FIA makes rule tweak to streamline F1 safety car restart process

The FIA has made a slight adjustment to streamline the safety car rules that could speed up Formula 1 race restarts after the 2021 Abu Dhabi finale controversy.

FIA makes rule tweak to streamline F1 safety car restart process
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Former F1 race director Michael Masi failed to implement two articles of the sporting regulations surrounding the restart of races in Abu Dhabi.

Only select cars were allowed to unlap themselves, instead of the call being given to all cars, while the race resumed at the end of the same lap they were given the message to overtake the cars a lap ahead. This should have occurred at the end of the following lap.

The decisions led to a last-lap showdown that ultimately decided the F1 drivers’ championship as Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton, prompting Mercedes to lodge a protest.

This was dropped when the FIA announced a full investigation of what happened, which led to Masi’s exit and a restructuring of the FIA’s F1 operations that was announced earlier this week.

Ahead of the new season beginning in Bahrain next month, the FIA’s updated F1 sporting regulations include a revision of the wording of one of the articles surrounding safety car restarts.

It focuses on what triggers the call for the safety car to return to the pits at the end of the following lap, potentially speeding up the process to get racing back underway.

Under last year’s sporting regulations, this would happen “once the last lapped car has passed the leader” after the call had been given for them to overtake.

The Safety Car Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, the rest of the field

The Safety Car Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, the rest of the field

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

But as per the revised rules, this will now occur "once the message ‘LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE’ has been sent to all competitors using the official messaging system”. The track must have already been declared safe by the clerk of the course for this message to be given.

While the change does not directly address the articles that Masi failed to implement, it could help to speed up safety car restarts in the 2022 season, saving the time it would take for the last lapped car to pass the leader on-track before the call is given for the safety car to come in.

Although the safety car will still return to the pits “at the end of the following lap”, the time saved by not waiting for the train of cars to pass the leader will either lead to a quicker restart or give teams more notice of the race resuming.

Masi claimed in the Mercedes protest hearing in Abu Dhabi that it had “long been agreed by all the teams that where possible it was highly desirable for the race to end in a ‘green’ condition”.

When announcing the planned changes for 2022 earlier this week, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said that “unlapping procedures behind safety car will be reassessed by the F1 Sporting Advisory Committee and presented to the next F1 Commission prior to the start of the season”, meaning further tweaks could follow.

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