In a blow to Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, the FIA banned drivers from getting in next to another car before the safety car restarted. It comes after Verstappen applied the tactic in the opening two rounds of the 2022 season where he joined the lead car before the safety car resumed. The Dutch driver used a similar tactic at last year’s season-defining Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which saw him become the drivers’ champion for the first time, beating Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
What led to the rule change?
Hamilton led the race for 57 of the 58 laps of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but after a crash and a safety car restart Verstappen was able to overtake the British driver thanks to fresh tires and his clever tactics. He was crowned drivers’ champion. Following Verstappen’s “controversial” victory, Mercedes protested the decisions made by race director Michael Masi. However, the Hamilton-led team found no solace as their protests were dismissed and Verstappen was confirmed as the 2021 Formula 1 champion.
Verstappen used the same tactic at the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian Grands Prix this year. Verstappen secured his vehicle alongside Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc as he approached the final corner before the safety car restarted. In Bahrain, however, his tactics backfired as he was stuck inside the line for the final two corners and failed to pass Leclerc. Ahead of this year’s Australian Grand Prix qualifying round, race director Niels Wittich told drivers that using any tactic that allowed them to join the lead car before the safety car restarted would not be not tolerated.
“In order to avoid the likelihood of accidents before the safety car returns to the pits, from the moment the car’s lights are switched off, drivers must move forward at a pace which does not involve any erratic acceleration or braking. nor any maneuver likely to endanger other drivers or prevent the restart,” Wittich said, citing Article 55.14 of F1’s sporting rules. It is understood that drivers can still go side-by-side with the race leader, but all parts of their cars must stay behind the leader at all times before the race resumes.