How Formula 1 would have handled a restart with no cars on the grid

2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by and

The Hungarian Grand Prix produced one of the most bizarre sights of the season when just a single car appeared on the grid for a standing restart.

Not since the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix, where only six drivers started the race, have so few cars appeared on a grid.

Lewis Hamilton was the only driver to take the restart from the grid as his 14 rivals headed to the pits instead to change tyres.

“It’s crazy to think we were the only ones on the grid” said Hamilton after the race. But as FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi explained an even stranger situation was possible: The start could have been given with no cars on the grid.

Had Hamilton peeled off into the pits along with his rivals, two things would have happened. First, he probably would have cruised to victory instead of scrapping his way to third place.

Second, the signal to restart the race restart would have commenced once the field arrived in the pits, as Masi explained.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2021
Hamilton headed to turn one on his own
“It would have been the [usual] start procedure, so Christian [Bryll] would have activated the start lights once the last car was in pit lane. The start lights would have been activated, five red lights, red lights go out, once the red lights have gone out, the pit exit would be open.”

The arrival of the last car in the pits would have triggered the starting procedure. “Effectively the race, from our side, the resumption hasn’t recommenced until that point, and that’s the point for everything to be judged upon.”

Masi, who worked on a range of other series before taking over as F1 race director in 2019, admitted he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing as only one car arrived to take the start.

“I saw Lewis passed the Safety Car line and then saw Esteban [Ocon] sort of dive in quite late… I haven’t had one of those before.”

“One [car] for a restart, yes, it was a bit different,” he added.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2021 F1 season

Browse all 2021 F1 season articles

Author information

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...
Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

55 comments on “How Formula 1 would have handled a restart with no cars on the grid”

  1. What if Lewis had stalled at the restart? Purely by accident of course, not a cunning plan to get a free change onto the right tyres…
    With nobody behind to pile into him, would they have just released the others from the pits?

    1. If I read what Masi said then yes. Yellow flags at his car and pushing him off before the field completed their out lap from the pit

    2. I guess the green pitlane light 🚦 will be at the same time the start light goes dark.

      1. The pit lane light doesn’t go green when the lights go out (at some tracks you’d be better off starting in the pit lane in that scenario, with Monaco you’d just skip Sanit Devote and probably come out in the midfield). It doesn’t go green until the whole field (in this case one car) has passed the pit lane exit.

    3. Probably a delay if Lewis had managed to get going in a reasonable time, or if he had not, then the pit lane would have been given the green light when the instruction was given to remove Lewis’ car from the grid.

    4. Pit lane opens after all cars on the grid go bay. If Lewis stalled, race would be suspended and new standing start would take place with LH starting from last place.

  2. What is Lewis would have lined up on the wrong grid slot? Would he do another lap while everyone is in the pits and effectively go one lap up?

    1. Ha! That is quite some thinking! I guess everyone would just have to look at each other and shrug. More likely they’d just release Hamilton and then penalise him later in the race. Interesting scenario though.

    2. I guess with half of the field going into the pits, many of the others would have more difficulties with finding their own grid slot.
      But this is so unique, requires a sudden change in precipitation or drying, and a mass incident at the first lap and misjudgement of the tarck’s wetness during the red flag period by most too. Although a good set of rules could cover it to some extent, and now there is a precedent.

      I would drop the “drive alone and unaided by the team” rule for the formation lap too. It seems quite pointless at this high and complex tech level, and often generates debates. Some hints on the formation lap cannot do miracles, or give unfair advantages, and iirc coaching like radio messages are currently allowed during the race. Imo those are worse than a bit more communication at the formation lap.

      1. JohnnyRye (@)
        2nd August 2021, 16:28

        I read somewhere that the formation lap rules about the radio don’t apply on a restart after a red flag. For example, the team needs to tell the driver whether it’s a standout rolling restart, this decision is never announced to the teams until all cars have left the pits for some reason.

        1. Yes, I have read this yesterday in the comment section as well.
          At my previous comment I intended the emphasis to be on:
          1) The curious situation depicted by my first sentence.
          2) And the “alone and unaided” rule’s inconsistency, or strangeness in the case of all formation-like laps versus the allowed coaching, considering that the cars and their settings are very complex, and
          standing starts are always a bit coinflip-like, no matter how much magic the teams help with.

          Meanwhile managing the standard situations during the race, so lines, and pushing or saving a bit more is very much part of a racing diver’s skill set, and a good driver likely percives it very well. Meanwhile if it is computer generated, and handed over to the driver that leads more stationary warfare and less action likely. I have no problem with computer generating strategies and lines pre-race, but at the race I do not want to feel it’s taste. I think this is why I do not like “live coaching” during the races. Although it would be hard to get rid of currently, therefore I would allow more at the formation-like laps.

    3. Start as if it was the correct spot, with a 5-second penalty awarded in the fullness of time.

  3. Duncan James Steward
    2nd August 2021, 10:34

    What if Lewis had not started — just switched off the car and sat there? No other car could have ever left the pit lane, so after the min time for a race, he would have won >

    1. I ask this same question in a post under the article about Hamilton’s/Mercs decision not to pit.

      We can imagine a situation where a driver might want to stop the race. What if this had happened with 10 laps left? Hamilton couldn’t have been happier than first place. Bottas was out so Merc doesn’t care. Could he have just sat there until the two hour time limit expired?

