Formula 1: New Safety Car Rules

Ben AutySenior Writer IJune 14, 2008

So how many times has it happened this season alone? You see the little “SC” at the top of your screen and you know that any second now you will see that sexy Mercedes CLK 63 AMG burning round the track to take its place in front of the race leader to bunch up the field. Oh the anger caused, the disappointment of drivers, that bet goes out of the window, the face of the full race is changed in an instant.

Over the last couple of weeks especially, it has been used extensively and last week it was at the centre of attention sparking much controversy over whether or not it should even have been out in the first place?

So at the beginning of last year the rules were changed. The problem was that drivers were racing to the pits as quickly as they could at the announcement of the safety car being deployed so as to limit time damage to their race. Get the pit stop in straight away and then prevent having to stop again after the safety car. This meant that cars went all out full speed under yellow flag conditions, which is the exact opposite thing you want the cars to be doing under a safety car period.

So the rule was put in place to close the pit lane at the point of the safety car deployment being announced, this method was already in use in Indy racing and NASCAR and it was effective.

HOWEVER... If the driver was just about to come to his pit stop time anyway due to low fuel, he had a big dilemma to face: either pit in under closed pit lane and get a 10 sec penalty for that (in other words throw away his race) or staying on track with a heavy risk of running out of fuel.

The penalty for drivers if they refuel under safety car is a drive through penalty which usually takes about 20 seconds out of a lap or a 10 second stop/go penalty and considering the field is bunched up due to the safety car being out, the driver is as good as last in the race with either of these punishments.

I honestly believe that the rule would remain unchanged until the end of the season if it wasn’t for the farce that was caused at Canada due to the SC. The long and short of it is as follows:

Because of the position of the pit lane in Canada being where it is, the cars rejoin the circuit on corner 2 rather than corner 1 like it does on most GPs. This cuts out a big section of the circuit and consequently the cars can be pitted in, refuelled, tyres changed and then out before the SC and the rest of the field has cleared the end of the pit lane. Hence the red lights being on at the end of the pit lane causing drivers to bunch up in 2 rows at the red light.

This was missed last year by Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella and they were both black flagged (Disqualified). This year, Lewis Hamilton ploughed into the back of Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari after not seeing the red light and ending both of their races instantly.  

So now, finally, it has been said that the rules will be modified and such changes could actually take effect as soon as next weekend's race at Magny-Cours, round 8. It won’t be trialled on the race itself, it will be put through its paces in the practice session and if it is deemed successful, it will be implemented for race day should a safety car be required. Whether or not you see it as an improvement  will remain to be seen, so leave your comments in the usual way, and let’s have a mass debate. Ha ha.


The idea is to stop the cars drag racing it to the pits to get that vital stop in before the pit lane closes, this is dangerous and is the whole point in having the SC. So when the race director deems it necessary for the SC to be deployed, race control will send a message to the driver instructing them that the SC is on its way out. Then the driver will have to acknowledge the message to activate a program, which will set an engine speed limiter on the cars ECU (Engine Control Units). This will basically work the same way as the pit lane speed limiter where it will stop the car going over a certain speed until the SC is brought back in.

So, this means that the pit lane theoretically shouldn’t be closed and the drivers can access it but they will be under speed limit control.


Let’s say for example a driver who may not be as honest as his peers claims he doesn’t see the message so does not acknowledge it. therefore not activating the limit immediately like everyone else. The honest driver is doing 100Kmph and the nasty driver is steaming along at 200kmph and steals a place. Will there be a time limit in which the drivers must acknowledge the message to prevent this?

Even with this new system in place the fundamental problems are still lurking, in Canada the cars would have potentially been going even slower, thus the red light still being on at the end of the pit lane anyway, no change there.

The system is still going to disadvantage a driver who is stuck behind his team mate unless is it confirmed that the pits will be open for the full period under speed limit?

So what do you think?

  • Will it work?
  • Is this system going to be the radical change that we need?
  • Will it cause more of a hindrance rather than solving the issues we have?
  • What other suggestions would you make?


After all is said and done do we really like how the system is working right now and it’s just been a few bad examples that have made it seem that the full system needs to be re-assessed?

Do we like the way that a SC brings that element of randomness into races that make the teams really earn their bread as they frantically try to re-jig a race strategy in around about 20 seconds flat?

Tell me what you guys think, comments and ratings please.

Ben, Over and Out!


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