Safety Car, Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi, 2021

F1 tweaks Safety Car un-lapping procedure following Abu Dhabi controversy

2022 F1 season

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Formula 1 has made a minor revision to its Safety Car rules for the 2022 season following the controversial restart which marred last year’s season finale.

The alteration addresses how races are restarted when lapped cars have been waved past the Safety Car, which was a focus of the disputed conclusion to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Previously, when drivers were being allowed to rejoin the lead lap at the end of a Safety Car period, the rules stated the Safety Car would return to the pits “once the last lapped car has passed the leader”.

In the amended rules for 2022, the Safety Car can now return to the pits “once the message ‘lapped cars may now overtake’ has been sent to all competitors using the official messaging system”, according to updated regulations published today.

The change should allow Safety Car periods to conclude more swiftly after drivers have rejoined the lead lap.

This was central to the disputed end to last year’s season finale, as former FIA F1 race director Michael Masi made the unprecedented decision to only allow a portion of the lapped cars to rejoin the lead lap.

Further revisions to the Safety Car and un-lapping regulations are expected before the season begins. FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said yesterday: “Unlapping procedures behind safety car will be reassessed by the F1 Sporting Advisory Committee and presented to the next F1 Commission prior to the start of the season.”

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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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52 comments on “F1 tweaks Safety Car un-lapping procedure following Abu Dhabi controversy”

  1. This sounds a dangerous and short sighted change.

    Cars will be unlapping themselves as others are heating their tyres preparing for a race restart.

    1. Or actually restarting. Unless I missed something; SC in third sector signals lapped cars may pass, then dives straight in the pits as the drivers get the message. 5s later the lead car takes off whist half of those behind are still in the process of swopping positions.

      1. I doubt this will happen. The rule has been changed to say that the SC “can now”, not must now, return to the pits.

        In other words, we no longer have to wait until the following lap. If lapped cars are allowed to overtake at the start of the lap, the safety car can still come in at the end of that lap. Whilst the scenario you suggested is technically possible, the race director still has the authority to keep the SC out longer where necessary.

        1. Exactly. This almost aligns with what Masi did in the last race last year. Logic has prevailed to ensure we get to watch a race as often as possible.

      2. Same thought. Also it would be unfair to some lapped cars who might not make it through to the front and catch up to the other lapped cars before the lead cars get going.

        Also what is the point of letting them unlap if they only get one sector down the road before the lead cars restart? They will be seeing blue flags again almost immediately.

        1. @dmw and Ian Dearing.

          Having actually looked through the rules, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as we first thought. The full article now reads:

          Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary, once the message “LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE” has been sent to all Competitors using the official messaging system, the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.

          Importantly, the “following lap” clause is still in there, so I don’t think it’s going to be a case like in AD where the cars are unlapped and the SC comes in immediately (assuming procedure is followed properly), so the unlapping cars should still have a lap to gey past the queue and build a bit of a gap.

    2. It seems the lead cars would be made aware the message has been sent so the drivers would be more cautious, but I agree there is a chance for a big mess.

    3. The Race director still can wait. It doesn’t mean he has to widthraw the safety car immediately.

  2. The question is, how long before the restart must the message be sent to all cars to unlap? What I didn’t read was “some” cars will get the message and others won’t. It sounds like the message will be sent to all lapped cars.

    Look forward to the clarification before the season.

    1. Maybe the cars lapped twice must unlap with immediate effect, then the once lapped cars. No overtaking while unlapping, with a set speed of whatever can be decided upon. Lapped cars while unlapping must be extra careful where work on the track is in progress. this should take care of the lapped cars. The race director can call the safety car in the moment it is safe to do so, at the soonest opportunity. NO race should be concluded under a safety car. The race can be ended rather than end behind a safety car.
      Where a race can not be started due to rain, cars can be released at 15 or 20 second intervals to try and disperse some of the water on track. This will give a good indication of what conditions will be like on track.

      1. “NO race should be concluded under a safety car. The race can be ended rather than end behind a safety car.”

        That literally makes no sense. If there’s a safety issue the safety car comes out to deal with it. If it is then decided or becomes apparent that it can’t be resolved before the end of the race then what? It’ll have to end under the safety car either immediately or after the remaining laps, either way that’s under a safety car!

  3. Vettel has had the solution for a while now. Lapped cars should just drop to the back and remain a lap back from the leaders. I really don’t understand why they have to be brought back artificially and just letting them drop back in order can be done in 2 turns safely

    1. That gives a huge disadvantage to the first car that has been lapped. Let’s say that’s the car in P8, who quite likely only has P1 between themselves and P7. If they are forced to drop to the back then they will find themselves a whole lap behind P7.

      The current system does give an advantage to the driver in P8 in this scenario, but it’s a smaller advantage, and one that encourages a competitive end to the race (between P7 & P8).

