Schmidt’s F1 blog on safety car trouble No more lap gift!
The 2021 season finale is still making waves. Race control wanted to finish the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at race pace at all costs. Even if rules had to be bent in the process. The FIA is looking for a way out, but it would be so easy to find a solution to the problem, says Michael Schmidt.
The problem actually announced itself already longer. Already at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, an accident shortly before the end of the race made it necessary to deploy the safety car. Under normal circumstances, this Grand Prix would have ended under yellow. There was not enough time to clean up the wreckage of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and all the debris around the track.
After two punctures at high speed, it was suspected that wreckage could have caused it. What doesn’t matter with safety car speed. Race control had initially ordered drivers to take the detour through pit lane so Red Bull could be recovered in peace on the home straight.
But then, out of the blue, race director Michael Masi brought out the red flag. Bad for Red Bull, good for Mercedes. So the opposite scenario to Abu Dhabi. In fact, the rules were bent here just as they were at the season finale.
The use of the red flag is only justified if the safety of the helpers or the drivers is at risk. This was not the case in Baku. The remaining distance of six laps was also not so long that it was absolutely necessary to stop.
F1 management puts pressure on
Nevertheless one did it. Because for some time there has been a silent agreement between the teams, the FIA and F1 management to finish races under green if possible or not to let a safety car period last too long.
McLaren boss Zak Brown admitted in his latest incendiary letter: "The teams have insisted that finishing a race behind the safety car should be avoided at all costs." It is clear. Spectators should get action for their money and not a motorcade. Which is a legitimate goal as long as you don’t compromise safety for it.
At Mercedes’ insistence, the FIA launched an investigation into the final laps of Abu Dhabi. By the end of the month they want to come to a solution. I wonder what is taking so long.
We all saw what happened. The race control wanted to whistle the race again and waived that all lapped drivers are allowed to lap back. And after that they should have taken one more lap. The stewards invoked the race director’s right to have absolute authority during a safety car period.
Concrete rules for late safety car phases
Since you can’t change what happened, it would be better to invest your time in solutions so that there are no more controversies in similar cases in the future. Formula 1 should stand by the fact that a race should end under green if possible.
Nothing could be simpler. If something happens in the last ten percent of the race that requires a safety car, then the race is automatically interrupted and restarted after the cleanup work is done. If something happens in the last two laps, you just have to swallow the toad that the Grand Prix ends in slow motion.
And one more thing: the gift of the lap back should be cancelled in the case of both a safety car and an interruption. There is no reason to. Who is lapped, must simply line up at the end of the field with a round behind.
It would also be much easier with a safety car deployment in the middle of the race if the lapped cars let themselves fall back instead of sending them past the field so they can catch up again at the back. It would save at least one lap of time and would have solved the dilemma in Abu Dhabi more elegantly.