It’s time to sort out the safety car rules

Recent races have highlighted a severe shortcoming in the current safety car rules.

First in Monaco Schuie made a cheeky overtake into the final corner, only to be handed a penalty becasue the specific wording of the rules were vague and left a grey area.

This highlights that the rules are a) too complex and b) not defined clearly enough (although there has been a clarification following Monaco)

The we come to Valencia where the situation is even more controversial. After an almight shunt, the safety car was deployed.  Vettel had already passed it but Hamilton was coming up fast.  He dithered a bit before finally passing it, leaving Alonso stuck behind it.

At the heart of the situation I believe is the role the safety car is expected to play.  Fundamentally it’s a safety car.  Not a pace car used to artifically generate excitement or change the order of the field (as often the case in the US). 

Its role therefore is to make the track safe for competitors and more importantly for marshals to do their job and clear the track of any incidents without fear of being hit by an out of control F1 car trying to make up a few tenths

There were several incidents which were really quite dangerous and all could be avoided by having clearer safety car rules.

First was the sight of Schumacher flying round at full speed (and as it turns out others were doing it even faster) in order to get in and out of the pits before the train came round again.

Second was the sight of 20 cars all pitting at the same time.  I was amazed there weren’t any pit lane coming togethers.

There was also the intention of Brawn to release Schumacher into the train of traffic as they believed would happen.  Instead they were (rightly) given a red light and made to wait.

Finally the restart seems just downright crazy.  Racing from a line several corners from the start/finish straight while the safety car is potentially still on the track can only end in tears one day.

So what can be done?

First, the pit lane can be closed as soon as the SC board is shown.  This was the rule a couple of years ago but was changed because it disadvantaged cars that were running low on fuel and were force to pit and take a penalty.  In this day and age of no refuelling, there’s no reason for the pit lane to be open except for accident damage.  If you also close the *exit* of the pit lane while the safety car is out, meaning that teams could potentially lose many laps, they will only stop if it’s a real emergency.  This stops the crowded pitlane or unsafe release issues.

Of course, closing the pitlane means less options for strategy and excitement, but it’s for safety, right?

Second you have more than one safety car.  Having two or three safety cars (or even more) is something that happens in other categories of racing (the Nurburgring 24hrs springs to mind for which one car is unworkable because of the lap lenth.  They all deploy simultaneously at different points around the circuit and there’s no overtaking for anyone.  This stops anyone being too unfairly penalised (losing a whole lap) and ensures there’s no cars moving at excessive speeds.

Finally, racing should be to/from the start/finish line, not arbitraty lines round the circuit.  After a safety car period, the racing should be into the first corner and on the final lap cars just finish the race with no confusing rules..

The best thing about these ideas is that they simplify everything, meaning not only is the racing safer but the viewer at home knows what’s going on too, which is always nice.

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