      1. @thelem

        True, but I think that it is a small price to pay. Wasting laps behind the safety car is worse.

    2. No. That is not a real restart then.

    3. 100% agree. This is what they do in other series and should be an option available to the race director. Faster to implement too.

      Why do lapped cars deserve to get their lap back? It should be a privilege, not a right. If the race situation doesn’t allow for it then tough, go battle for P13 at the back of the grid and perform better next race…

      1. I’m sure you’d find that fair when a driver you are supporting is involved in an incident which wasn’t his fault, ends up a lap down just behind P5, fights his was back, is just about to overtake P1 to get back on the lead lap, and is suddenly sent all the way to the back because of a safety car…

        1. @drmouse

          This is a very marginal scenario. I do not think that it has ever happened.

    4. @Cvl37 Fuel thing.

    5. Absolutely, or just have them take the pitlane. Giving someone a random 90 second bonus just because they were slow earlier in the race serves no purpose.

      The safety car is bad enough as it is, as it annulls fairly gained leads. If at all possible, the VSC should be the default choice.

  4. Sebastian Vettel and Martin Brundle have already given the ideal solution for the whole safety car and unlapping cars thing.

    But, I suppose, what would they know…. 🤷🏻‍♂️

    1. Care to share what it was?

      1. That the lapped traffic drop to the back of the field.

        1. @thespuditron Those drivers would have a fuel advantage via having circled a track one time less than the leader & those on the lead lap.

          1. @jerejj This is true, but they will have fallen behind on the road and will still need to make up the gap.

  5. I don’t know about this. This looks dangerous. Imagine a lapped car overtaking multiple cars and then at the same time while that is happening, the safety car comes into the pits. For instance, what if this was in Abu Dhabi 2021 at the famous incident?

  6. Can’t understand from a racing perspective why they can’t be left where they are. If the guy in front has passed 5 blue flagged cars under racing conditions, why should the guy behind be given a free pass under yellow. Wait for the green, and then they can attempt to pass the same 5 cars under the same conditions.

    1. I completely agree with you, Ian, however F1 seems to have a blue flag complex.

      Like you said the driver in front has passed 5 blue flagged cars under racing conditions, during a SC period they are all bunched up anyway so the driver behind already has an advantage in that all those cars will be given a blue flag at the same time. In most cases this is on or near the pit straight which makes the swap easier.

    2. Have to agree with this. It would have solved the problem in Abu Dhabi and is less artificial and quicker. They also need to have clear rules in place in case there is a SC in the last few laps and the ‘need’ to finish the race under green. Not to mention free choice of tyres if the race is red flagged. Whole lot of issues raised during last year that need addressing.

      1. @morrisoff Tyre changing during a red stoppage isn’t an issue, though.
        No more than getting a free pit stop under SC & VSC neutralization, so nothing is needed on this front.

    3. This. Plus, the leader ist already punished enough by beeing “robbed” if his gap.
      Absolutely no need to get the traffic out of the way too. But I’d guess the show…

  7. So dangerous.

  8. OK this isn’t as bad as I first thought. My original worry on reading the article is that they were using this change to try and make a repeat of the Abu Dhabi situation, and thus inadvertently persuade people the original Abu Dhabi incident, was legitimate. They have not gone to that extreme. The full article now reads:

    Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary,
    once the message “LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE” has been sent to all Competitors using the official messaging system, the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.

    Crucially, the “end of the following lap part of the directive is still there, which I don’t think this article picks up on. In most situations, this will make very little difference to most situations. The only scenarios where it may be any different to the previous rule set would be when the instruction to overtake is sent out near the end of the lap, where previously the leader may have started another lap before the final car overtook them, which would see the SC out for one more lap (if you can follow me).

    I am cautiously encouraged by this, and I hope further changes made are sensible and well thought through.

    1. In fact, this move might actually make this situation less open to manipulation by teams/drivers. Important: the following is an entirely hypothetical scenario. I am not trying to accuse anyone, driver or team, of any wrongdoing in real life:

      A late race Safety Car is called. The driver out front has his gap reduced, and we know (for the purposes of the scenario) that the driver behind, on fresher tires, will definitely overtake them for the win if the race restarts. The leaders team mate is lapped, however, when the instruction to unlap is sent out on the third to last lap, the teammate deliberately holds off unlapping until the leaders are on the second to last lap. Under the old rules, the race should then have run to the end under SC, and the original driver wins. Under these new rules, the race would restart for one lap and there would be a race to the end (not saying this is necessarily a good thing, but under the original scenario you could argue the leading tea had manipulated the result).

      This is only one scenario/example though. There are probably others situations where the outcome could be different, and the old rules could fit that scenario better. It’s just an interesting scenario that crossed my mind.

    2. Lewisham Milton
      19th February 2022, 12:57

      Trouble with the “end of the following lap” bit is we’ll still have an extra lap with a line of cars trundling around a clear track, just for the benefit of some stragglers, and viewers thinking (or shouting) “get on with it,” throwing things at the telly or turning it off. On the longer street tracks that always takes forever.

