The controversial end of the Italian Grand Prix under a safety car has served to reopen the wounds of many fans due to what happened at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP.
The Monza race ended with the Safety Car on the track because the FIA strictly followed the procedures laid out in the regulations, something that perhaps did not happen at the end of the season last year.
And although the governing body will review what happened to see if there were things it could have done better to allow a restart and at least one green-flag lap this Sunday, it followed the rules to the letter.
The rules of resumption of F1 races with Safety Car in the last laps and the case of Italy
F1’s safety car rules make up an entire segment – article 55 – of the F1 sporting regulations.
It establishes how and when the safety car will be released, and the procedures that the competitors and the driver of the Safety Car must follow.
After the race in Italy there was a lot of talk about how the safety car got the wrong car, moving ahead of third-placed George Russell instead of race leader Max Verstappen.
However, the regulations do not say that the safety car has to come out of the pits to guide the leader.
In fact, article 55.6 says: “The safety car will join the track with its orange lights on and will do so regardless of where the leader is.”
So there was nothing wrong with initially being ahead of Russell, who had taken advantage of the safety car on lap 48 to pit.
Normal procedure is for the lights on top of the Safety Car to change from orange to green, to indicate that any car ahead of the leader can overtake them.
That sees the lead car move on to lead the pack, while everyone else ends up queuing behind after completing the rest of the circuit.
It is assumed that this was delayed in Monza due to the complications that the stewards had to remove Daniel Ricciardo’s car.
The McLaren was stuck in gear and there was no way the stewards could push it to the nearest exit because they couldn’t get it to port.
This forced the use of a crane, which was located on the opposite side of the circuit and had to cross the entire track.
The best way to do this safely was to make sure there was a big enough gap in the traffic to allow the crane the correct free time, so you had to try and hold the train to get that gap.
In the middle of the delay, Russell asked Mercedes if he could overtake the pace car, but the orange lights were still on, meaning he was not allowed.
The safety car continued to hold Russell back, and even Verstappen didn’t make it to the tail until the end of lap 50.
It was not until lap 51, as the car train approached the Ascari chicane , that the safety car’s lights finally turned green, allowing Russell and the cars between him and Verstappen to pass.
But that was only the first sequence of what had to happen before the restart.
The next stage is that once the leader stays behind safety, then the marshal has the option to let the lapped cars through.
In Abu Dhabi, it was the fact that only a few cars were left to lap that caused controversy, as it left Verstappen with a cushion of laps behind the third-place finisher.
The FIA has since justified its decision on that day by the regulations, which previously stated that it only referred to “any” and not “all” lapped cars, but now the regulations have been rewritten to require that all cars bent have to pass.
But when leader Verstappen finally led the field out of Ascari on lap 51, the time to allow the restart ran out thanks to the key rule being ignored in Abu Dhabi .
Once the message appears that lapped cars can overtake, the regulations are explicit that there must be at least one more lap before the restart.
Article 55.13 states: “Once the message ‘LAPPED CARS MAY PASS NOW’ has been sent to all competitors using the official messaging system, the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the next lap .”
So the race director had less than a minute to decide whether or not to let the lapped cars through, or if the race was over.
The decision was made to wait. And the “next lap” requirement meant that there could be no start on lap 52, as there could be no restart before the end of lap 53, which was when the checkered flag had to be shown.
In Abu Dhabi, the FIA ignored the “next lap” requirement and restarted the race at the end of the same lap that the cars were split. He justified this by saying that the regulations gave the F1 race director complete freedom to choose which rules to follow .
That was based on article 15.3, which states that the race director will have “preponderant authority” over a number of matters, including the safety car.
The Safety Car in Abu Dhabi 2021
Hamilton fans anger over Italy’s Safety Car over Abu Dhabi
The fact that the FIA followed the regulations to the letter at Monza meant that by the time Verstappen was finally at the head of the pack, there was no way he could be restarted.
And the ‘next lap’ requirement added further frustration as it meant two laps behind the safety car before the checkered flag.
It was at this point that the fans began booing, and Ferrari wanted to make it clear that their anger was directed at the FIA and not at Verstappen himself.
“I think the booing from our tifosi was more towards the FIA,” Ferrari team president Mattia Binotto said.
“And just booing the first car and the winner, it was about booing the FIA. The reason is that the tifosi and the people believe that the safety car could have ended earlier.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton couldn’t help but speak of the contrast between what happened on Sunday and how last year’s F1 title battle played out on that final lap in Abu Dhabi.
“It always brings back memories. It’s the rules as it should be read,” he told Sky .
“There is only one time in the history of the sport in which they have not followed the rules like today, and that is the one in which they changed the result of the championship. But it is what it is.”