ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 32 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   The F1 Rulebook

  by Will Gray, England

In a new series of articles, Will Gray delves into Formula One's rulebook and investigates the in-depth documentation that governs Formula One: from rules defining how the event should be run, to those restricting designers and engineers in technical areas

Part 4: When Things Go Wrong

It is rare that any Grand Prix goes completely to plan - neither rain nor drivers are that predictable! With a long list of rules governing the use of the safety car, stopping and restarting the race, and penalising any driver who does wrong, the FIA aims to cover all eventualities.

When things do go wrong, they don't always cause the race to be stopped. This is due partly to the intelligence of drivers to park their broken car, and partly to the rules demanding them to do so. Firstly, an absurd but clearly necessary rule states that drivers are 'strictly forbidden to drive their car in the opposite direction to the race'!

A spectacular first corner incidentOnce stopped, we often see a driver diving back into the cockpit of his car, but this is not because he thinks he can get back into the race - it's because his pocket will end up significantly lighter if he doesn't ensure the car is in neutral and the steering wheel (which he has to remove to get out) is back on. The FIA place serious fines on failing to do this, as it can prevent the marshalls moving the car, and could lead to an otherwise unnecessary race stoppage.

The FIA has a list of situations where a driver's actions can be classified as 'an incident', and once declared as such, the stewards must take action on it by means of a penalty. One such incident is a false start. Every car carries an electronic transponder onboard, and if movement is detected before the five red lights go out, the timing screens will immediately show that the driver has made an unfair start. The stewards will immediately assess the situation, and punish the driver when necessary - the requirement to discuss the matter is the reason why the penalties don't come sooner.

A collision, or a move which forces a driver off the track are also deemed illegal, but this is very much up to the stewards' decision. Sometimes it is difficult to apportion blame, so it is seen as a 'racing incident', and touching can also, in some people's eyes, be seen as an integral and expected part of racing. This can also go for blocking tactics in overtaking situations - how many times have we heard a driver moaning that his opponent was using unfair tactics to keep him behind? It's up to the stewards.

If the stewards decide to take action on the incident, they will display a message on the timing monitors informing all the teams that they are doing so, and the drivers involved are then banished from leaving the circuit until cleared or punished! When the stewards have made a decision, the team will be given written notification of the punishment and all the teams will be informed through the timing monitors. Generally the punishment is a ten second time penalty, with the driver being required to come into the pits within three laps of the penalty announcement, stop at his own garage, wait ten seconds without the team touching the car, then return to the circuit. Because of the time to enter and exit the pits, this is more like a 25 to 35 second penalty (depending on the pit lane), and can see the driver drop well out of the running.

If the incident occurred late in the race and the decision could not be made until there was less than five laps to go (possibly after the conclusion of the race), the driver will simply have 25 seconds added to his time. A team may appeal this penalty, but it costs! The team must notify the stewards of their intent to appeal within one hour of their decision, and must also deposit around US$3,300 in the FIA bank account. After the event, the International Court of Appeal will convene to decide whether to waive the penalty or change it - the danger is it could increase. The FIA selects 15 people to serve on this court, but only 3 members have to be present to validate a decision, and that decision is final.

The safety car leads the fieldWhen there is an incident out on the track which cannot be easily cleared, the stewards will firstly send out the safety car. Driven by an experienced racing driver (this year Bernd Maylander), the safety car will also carry an FIA observer who is in contact with race control, and will only be used, according to the rules, when competitors or officials are in immediate physical danger. As soon as the decision is taken to bring out the safety car, yellow flags are waved, and the 'SC' board is shown at every marshaling post.

The safety car will come out from the pit lane, orange lights flashing, and let all cars past until it reaches the race leader. He must stay behind, and all the other cars will line up in track order - that is to say if there are two back markers between the race leader and the second place man, they will remain there, and with no overtaking permitted when the safety car is on the track, they will give the leader a cushion at the restart.

Whilst the safety car is on track, each lap counts as a racing lap, and the teams are allowed to make pit stops. With all other cars going slowly, a stop will cost less time than it would under race conditions, but the advantage can be lost if it puts the driver in bad traffic for the restart. When the safety car is called in by the clerk of the course, the revolving lights will go out, and it will peel off into the pits. The lead car will then head the field around to the startline, with no overtaking until the race is resumed.

Although the safety car can negate a well earned time advantage, it is a much better solution than that used before it arrived. Previously, any incident which caused a major problem on the track stopped the race. Once the track was cleared, the race would restart, and the final results were worked out as an aggregate of the times in the two mini-races - all very confusing!

If the incident is big enough to stop the race, red flags are shown all around the circuit, orange lights appear at the start line, and all cars return to the pits. What happens next is dependent on the stage of the race. If less than two laps are complete (as was the case when Michael Schumacher hit the barriers at Silverstone last year), the race can be fully restarted. The first race is declared void, which means that any driver who started from the pitlane can return to his original grid spot for the restart, and anyone involved in an incident may restart in either his original race car or a spare.

Michael Schumacher's damaged car at the first corner in AustriaMichael Schumacher showed an extremely cool head when, after being punted off in the Austrian Grand Prix this year, he nearly took advantage of this rule. Although his car was badly damaged, he managed to drive it onto the circuit in an attempt to block the track - very clever! Unfortunately for him, he didn't manage to halt the race, and McLaren took a 1-2 finish!

With two or more laps gone but less than 75% of the total laps complete, the race will be stopped and restarted with the grid in the order that passed the line two laps before the stoppage. The length of the new race will be three laps less than the number of laps remaining in the original, now void race. If the race cannot be restarted for some reason, then half points will be awarded to the top six in the original race.

If the stoppage occurs when there is less than 25% of the race to go (as was the case in Canada in 1997, when Olivier Panis broke his legs in a big accident), then full points will be awarded to the finishers in the order that they passed the line two laps before the stoppage. Even if an event goes wrong, the FIA ensure it will go right in the end.

Previous Parts in this Series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Will Gray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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