The final French Grand Prix will be the first race where a new system will be employed by the Formula One teams to hopefully solve the safety car pitlane controversy. The FIA and Formula One’s Technical Working Group have developed some software which will be added to the standard ECU and will monitor the cars sector times during a safety car period. This will allow the pitlane to remain open and give the FIA and race stewards a way to check the pace of the cars.
Currently, when the safety car is deployed the pitlane is immediately closed. The reason behind this ruling was to prevent cars from driving at excessive speeds to beat the safety car and get back to the pitlane to sneak in a ‘free’ stop. Obviously, if the safety car has had to be deployed, the marshals do not want cars flying around the track at race-pace.
However, with the pitlane being closed without question, drivers who absolutely have to stop in order to prevent themselves from running out of fuel or those who need damage seen to, are allowed to do so with a penalty added. This, in essence, ruins their race for absolutely no reason whatsoever. The ruling has become known as the pitlane lottery for understandable reasons.
Following vocal (informal) protests from teams, the FIA and TWG have decided to assess each car’s sector times as they lap the circuit, and providing the drivers remain within a set limit, they may use the pitlane as normal and without penalty. It has also been suggested that the drivers must acknowledge via a button on the steering wheel that they have noted the safety car to be on track.
The system was supposed to be introduced at the Monaco Grand Prix, but the teams requested some time to familiarise themselves with the software beforehand, and this will be done at the test after the Canadian Grand Prix. Thus, the teams should be running the system in simulated race conditions during Friday practice at Magny Cours in late-June.
For the system to be introduced it needs to be unanimously agreed upon by all the teams, but as everybody can see the issues involved with closing the pitlane, it is expected that, providing it works, it will be given the go ahead. It is too late for the traditional safety car fest that is known as the Canadian Grand Prix, but hopefully it should be in place for British Grand Prix in July.