How F1's new wet weather standing starts will work

Rain ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix, and the prospect of mixed conditions, has opened up the prospect of Formula 1’s first new wet standing start.

How F1's new wet weather standing starts will work

The new rules, which came about after complaints at Silverstone last year when fans were robbed of a spectacular start in the rain, were ratified last winter.

It means that should the FIA decide that conditions in Shanghai are not safe enough and a safety car period is required at 2pm, the race will resume not with a flying start but with the cars forming up on the grid.

Here, Motorsport.com looks again at how the standing starts will work – and what complications have come about because of the new procedures.

What the new rules state

Firstly, the regulations do not specify rain, but actually say, "If track conditions are considered unsuitable to start the race at the scheduled time the start of the formation lap may take place behind the safety car" - and it's worth noting that the word "may" is a late substitution for "will" in the earlier version.

Although there is unlikely to be any other reason for such a procedure than bad weather, it's worth recalling a Macau GP event when a major oil spill from a support race forced starter Charlie Whiting to set the F3 cars off behind the safety car.

As was previously the case with safety car starts, the rules explain how the FIA will tell us what's happening: "At the 10-minute signal its orange lights will be illuminated, this being the signal to the drivers that the formation lap will be started behind the safety car. At the same time this will be confirmed to all teams via the official messaging system."

Assuming that heavy rain is the reason why the cars head off behind the safety car, then as before, "the use of wet-weather tyres until the safety car returns to the pits is compulsory," and "a penalty under Article 38.3(d) will be imposed on any driver who does not use wet weather tyres whilst the safety car is on the track at such times."

The procedure that the cars then follow is unchanged, with the addition the final line noted here: "When the green lights are illuminated the safety car will leave the grid and all drivers must follow in grid order, no more than 10 car lengths apart, and must respect the pitlane speed limit until they pass pole position. The safety car will continue until conditions are considered suitable for racing."

The key thing to remember is that any laps behind the safety car are not part of the race, and are in fact extra formation laps – in contrast to the previous procedure, when the race officially started once the safety car pulled away from the grid.

Pitlane starters

As a consequence of that, a major change from the past procedure is that cars starting from the pitlane due to a penalty or a strategic choice do not simply join the queue and start with the others.

Those drivers are allowed out once the cars on the grid have set off, and this will enable them to both get a feel for the wet track, and contribute to shifting standing water.

But when the time comes for the standing start, they have to peel into the pitlane and take the start from there. In other words, they don't get a free pass for any penalty, as was previously the case.

The rules explain it thus: "Any cars that were starting the race from the pitlane may join the formation lap once the whole field has passed the end of the pitlane for the first time. Any such cars may complete all formation laps but must enter the pitlane after the safety car returns to the pits and start the race from the end of the pitlane in the order they get there."

Furthermore, those drivers cannot follow the safety car into the pits and switch to intermediates or slicks for the start proper, or they will face a subsequent 10 second stop-and-go: "A penalty under Article 38.3(d) will be imposed on any driver who enters the pitlane under these circumstances and whose tyre(s) are changed for a different specification before leaving the pitlane."

One slight anomaly here is that drivers set to start from the pitlane are not obliged to do those formation laps, and thus when the race starts they could have a lot more fuel on board than those who did the formation laps and started from the grid.

There could be circumstances where that might be an advantage, but the consensus among teams when the rules were written was that the extra fuel would simply be a weight handicap rather than a benefit, and there was more to be gained by having the drivers get a feel for the wet.

Aside from those already committed to a pitlane start, any driver who starts from the grid behind the safety car, and then makes a pitstop during the formation laps, will also have to start from the pitlane.

In this respect, it's like a normal single formation lap – if you come in, you forfeit your chance to start from the grid - although in this case you can go back out on the track and complete more formation laps, as long as you return to the pitlane for the start proper, when the safety car comes in.

"Any other car entering the pitlane during the formation laps may re-join the track but must enter the pitlane after the safety car returns to the pits and start the race from the end of the pitlane in the order they get there."

In essence, this is to discourage drivers from trying to gain an advantage by switching to heated and fresh wet tyres just before the start, and rejoining the grid.

A driver at the back of the queue with little lose might still opt to make that choice of going to fresh wet tyres, and accept the pitlane start – but if he changes spec to inters or slicks, he too will get a 10-second stop-and-go.
In other words, nobody can change from full wets to another tyre of tyre without penalty until the end of the first racing lap.

No overtaking

Of course overtaking is not allowed when the cars are running behind the safety car, unless a car in front has some kind of problem, for example: "a) If a car is delayed when leaving the grid and cars behind cannot avoid passing it without unduly delaying the remainder of the field, or b) If there is more than one car starting from the pitlane and one of them is unduly delayed."

If a delayed driver cannot resume his original position before the standing start, he has to go to the pits and start from there.

The rules note that: "In either case drivers may only overtake to re-establish the original starting order or the order the cars at the pit exit were in when the formation lap was started.

"Any driver delayed in either way, and who is unable to re-establish the original starting order before he reaches the first safety car line on the lap the safety car returns to the pits, must enter the pitlane and may only join the race once the whole field has passed the end of the pitlane after the start of the race."

A driver who doesn't get back into the right place in the queue, but still goes to the grid and in effect messes up the procedure, will get a 10-second stop-and-go: "Any driver who fails to enter the pitlane if he has not re-established the original starting order before he reaches the first safety car line."

When the safety car is eventually called in, drivers simply head to their grid positions, and follow the pattern for a normal start.

