F1 drivers back FIA safety car wet start change

Formula 1 drivers have backed a one-off change to the safety car wet start regulations designed to avoid a first-lap traffic jam in Zandvoort’s tight pitlane.

Safety car

The regulations state that drivers have to use full wet tyres if the formation lap starts behind the safety car.

However, the Catch-22 is that if conditions are deemed safe enough for the safety car to be withdrawn the track is usually already too dry for wet tyres.

At the rolling start of the sprint race at Spa last month half the field rushed into the pits to change to intermediates as the safety car came in, with the rest following at the end of the first flying lap as teams tried to stagger changes across their two cars.

However, in theory, there is nothing to stop the entire field from coming in, which nearly happened at a restart of the 2021 Hungarian GP.

On that occasion, it was a normal grid start so tyre choice was free, but the drying conditions led everyone bar Lewis Hamilton to change from intermediates to slicks at the end of the formation lap, making for a frantically busy pitlane.

Zandvoort has the tightest pitlane of the season with small gaps between team garages, even though these margins were extended ahead of this year's visit.

In order to avoid mass pit stops FIA race director Niels Wittich has given himself the option of allowing drivers to start the formation lap behind the safety car on intermediates “for the safe and orderly conduct of the event, and due to the exceptional layout of the pit lane at this event”.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, leaves his pit box

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, leaves his pit box

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Expanding in his notes sent to teams on what might trigger that choice, he said if “the track conditions change such that the wet weather tyres are unsuitable (i.e. the track conditions become too dry and/or there is no standing water), then the race director may require all competitors to use the intermediate wet tyre specification instead of the wet weather tyres.

“This will be notified to all competitors using the official messaging system and sufficient time will be provided for competitors to fit the intermediate specification.”

The new procedure also applies to a resumption behind the safety car after a red flag.

“I think that's good,” said Charles Leclerc when asked about the change by Autosport. “It depends on the conditions, obviously. But at the moment, the inters are so much quicker than the extreme.

“If we are going to do a start behind the safety car, first lap, you'll see everybody in the pits. It's going to be a much more dangerous situation if it happens in the first lap here. So I think it's a good choice.”

“The problem with the wet tyre is it lasts one lap here,” said Valtteri Bottas. “So everyone will want to go to the inter as soon as possible. I think it’s good.”

Fernando Alonso also backed the change, noting: “It is a wise decision. So I support it, for sure.”

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