      If not, what rule stops it? The field isn’t released until the cars on track pass out exit.

      1. someone or something
        2nd August 2021, 20:17


        The field isn’t released until the cars on track pass out exit.

        In theory, yes. But according to Article 39 (“Extra formation lap”), the Race Director has the power to abort the start and declare an extra formation lap. In this case, “the car which developed the problem is moved into the pit lane”, and “the Competitor may then attempt to rectify the problem and, if successful, the car may then start from the end of the pit lane.”
        Alternatively, Article 40 (“Delayed start”), point c) states:
        “If, after the start, a car is immobilised on the starting grid, it shall be the duty of the marshals to push it into the pit lane by the fastest route. Any driver being pushed from the grid may not attempt to start the car.”

        Therefore, in practice, Hamilton would’ve been deemed to have stalled on the grid after a few seconds, and the start procedure would’ve been repeated with him forced to start from the pit lane. Failure to do so would’ve probably resulted in his disqualification, although you could argue this case would’ve been comparable to Räikkönen’s missed pit lane start at Imola, so 10 seconds stop-and-go would be in order.

        Whatever the case, the rules are flexible enough to deal with this kind of situation without leaving a loophole. Hamilton would’nt have had anything to gain by delaying the start, he would’ve only made matters worse for himself.

    2. Iguess he would have missed his mandatory pitstop?

      1. He didn’t need one because it was already a wet race.

        I’m pretty sure they would have just invoked some sort of unsportsmanlike conduct rule and DSQd him.

    3. They could have just disqualified him, for not maintaining a reasonable minimum speed.

    4. The other cars would have been able to start as soon as the instruction was given to remove Lewis’ car.

  4. What if Mazepin, say, had not gone into the pits – would he have lined up in P2 or P20?

    1. This I can answer :)

      Mazepin lines up P20. Same as USGP 2005. Everyone lines up where they are supposed to.

      1. That was a Start, not a restart, so perhaps different rules apply?

      2. No! Mazepin would’ve lined up next to Lewis at “P2”. It was a restart, not a race start based on qualifying positions. A restart happens effectively DURING a race, so wherever you are on the track, it’s where you are on the track.

        1. Aah ok. You are right.

          1. someone or something
            2nd August 2021, 20:25

            Not sure about that. There’s absolutely nothing in the rules for the standing restart to suggest that different rules might apply.

        2. nice catch

  5. erm – just being pedantic here, but 6 is more than 1 so… “Never have so few cars appeared on a grid.”

    1. Just being more pedantic here:
      “Not since the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix”

      Key words – NOT SINCE

      1. Not before either. Adam is right.

  6. This was crazy. I was non stop laughing when I saw Hamilton alone on the grid. He’s gone through crazy stuff in F1: hitting cars in the pitlane in Canada 2008, winning the championship in the last corner of the season, winning a race on 3 tyres, and now being the only driver ever in F1 to start a race on the grid by himself…

    He should have pitted to make this an iconic screenshot. The only race where a standing start had no cars on the grid.

    1. @krichelle Yes, an empty grid would’ve given an ironic screenshot, although a single-car presence also did that.

    2. This was crazy. I was non stop laughing when I saw Hamilton alone on the grid. He’s gone through crazy stuff in F1: hitting cars in the pitlane in Canada 2008, winning the championship in the last corner of the season, winning a race on 3 tyres, and now being the only driver ever in F1 to start a race on the grid by himself…

      Same here. Ahahahahaaaaa

  7. An interesting factor in all this: If Mercedes had pitted they would have struggled to maintain the lead anyway. They are the first box in the pits so within that 2 second pit stop Ocon would have come past Hamilton which would have prevented Mercedes from releasing Hamilton as the whole field would be coming past. In that time other cars would have been able to come in and out of their stops. Admittedly he wouldn’t be last (like the real result) but he would be further down the field.

    1. Thank you bringing this up. I was thinking about too.

    2. Why would Ocon or anybody else overtook Hamilton because he has the first box? The drivers drive at the same speed in the pit lane and all of them drive the same distance, then they stop for about the same time. I didn’t see the Haas drivers overtaking everybody just because everybody else is in front of them. That was just a ridiculous excuse by Toto to justify Mercedes and Hamilton’s mistake.

      1. That was just a ridiculous excuse


        The drivers drive at the same speed in the pit lane and all of them drive the same distance, then they stop for about the same time.

        This shows you haven’t really thought through the scenario, have you? Think about it again a little harder.

      2. car stationary in pit is no car moving in pit. car moving overtake car standing.

        1. After the other car was standing for a similiar period of time, which more or less cancels the time the second car loses.

    3. Actually something similar happened to Russell: He couldn’t return to his place in the order because of traffic (he had to wait for the team to service Latifi), then wrongly overtook everybody by the slow lane. After the restart he was allowed to return to his previous place without a penalty. To his previous place, not to last place as Toto argues.