"Once the safety car has entered the pitlane all cars, with the exception of those required to start from the pitlane, must return to the grid, take up their grid positions and follow the procedures set out in Article 36.9 to 36.13."

Originally, the rules were to impose a penalty on any cars that pitted during the formation laps, but as noted, that has changed, and those cars now have to start from the pitlane.

Of course, there is always a possibility that conditions do not improve while the formation laps are being run, in which case the race director reserves the right to bring the safety car and the queue back into the pitlane, and wait for a break in the weather. This is not officially a suspension, as the race hasn't actually started.

No second chance

However, it's clear from the rules that if this happens there will not be a second attempt at a standing start – in other words when the action does resume behind the safety car, that will be the start of the race, and the cars will eventually be released as was the case in the past.

The rules state: "If, after several formation laps behind the safety car, track conditions are considered unsuitable to start the race, the message "START PROCEDURE SUSPENDED" will be sent to all teams via the official messaging system and all cars must enter the pitlane behind the safety car. The procedures described in Articles 41 and 42 must then be followed and there will be no standing start."

If we get a standing start, or even if the attempt at a standing start is abandoned and we have a safety car start after a break, one key outcome will be how long the ensuing race is.

As mentioned, those laps behind the safety car count as formation laps. The simple formula for determining the length of the actual race is specified thus: "If the formation lap is started behind the safety car (see Article 39.16) the number of race laps will be reduced by the number of laps carried out by the safety car minus one."
In other words five formation laps will reduce a scheduled 70 lap race to 66, for example (70 minus five plus one). That's to take into account fuel loads, and the fact that for a normal dry race teams have to allow for a single formation lap when fuelling the cars.

It remains to be seen when we get our first chance to see how this new procedure unfolds, but one thing is clear: it has to be better for all concerned than what we've had in recent years.

Even in the dry starts are now more random than they used to be, and with full wet tyres on a wet track, an element of luck will be involved.

It will also be interesting to see the lines drivers take on the formation laps, because logic suggests that those starting on the racing line side of the grid will stick to it on the pit straight, and those starting on the other side will do their best to dry that part out, in an attempt to even up the odds.

When a wet standing start does finally happen the big question will be how soon will everyone head to the pits to offload those tyres, given that by definition conditions will be improving when the start takes place?

There's nothing in the rules to stop all 20 cars heading into the pits at the end of the first flying lap...

shares
comments
F1 facing step into unknown in wet Chinese GP

Previous article

F1 facing step into unknown in wet Chinese GP

Next article

Chinese GP: Hamilton wins as wet start causes fireworks

Chinese GP: Hamilton wins as wet start causes fireworks
Load comments
The squandered potential of a 70s F1 underdog Prime

The squandered potential of a 70s F1 underdog

A podium finisher in its first outing but then never again, the BRM P201 was a classic case of an opportunity squandered by disorganisation and complacency, says Stuart Codling.

Formula 1
Sep 18, 2021
The other notable Monza escape that F1 should learn from Prime

The other notable Monza escape that F1 should learn from

OPINION: The headlines were dominated by the Italian Grand Prix clash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, who had the halo to thank for avoiding potentially serious injury. But two days earlier, Formula 1 had a lucky escape with a Monza pitlane incident that could also have had grave consequences.

Formula 1
Sep 17, 2021
How Monza only added more questions to F1's sprint race conundrum Prime

How Monza only added more questions to F1's sprint race conundrum

With two sprint races under its belt, Formula 1 must now consider its options for them going forward. While they've helped deliver exciting racing on Sundays, the sprints themselves have been somewhat lacking - creating yet another conundrum for F1 to solve...

Formula 1
Sep 16, 2021
Who should Alfa Romeo sign for 2022's F1 season? Prime

Who should Alfa Romeo sign for 2022's F1 season?

OPINION: With Valtteri Bottas already signed up for 2022, all eyes are on the race for the second seat at Alfa Romeo next year. Antonio Giovinazzi is the current incumbent, but faces a tough competition from appealing short and long-term prospects

Formula 1
Sep 15, 2021
The "forced break" that was key to Ricciardo's Monza excellence Prime

The "forced break" that was key to Ricciardo's Monza excellence

OPINION: Daniel Ricciardo has long been considered one of Formula 1's elite drivers. But his struggles at McLaren since switching from Renault for 2021 have been painful to watch at times. Yet he's recovered to banish those memories with a famous Monza win – built on a critically important foundation

Formula 1
Sep 14, 2021
Italian Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Italian Grand Prix driver ratings

Two drivers produced faultless performances as, for the second year in a row, Monza threw up an unpredictable result that left many to rue what might have been

Formula 1
Sep 13, 2021
Why Ricciardo would have won without Verstappen/Hamilton crash Prime

Why Ricciardo would have won without Verstappen/Hamilton crash

The clash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton was the major flashpoint the 2021 Italian Grand Prix will be remembered for. Yet by this point, race leader Daniel Ricciardo had already done the hard work that would put him in position to end his and McLaren's lengthy win droughts, on a memorable afternoon in Monza

Formula 1
Sep 13, 2021
Why Italian GP success is on for McLaren even if Verstappen dominates Prime

Why Italian GP success is on for McLaren even if Verstappen dominates

For the second time in 2021, McLaren will line up for the start of a grand prix from the first row. It knows it has the chance of "glory" if things go well for Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris at the start of the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, but even if they just maintain their grid positions, signs from the rest of the Monza weekend suggest success is very possible for Formula 1's other orange army

Formula 1
Sep 12, 2021