An updated version of the 2022 Sporting Regulations has been published by the FIA ahead of the new season getting underway, with a crucial change being made in terms of how races will resume after a Safety Car intervention.
Under the old regulations, in place during the 2021 season, an instruction would be sent by Race Control to all the competitors that dictated lapped cars to unlap themselves.
The regulation, which was brought into focus due to the contentious ending to the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale, said that "once the last lapped car has passed the leader, the Safety Car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap".
It was this regulation that former FIA Race Director Michael Masi appeared to flout in Abu Dhabi, as he restarted the race on the same lap as cars being ordered to unlap themselves.
However, Article 15.3 of the 2021 Sporting Regulations outlined how the Race Director had ultimate control over the Safety Car restart procedure – exonerating Masi from a flagrant breach of the regulations.
The FIA tweak the Safety Car restart rule
As part of the FIA's move to address the events of that race, the regulation has been tweaked for 2022.
Article 55.13 of the updated Sporting Regulations, published on 18 February, outlines the change as follows: "Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the Safety Car is still necessary, once the message 'Lapped cars may now overtake' has been sent to all competitors using the official messaging system, the Safety Car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap."
This change would appear to be with the intent of finalising a set moment when the Safety Car withdraws, ensuring that lapped cars are now responsible for unlapping themselves in a timely manner and latching onto the back of the pack for the restart. The race will now restart at that declared point, regardless of what the lapped cars have done in that time.
The rule regarding how the Race Director retains ultimate authority over the control and use of the Safety Car has not been changed.
Further changes may yet be made before the start of the season, as FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem outlined in his video address that "the procedures for unlapping behind the Safety Car are under review by the F1 Sporting Advisory Committee".
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