FIA Safety Car, Baku City Circuit, 2023

Why the FIA introduced a yellow flag speed limit – and its potential to affect races

2023 F1 season

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The FIA has introduced a new rule intended to improve safety but acknowledged it will create situations where some drivers are disadvantaged more than others.

Ahead of this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix the FIA has announced it will enforce speed limits in areas of the track where double waved yellow flags are being used during Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car periods.

This is one of several rules changes the FIA proposed in response to a situation which occured during last year’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Pierre Gasly was furious when he encountered a recovery vehicle on the track while he was driving quickly to rejoin the pack during a Safety Car period.

During Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car periods, the speed of drivers is limited either by the course car at the front of the field or target ‘delta’ sector times which are shown to drivers. In response to the Suzuka incident the FIA said it would looked into the possibility of creating a ‘dynamic’ VSC in order to limit the speed of cars more accurately in danger zones.

“What we want to do is to provide drivers with a tool to help them during incidents and to make races even safer,” explained FIA technical director Tim Goss, who oversaw the research into the rules change.

“For some years with the Safety Car and VSC we have used delta times, a reference to a speed limit that we have around the track. So, when there is a physical or virtual Safety Car, the drivers are informed of that delta time on their dashboard display and by radio tones and they have to maintain a positive value, meaning they are slower than the reference time for the lap.”

However the use of delta times means that if a driver is particularly slow at one point on the track – such as a very low-speed corner – they can increase their speed elsewhere and regain the lost time. The FIA wants to ensure this does not happen in areas of the track where incidents are being cleared up.

“What we want to do now is to extend the use of the delta time concept to ensure that cars are strictly slowed to the required delta time when double waved yellow flags are shown under a VSC or Safety Car, so we are introducing a dedicated reference speed limit in the area where those flags are displayed,” said Goss.

Drivers will be given warnings via their dash displays and audio messages alerting them to any double waved yellow flag areas they may encounter.

“Under a VSC, when a driver enters the double yellow, what he sees on the dashboard is zero, so the delta time resets, and he then has to drive below the new speed limit,” the FIA’s head of F1 electronics Olivier Hulot explains. “And he again gets a positive or negative delta relative to that speed limit. So it’s the same principle as before, except that it’s specific to a double yellow zone.”

The FIA conducted track tests of the new procedure earlier this year in which drivers were required to follow the wet weather Safety Car speed limit. The governing body said its analysis showed enforcing that limit in double waved yellow flag areas “would achieve a good step in safety”.

However the new arrangement brings with it the possibility some drivers will gain or lose more time in Virtual Safety Car periods than others. At present the use of a delta time means all drivers remain approximately the same time apart on the circuit from the beginning of a VSC period to the end. However under the new system some drivers could pass through the double waved yellow flag area on more occasions than a rival, and therefore lose more time.

“If a car goes through a double yellow, but not another one and that car has to slow down, it is losing time relative to rivals,” Hulot acknowledged. “However, for the FIA safety is paramount and when there is a hazard on the track or marshals on track then we have to minimise the risks no matter what.”

Similar arrangements are already used in series such as the World Endurance Championship, though their races of six to 24 hours’ duration are considerably longer than F1’s.

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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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17 comments on “Why the FIA introduced a yellow flag speed limit – and its potential to affect races”

  1. God, F1’s safety rules are getting flat embarrassing. They used to be able to clear cars 90% of the time with nothing more than a local yellow or double yellow if it required marshals or equipment on the track. And it worked. The cars were almost always gone within a lap or two at most.

    Now, we’re introducing yellow flags under SC and VSC too? I guess that’s what happens you have drivers like Pierre Gasly out there who can’t be trusted at all.

  2. Surely the simplest solution is to limit the cars to pit lane speed? Rather than a Delta time?

    1. Exactly my thoughts. They do this endurance racing. But having said that this achieves the same thing and perhaps they can make this new delta slower than pitlane speed as well giving more flexibility

    2. Not quite as simple as you think, not to mention adds an extra point of failure in the event the speed limiter doesn’t disengage which, in turn, could cause further incidents.

      1. Craig, when was the last time that a driver was unable to turn the pit lane speed limiter off?

    3. Surely the simplest solution is to limit the cars to pit lane speed?

      Surely the correct thing to do is this style of variable speed limit? The race director / stewards can set a speed limit for the whole, unaffected, track length that is a specified percentage of the slowest car on track and a much lower limit for the yellow flag length of track.

      The upper speed limit can be set faster than the safety car can safely manage, and the old “he’s too slow, my tyres are getting cold” comments from the drivers go out of the window.

    4. The simplest solution is to enforce the rules, and ban any driver who doesn’t understand them.

  3. Certainly looks like they are trying to solve a self generated problem, speeding cars catching up during a Safety Car periods, with a rather complex solution.
    A double waved yellow used to mean … “No passing, Vehicles or workers on the track, Be prepared to stop”. Sounds like a reasonable approach. The Pit lane speed limit sounds like a good and simple solution.
    There should be a pool or contest to predict the first time this is used as stated and it actually causes additional problems beyond those that are intended to be getting “solved”.

    1. A double waved yellow used to mean … “No passing, Vehicles or workers on the track, Be prepared to stop”.

      It still means that. The FIA and their hand-picked stewards who are buddy-buddy with the F1 teams and drivers just don’t care enough about the local volunteer marshals to enforce their own rules.

      1. I guess this will get cancelled as too old and Indy not F1 but here’s what happened when Mario & Johncock decided to ignore yellow. God love ” me old mate Mel” 90 years old last month and heading down from Lebanon IN for the big one.
        I mean the ideas the same, don’t ignore or push it.
        Here tries

    2. A double waved yellow used to mean … “No passing, Vehicles or workers on the track, Be prepared to stop”. Sounds like a reasonable approach.

      My observation is drivers love to push the envelope of legality, to get the maximum benefit from what they can legally do. A speed limit is black and white: either you are legal or you aren’t legal. Saying “Be prepared to stop” is ambiguous because they all drive with one foot on the brake pedal.
      While it wasn’t mentioned in the article, there was an outcry involving Nico Rosberg getting Pole Position after setting the fastest lap time while Double Yellow Flags were flying during Q3 at the Hungarian GP in 2016. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were lots of other similar cases, so this addition to the rules is long overdue. Nico said he had slowed down and “lost a lot of time” as a result, and apparently showed evidence of this to the Stewards, which just shows how ambiguous the now obsolete rule was.

  4. Why not EVERY driver on track must slow to the new slower delta time within 5 seconds of a double yellow. When there is a double yellow, all drivers get a flashing yellow on their steering wheel and a countdown timer. Any infraction is automatic 15 second penalty. Should be easy to police since the cars dump all that telemetry.

    1. Or just use a slower VSC? sound the same but your involves even more built in legislation.

  5. I initially didn’t see a huge need for a separate delta during race neutralizations, but Gasly’s Suzuka situation makes such an addition good.
    Now I also get the double-yellow tests that have occurred occasionally in practice sessions this season.
    Beforehand, I hadn’t realized they got done with a view for competitive session application.
    Yes, competitive gains & losses relative to other drivers are a possible side-effect, with some getting doubles more or only than others.
    For example, if doubles get lifted before another reaches the relevant mini sector, but so be when something is solely for safety.

  6. “it will create situations where some drivers are disadvantaged more than others.” No! Do tell. What a horrible situation. Apologizing before the fact? :-)

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