MAY 20, 2010

FIA To Clarify Safety Car Regulations

Following the application of a 20s penalty for Michael Schumacher and his subsequent demotion from sixth to 12th in the race order of last weekend's Monaco GP, the FIA has admitted that the Safety Car rules need clarification, and that the F1 Commission will take action.

Schumacher overtook Fernando Alonso's Ferrari just before the last corner of the race after being instructed to race by his team. There was an ambiguity in the regulation describing the procedure if the Safety Car is out on the last lap of the race and it was perhaps surprising, therefore, that Mercedes dropped its post-race appeal.

The penalty for Schumacher's transgression would have been a Drive Through penalty but as it happened within the last five laps, it was commuted to the addition of 20s to his race time. That appeared harsh, not only in view of the ambiguity but because the whole field had been compressed, meaning that the effect was greater than it would have been via a mid-race Drive Through. A statement from Mercedes claimed that the FIA had also agreed to consider the range of post-race penalties, as they considered the 20s imposed on Schumacher as 'disproportionate.' There is no mention of this in the governing body's statement, however.

Earlier this week, a Mercedes statement said: "On the final lap of the Monaco GP, we instructed our drivers, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, to race from safety car line one until the finish line as permitted under articles 40.7 and 40.11.

"We were fully aware of article 40.13 which states that no overtaking is permitted if the race finishes under safety car conditions. However we believed that the combination of the race control messages 'Safety Car in this lap' and 'Track Clear' and the green flags and lights shown by the marshals after safety car line one, indicated that the race was not finishing under the safety car and all drivers were free to race.

"This opinion appears to have been shared by the majority of the teams with cars in the top 10 positions, who also gave their drivers instructions to race to the finish line.

It was clear from our discussions with the stewards after the race that they understood the reasons for our interpretation and acknowledged that this was a new and previously untested situation, but ultimately disagreed with our interpretation."

Damon Hill's inclusion among the race stewards caused a number of wry smiles and jokes throughout the paddock. Hill, of course, was involved in a number of on-track exchanges with Schumacher, none more pointed than their Adelaide collision which decided the 1994 world championship in Michael's favour. Post-race, Hill said that he could see a valid advisory role for drivers on a stewarding panel but was surprised to find himself involved in actual interpretation of rule wording.

Further to that, Mercedes saw fit to add to its statement: "We would like to emphasise that we fully support the inclusion of past drivers on the stewards panel and are completely satisfied that the Monaco stewards acted professionally, impartially and properly in this matter."

It went on: "The FIA has agreed to include article 40.13 on the agenda of the next Sporting Working Group for discussion and to consider the scale of post race penalties. We believe the 20 second penalty imposed on Michael to be disproportionate in the circumstances.

"Whilst we cannot be happy with the outcome, we are pleased that the FIA has recognised the reasons for our interpretation. Therefore in the best interests of the sport, we will not be submitting an appeal."

The governing body has consequently conceded that, "the final lap at Monaco showed a lack of clarity in the application of the rule prohibiting overtaking behind the Safety Car.

"Adjustments to the regulations are necessary to clarify the procedure when the last lap is controlled by the Safety Car, whilst also ensuring that the signalling for teams and drivers is made more clear. These adjustments will help to avoid the problem in the future.

"The Formula One Commission, upon a proposal of the F1 Sporting Working Group, will submit an amendment to the Sporting Regulations to address this issue. These amendments will be considered by the World Motor Sport Council at its next meeting in Geneva on June 23."

None of which will do anything to compensate Schumacher for the loss of his six or eight points, depending upon how the existing rule is viewed.