The FIA's Race Director, Niels Wittich, has clarified the accepted positioning of cars for a race restart following a Safety Car intervention.
This would appear to be taking aim at Max Verstappen's recent habits during a restart, in which the Dutchman has moved alongside the leading car – seemingly trying to unsettle the driver in front of him before the race resumes properly.
Verstappen's tactics catch the eye
While Verstappen hasn't been 'overtaking' the car in front during the Safety Car period, which is expressly forbidden in the Sporting Regulations, his nose has occasionally ended up ahead of the other car.
This was most famously seen at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when he briefly had a nose in front of Lewis Hamilton as they prepared to resume the race after the late Safety Car. This formed the basis of one of Mercedes' protests following the race – a protest that was quickly thrown out.
With Verstappen also engaging in the same tactic against Charles Leclerc in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia at the start of this season, Wittich has clarified what is and isn't permitted in the Race Director's notes for the Australian Grand Prix.
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What does the rule change state?
An addendum to the notes for the Melbourne weekend states: "In order to avoid the likelihood of accidents before the Safety Car returns to the pits, from the point at which the lights on the car are turned out drivers must proceed at a pace which involves no erratic acceleration or braking nor any manoeuvre which is likely to endanger other drivers or impede the restart."
While published in the event notes for Melbourne, the addendum references Article 55.14 of the FIA Sporting Regulations. The latest published version of the Sporting Regulations (dated 15/03/2022) doesn't include this rule, meaning an updated version of the rules is likely to be published imminently.
A diagram has also been included, showing what is and isn't permitted during a race restart. The diagram shows that following drivers are not allowed to come further forward than in line with the most rearward part of the car in front.
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