing a setting, it could have been different.

      They would have all taken the line where the marshal’s were, they didn’t because they spotted them in time.

      I think it’s a simple argument of not releasing cars when there are people on the track.

  19. Two potentially incredibly dangerous incidents in two race weekends and Masi says that everything is fine? We’ve seen marshals struck and killed by cars in the past & no one needs to be reminded of the incident in Japan 2014.

    Also the point about the tyres and fuel is moot, the lapped cars already have to do one less lap as it is, so any “advantage” is built in by virtue of them being so slow. Just drop them to the back and be done with it, they are out of the race anyway.

    1. @hollidog that’s an obvious point surely? If you run the race a lap down you save one laps fuel as you never get the opportunity to complete the full race distance anyway? Masi and the teams point is moot at best.

      1. @bernasaurus agreed mate, it’s an absurd justification for endangering the lives of volunteers. I’m certainly no H&S nut but even I can see that this is way out of line, and not for the first time. Was it Monaco last year where Perez nearly collected one on his way out of the pit lane?

  20. How about scrapping the entire business of un-lapping, and have the field start in the positions they are? That’s how it used to be for decades, anyway. And if it means that the front-runners might not have clear piece of track ahead of them…so what?!

    1. That would be way too logical and fair for F1.

      It’s about the show now, so they must be out of the way for more entertaining fight at the front. That it gives an even more unfair advantage to the people behind doesn’t matter.

  21. Jelle van der Meer (@)
    18th November 2020, 18:08

    Vettel’s idea is much better than current practice – his suggestion just needs 1 small change and that lapped cars do not unlap themselves they just have to move to the back so they are not in between cars on the lead lap.
    Why would a lapped car need to unlap itself – it is not like the car was fighting for points or podiums and without the safety car would have finished a lap down anyway.

    It is much saver having lapped cars move backwards rather than forwards and would allow a quicker restart of the race. It is also far easier to organize by for example instructing all lapped cars to go through the pits while cars on the lead lap do not – if needed with a red light at the end of the pits that goes green once the last car on the lead lap has passed.

  22. I have two suggestions to mitigate the gains of the extra lap of fuel an tyre life: 1) you could just give all the now-unlapped cars a five second penalty, or 2) you just make them all drive through the pits when the race restarts. They get their lap back, but they’re not right on the back of the field. If there’s another safety car, they get lucky, otherwise, they have to race back to the back of the pack, but under green.

    1. All cars that were unlapped artificially could be banned from discharging MGU-k for a lap or two to neutralize their advantage

  23. Why not send the lapped cars through the pits on the restart and update the tech to put them on the same lap, they gain a little fuel and tyre advantage but also get the time penalty of the pit stop.

  24. Certain people have suggested “reverse grids” for the start,”to make more exciting racing” and here the opinion is it ruins the racing if the faster cars aren’t at the front?. I thought the real issue here was allowing cars to proceed at speed when there were marshalls on the course! Keep the safety car out an extra lap if that is what it takes to get personnel off the track and out of danger.

  25. But when a car unlaps itself under a safety car they put heat into their tires giving them an advantage over the back non-lapped cars that have to limp along at safety car pace.
    I think the extra fuel / fresher tires from completing one less lap should make little difference. Drivers don’t need to lift to save fuel anymore so additional fuel is more likely to be a disadvantage than an advantage. Any advantage could be eliminated by requiring cars that were artificially unlapped to discharge mgu-k prior to restart. Advantage neutralized. 3-4 laps of waiting eliminated.
    Also, If the safety car is out and cars are unlapping themselves there should not be allowed to be people on the track or recovery vehicles because these cars are going flat out.

    1. Or not allow artificially unlapped drivers from discharging MGU-k for a lap or two.

  26. F1 could use the red flag more often instead of lapping cars behind the safety car for 10 laps while people and equipment are in track.

    Grosjean and Russell putting their cars into the wall under the safety car does remind us that dangerous accidents can happen under safety cars.

  27. Vettel is right, it is embarrassing they’ve not come up with something better.

    Personally, I’d just put the lapped cars to the back of the line and put them on the same lap in software, which isn’t difficult. I’d also mandate that those cars must have an additional agreed weight in fuel left at the end of the race, to eliminate any advantage of fuel saving. The tyre argument should actually be in favour of this option too, because currently they get to warm their tyres in a way the rest of the grid can’t, and that is much more of an advantage compared to the small amount of more tyre wear.

    It’s frustrating how many laps are lost when the safety car comes out and this would definitely help get back underway quicker.

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