  9. To me it just seems they’re trying way too hard to “clarify” things without saying directly “oops we stuffed up” in AD.

    I guess they have to in order to prevent a legal challenge to the results of that race.

  10. Maybe the rule should be to not allow the lapped cars to un-lap themselves. Then add that blue flags cannot be displayed until the lead car passes start-finish after completing one lap of green flag racing. Simple and clean.

  11. Again, stupid ambiguity in the wording. section 55.13 “ANY cars that have been lapped by the leader”. It should say ALL or EVERY. Otherwise it leaves it open for massive interpretation and fraudulent use. Also, the message “LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE” should be written “ALL LAPPED CARS MUST NOW OVERTAKE”. Otherwise, again its open to interpretation and fraud. And Red Flag rules should absolutely prohibit changing the tires currently fitted when the race was stopped.

    1. RandomMallard
      19th February 2022, 8:16

      There is one exception that would have to be made for banning tyre changes under red flag, and that’s for wet weather.

      1. No exceptions unless agreed by all teams (e.g. race was red flagged while it was dry and by the time it’s ready to restart it’s full-wet weather). By making the exception you propose you give an advantage to those who stayed out as the track got damp instead of coming in for inters/wets.

        Instead, you permit all tyre changes, but after a red flag tyre change the driver must come into the pits at the first opportunity and have those tyres removed. The team can choose whether to immediately re-fit the same tyres, or to switch to a different set. This neutralises the advantage that the team gained from the red flag tyre change.

  12. If we MUST unlap, can we not just:
    1) give the message “cars on lead lap to follow SC through the pit lane”
    2) unlapped cars head down pit straight, unlapping themselves and head off to catch up on their lap.
    3) we all now know that there is one lap until race restart.
    4) From start of S3 the lead car controls the pack.
    5) lapped cars have at least partially caught up.
    6) get going again!

    1. Sergey Martyn
      19th February 2022, 6:24

      This is a most beautiful and sane solution! Please send this initiative to FIA.

    2. This is exactly what I have been thinking for years. I know a commentator or pundit suggested it ages ago and it is the perfect solution. So much so that it feels I must be missing something because it hasn’t happened.

  13. I just really don’t understand why you have to gift with a lap lapped drivers, just why? I don’t remember when this changed, but one time was not allowed and was totally correct…SC is deployed for safetey reason, doing this manouvre is totally dangerous and unfair

  14. In my opinion, the procedure should be that lapped cars unlap themselves on the start/finish straight (note 1) after the first full lap of the safety car (i.e. once the field has been bunched). Lead lap cars must stick to the outside side of the track and not weave during this procedure. Unlapping cars move to the other side and form up behind the safety car ahead of the leading car.

    From there, either the race director can let them pass the safety car to rejoin the back of the pack (subject to obeying double yellows where there is a hazard), or they are released when the hazard is cleared and the “safety car in this lap” message has been sent.

    (note 1) An alternate should be pre-defined if the hazard is on the start/finish straight.

  15. This change was needed. We had many unnecessary long SC periods the last few years, and the old rule just added up to that. Many times they even waited until the entire field closed to the main pack. The reason they changed the rule in 2012 was because we had many lapped cars that all of a sudden splitted the leaders after pitstops behind the SC. But they eventually (ab)used the rule the bunch up the field, for enternainment value.

    I’m not a fan of removing lapped cars by defenition, as sometimes the lapped cars were already there, but from a race control point of view I can understand why they would choose to stay with letting all lapped cars passed.

    SC periods will now be shorter and lapped cars don’t get to fully close the gap to the pack. Sucks if you were just lapped and you competitor was about to get lapped, but way too often we’ve seen people who profited too much from regaining that lap.

  16. Interesting, but as already pointed out above, only ‘can’ rather than ‘must.’
    Hopefully, a more specific on the ‘all’ lapped drivers requirement will come later.

  17. Personally, I dont think lapped cars should be released at all, the position they are in is where they were when the raced stopped, it gives an unfair advantage to those that hadnt as yet passed them on the race track.

  18. It all doesn’t matter. What matters is, that the team bosses ( Wheatley / Horner) are not allowed to talk directly to the race directory, during heated/tense moments.
    I can not understand how they got away with that…
    Oh well…that is now the past…..

  19. Why do we need lapped cars to go through the um-lapping procedure?

  20. Andrew Griffin
    22nd February 2022, 10:07

    Why don’t you stop counting down laps in the race the moment the SC is deployed. Leave all cars exactly where they are and restart the race once the obstruction has been cleared. I appreciate lead cars would lose any separation as they would close up but it is a very simple solution.

    1. The cars would run out of fuel. Even running behind the Safety Car they use a fair bit.

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