Standing Starts After Safety Car Periods Are a Terrible Idea for Formula 1

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2014

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany follows the safety car during the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix on the Marina Bay City Circuit in Singapore, Sunday Sept. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

Standing starts after a safety car period.

Just when we thought Formula One's production line of "creative" ideas might be running out of steam, it churns out this beauty.

And it's not just an idea. From 2015, it will be a reality.

The Sporting Regulations for next year (page 32 onwards, pdf) state that whenever the safety car comes out to slow the field after a major incident or bad weather, the cars will follow it as normal. But when it comes in, the cars will carry on and do another formation lap.

They will then line back up on the grid, in race order, for another off-the-grid start.

This will occur for all safety car periods, with the exception of those which began within two laps of a previous start or restart, and those where there are fewer than five laps remaining to the end.

The clerk of the course may also choose to use a rolling start instead, but only if the "conditions are unsuitable for a standing restart."

Would this battle in Bahrain have been as much fun with a standing restart after the safety car?
Would this battle in Bahrain have been as much fun with a standing restart after the safety car?Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press
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It's the latest in a string of plots dreamed up by those in charge to make the sport more exciting and appealing to the viewer at home. The thinking is that the rolling restarts we currently see do not provide sufficient overtaking opportunities.

Standing starts will. There's no question about thatthe order will be shaken up all the way down the field, giving chasing cars an opportunity to pass.

They'll give us an instant moment of excitement, a slightly refreshed race order and a whole new set of battles to keep us occupied.

So it's a great idea! Right?


It is already the case that whoever is in the lead of a grand prix when a safety car comes out is the loser. It doesn't matter how well he has driven to that pointwhatever margin he had built over the cars behind is erased.

Five seconds, 10 seconds, 50 secondsgone, through absolutely no fault of his own.

Under the new system, he doesn't even have the security of keeping that hard-earned lead beyond the first corner. He could get a poor start for any number of reasons and find himself second, third or even seventh by the end of the first lap of the restart.

He already gets a raw deal, so why punish him further just because someone else made a mistake?

That alone makes this an ill-conceived and totally unfair idea.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 30:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP leads at the start during the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 30, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

But that's far from the only problem with standing restarts.

F1 cars are powerful, light and, regardless of how much downforce they whack on the rear end, unstable. It's hard enough keeping them pointing in a straight line when starting on fresh tyres, so what's it going to be like on 20, 30 or even 40-lap old rubber?

When asked about the plans, Jenson Button, the most experienced driver on the grid, told reporters in Austria (h/t The Guardian):

You could find yourself with five or six laps to go at a restart and with your tyres virtually bald at a time when you need flat-out laps to keep heat in them.

So you would really struggle off the line and it would be very tricky for us all to keep the cars pointing in the same direction off the start. It could cause mayhem.

The drivers will still be able to pit for fresh rubber, but it'll be, as it always is, at the cost of track position. And this introduces another problem.

The gap between the best and worst cars is almost as evident off the line as it is over a whole lap. If a back-marker chose to not stop before an early-race restart, he could find himself on one of the first few rows of the new grid.

Behind him will be a pack of cars which are going to get off the line a lot better. So on the approach to Turn 1, that slow car will be at best a bit of a hazard, at worst a mobile chicane.

That is, if it gets off the grid at all. Trundling around behind a safety car for five laps means the cars won't be getting enough of the fast-moving air they rely on to keep cool. If those cars then stop on the grid for 45 seconds as the rest of the field lines up, overheating could be a concern.

On top of overheating, how many racing starts can an F1 clutch do? Two should be no problem, nor should three. But what about four?

And even if we take away all those potential hurdlesworn tyres, "out of place" cars, toasty engines and potentially unhappy clutchesstarts produce more accidents than any other phase of a grand prix.

So we're going to find ourselves in the rather silly situation of having the safety car indirectly causing more collisions, and therefore more danger.

But hey, people watch F1 for crashes, don't they?

A race-stopping accident at Monaco in 2013.
A race-stopping accident at Monaco in 2013.Luca Bruno/Associated Press

It's an absurd mess of a plan which is unwanted, unfair, unnecessary and based on the ridiculous idea that rolling restarts don't provide enough overtaking opportunities.

They're not supposed to.

That pretty Mercedes SLS AMG is called the safety car. Not the excitement car, or overtaking car, or fun car or yippee-ki-yay-let's-spice-up-the-racing car.

Safety car.

It's there for safety. Its function is to slow the cars to an acceptable pace while marshals are involved in dangerous clean-up work after an accident, or if rain is too heavy for racing to continue.

YEONGAM-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 06:  The safety car is deployed during the Korean Formula One Grand Prix at Korea International Circuit on October 6, 2013 in Yeongam-gun, South Korea.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

It is not there to make the action more "entertaining." It doesn't trundle out to give the guy in second a chance to take the lead, and it's certainly not sent onto the track to pander to the five-second attention spans of disinterested channel-flickers.

Or maybe it is.

Maybe F1 has finally cracked and is moving into an era of increasingly illogical, unsporting gimmicks and tricks more suited to the weird and wonderful world of WWE.

Why stop at double points and standing restarts?

Perhaps in 2016, they could award triple-points to any driver who lets The Undertaker chokeslam him into his car at the start.

Or the restart. Or the second restart. Or the third...



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