      1. Difference with Russell is that there the train wasn’t moving so it wasn’t an unsafe release – he just had to hand back the cars he’d overtaken (effectively under yellow flags) which had been parked at the red light. If Hamilton had been released alongside the train it would’ve been an unsafe release and then he’d be driving the length of the pitlane in the slow lane, past all the pit crews… And he wouldn’t have been able to overtake anyone without speeding.

    4. @burden93

      I think the position of the pit box is critical. Merc had the first box, do Hamilton would have been waiting for the entire field to pass.

      He then would have fallen in after the last car. However, if the next box (RB?) was also waiting on the queue he would have passed him.

      However, some cars were double stacked, and some stops take longer. It is nearly inevitable somebody would have made it out in front of him.

      By contrast, see Russell’s problem, he was traped in the box at the other end of pit lane.

      I think the best position would be somewhere near the middle, maybe before the start/finish line in case you need to box on the last lap.

    5. So, let’s see. Only considering the driver of each team pitting first, same case as Hamilton as he was the only Mercedes driver on track:

      – Ocon had the 5th pit box, ¿did he lose to Sainz (6th pit box), Tsunoda (7th pit box), etc. or others behind him? No.
      – Vettel had the 4th pit box, ¿did he lose to Sainz (6th pit box), Tsunoda (7th pit box), etc. or others behind him? No.
      – Raikkonen had the 8th pit box, ¿did he lose to Schumacher (9th pit box) or others behind him? No.
      – Verstappen had the 2nd pit box, ¿did he lose position to anybody? No.

      Only Sainz and Tsunoda lost position in a higher pit box, both to Latifi, and Sainz to Tsunoda too. Ricciardo even overtook Schumacher, pitting six boxes in front of him. But somehow we have to believe that something totally different and catatrosphic would have happened to Hamilton. C’mon people, exercise some critical thinking… or some plain thinking at least. Even if he had lost two or three positions -nobody pitting in front of his teammate lost more than two- he would have been better that in last position.

      1. Crucial difference for Verstappen is that he wasn’t leading.

        If you’re leading with everyone coming in behind you and you stop in the first box, you can do your 2s pitstop (maybe 4 cars will go past while you do this) but then there will be no gaps in the train to release you until the rest of the field goes past as well. So you’re sat there for an extra 10s maybe while you wait for everyone to pass.

        But further down the pitlane, gaps start to appear. For example, if making a pitstop costs you 4 places in the pitlane train but the person 4 places behind you has an earlier box than you, when they pull into their box they will leave a gap in the train which you can be released into without having to wait at all. If someone 6 places behind you has an earlier pit box then you just have to wait an extra second or so for that gap to arrive. But if you have the first box there will be no gaps until the last car has gone past.

        So as the leader pulling in to the first box, you could lose position to someone who came into the pits 9s behind you but was able to be released immediately, while you sat there for 10s extra waiting for the train to pass. You wouldn’t end up right at the back (you’ll pass at least the last few cars in the train as they pull in to their boxes ahead of you after you re-join behind them) but it’s almost certain you’ll lose a lot of positions.

        It’s obvious with hindsight that it would have been better to do that than pit the next lap and drop right to the back. But if the cars had been released from the pitlane a bit later, or if the track had been a bit wetter, then Merc’s prediction that the first-lap pitstop would only drop HAM to P6 might have been accurate.

  8. @burden93 I’m having flashbacks to F1 2010. God that bug was ridiculous.

  9. ”First, he probably would have cruised to victory instead of scrapping his way to third place.”
    – Not immediately, though, as he wouldn’t have rejoined in P1, but P6 based on Mercedes’ estimation.

    1. In a car that was 3 seconds a lap quicker than the rest of the field

      1. 3 seconds a lap? I must have watched a different qualifying session.

        1. No, we all watched the same qualifying, but by Sunday we were watching the race while apparently you were still watching qualifying.

  10. Restarts the race on his own and then pulls into parc ferme to find he is the only one there. Then turns up to the presser to find Ocon is the only one there.

  11. well, this might put a pause on Masi preference for restart this way.
    Sometimes a lauched start could be safer.

  12. Hey, gotta give it to him… HAM = HISTORY. I mean look, he’s alone on the track… and still fighting for the win! Don’t know why, but can’t help laughing when looking at that photo.

  13. “The arrival of the last car in the pits would have triggered the starting procedure. ”

    Wouldn’t that be incredibly dangerous? What exactly is ‘arrival in the pits’? Crossing the line to the entry of the pits or parking in their specific box?
    You have drivers ready and others still coming in? I guess there would be many unsafe releases…

    1. The starting procedure as in “the lights start going out”. The pit exit would have been turned on the same amount of time afterwards as if the starting procedure had been on the grid. The 10-15 seconds would suffice for most people to find the end of the queue, and there is discretion to press the button after that if circumstances require it (though aborting the start would also be an option if simply delaying a few seconds wouldn’t help).

  14. As he lined up on the grid for the restart I thought “Lewis is in SOLE position.”

Comments are closed.