Last year’s United States Grand Prix began on a wet track with the traditional standing start. That’s something you would be forgiven for thinking was no longer possible.
Twice already this year we’ve seen wet races start behind the Safety Car. Now, following complaints that the Monaco and British Grands Prix did not feature classic standing starts, new rules have been drawn up for 2017 to address the problem.
From next year the race director will get a ‘second chance’ to use a standing start when the track is wet. The 2017 rules allow the field to leave the grid behind the Safety Car and complete any number of laps behind it before taking their places on the grid for a standing start.
On the face of it this seems a smart change in the rules. But its full implications are yet to be tested.
In this new scenario where drivers will be lapping behind the Safety Car in anticipation of a standing start, they will be keen to ensure their starting position is as dry as possible. So expect to see them taking different lines when they come past the start/finish area to dry out their grid position – and perhaps even avoiding their rivals’ starting places. The damp patch on the grid at the previous race at Suzuka gave an example of how significant this can be.
How many laps will drivers have to spend behind the Safety Car until the grid area becomes dry enough for a standing start? Visibility is danger concern here, as in a standing start on a wet track drivers at the back of the field may be unable to see a driver who has failed to get away, or crashed like Nico Hulkenberg did in Singapore.
How long this process may take will inevitably depend to a large extent on the weather conditions, how much water there is on the track and quickly it drains. Note that Spa’s grid features special channels to encourage water to dissipate.
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A single-file rolling start is considered safer than a standing start because the cars are spread out more and there is less opportunity for a car to get away slowly, or not at all. It therefore follows that the race director would want to see safer (i.e. drier) conditions for a standing start instead of a rolling start. That suggests we can expect to see the Safety Car remain out for longer before a start is given.
On the previous occasions when a rolling start has been used it has taken up to 18 laps to get the race underway, but often much less than that:
The five and seven-lap delays we have seen this year have been fairly typical of what has gone before. We could see these delays increase by a few laps from next year.
But what is most striking is how few races have had rolling starts in wet conditions: just 11 in the past 20 seasons. Therefore there is only a small opportunity for this new rule to decrease the number of rolling starts we see in F1.
There is also the possibility that this new rule may create the temptation for the race director to send the drivers out for a few laps behind the Safety Car in conditions when it wouldn’t previously have been used.
Recent examples of standing starts in wet conditions include last year’s United States Grand Prix, the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix and the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix. Could races in similar conditions to these now also include a few pre-start laps behind the Safety Car to check the conditions?
Finally, the new rules continue to allow for races to be started behind the Safety Car if the race director chooses to. This could happen due to very wet conditions of the kind seen at Fuji in 2007 and South Korea in 2010.
It’s therefore clear the new rules aren’t going to get rid of rolling starts completely, and we are likely to see more racing laps spent the Safety Car as a result of them.
2016 F1 season
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- F1’s TV audience decline stopped in 2016
- Brawn among key F1 hires announced by Liberty
- Has F1 hit ‘peak penalties’? Fewer sanctions in 2016
- Brundle reveals Monaco GP heart attack