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Safety Car Rules Change

The FIA have issued a statement concerning decisions made at the World Motor Sport Council’s meeting yesterday. The full document is displayed on the FIA website but the changes to the safety car rules are perhaps the most interesting.

Safety

Safety Car
When the Safety Car is deployed no car is permitted to enter the pits until all are bunched up behind the Safety Car. This is to remove all incentive for cars to be driven quickly back to the pits for refuelling when the Safety Car is deployed.
Before the Safety Car returns to the pits any lapped car between cars running on the lead lap must pass those cars and the safety car. It may then proceed around the track to take up position at the back of the line of cars behind the safety car.
Before a race is resumed any lapped car between cars running on the lead lap must pass those cars and the safety car and then proceed around the track to take up position at the back of the line of cars behind the safety car.

These changes were made as a result of complaints from the drivers at being held up by lapped cars after the safety car returns to the pits. The intent of the new rules is good but, being ever suspicious of change, I wonder if there will be unforeseen effects.

Take that first statement, for instance: When the Safety Car is deployed no car is permitted to enter the pits until all are bunched up behind the Safety Car. How will drivers at the front of the line be able to tell when all the cars are bunched up? Presumably, some official or other will have to decide this and then notify the drivers. Okay, so they’re halfway round a lap and the word goes out – “The pits are open, boys!” Can you imagine what happens next?

Yes, of course, everyone heads for the pits at the same time. Bearing in mind the events of this season, when Michael Schumacher had to wait his turn until Massa’s car had been seen to, next year all the teams will have facilities ready for both their cars to be serviced at once. So, when I say “everyone”, I mean exactly that. We could see some fascinating traffic jams in that event!

Then there is the matter of backmarkers passing the safety car and heading round the circuit to rejoin the tail of the line. Why this is so important that it has to be repeated almost word for word, I don’t know, but I think it should be specified just when this is to happen. Will it be before, during or after all the cars are bunched up and the pits are opened?

Sensibly, it should be done before the pitstops so that drivers whose teams foul up (with a misbehaving fuel rig, for instance) will not be able to recoup any lost places in the subsequent re-shuffle behind the safety car. That means that the cars will have to circulate longer than usual before making their stops, which could be bad news for those who were about to come in for fuel anyway. But I guess that’s racing.

Tinkering with the rules is always a delicate business and there are bound to be unexpected problems that arise as a result. I am quite sure that I haven’t foreseen all the difficulties inherent in these new rules but they do begin to address a problem that needed attending to; too often we have seen close battles ruined by backmarkers after a safety car period.

In the end, I suppose that, if the rule changes prove unworkable, they can always go back to how things were before. Oops, the FIA don’t do that, do they?

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