The FIA has decided to ban the unique Safety Car restart that saw Max Verstappen get a golden opportunity to catch up with Lewis Hamilton and drive alongside his opponents ahead of the green flag.
Last year, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix stirred up a lot of controversies. Certain decisions taken at the time were highly scrutinised and it eventually led to race director Michael Masi losing his job and getting replaced by two new people.
At the time, Mercedes had suggested this was illegal, but their claims were dismissed.
Masi reaffirmed at the time that Verstappen had not broken any rules in doing what he did and it was under the legal ambit of the sport.
This technique was used once again by Verstappen at the first race of the season in Bahrain. This time, Charles Leclerc was at the receving end.
However, he was unable to capitalise on it this time and got caught on the inside as Carlos Sainz eventually passed him later in the lap.
A week later, a similar thing happened in Saudi Arabia. This time, Max took full toll and eventually overtook Leclerc to claim his first win of the new campaign.
The lawbook of F1 states in section 55 that no overtaking can take place while the Safety Car is employed.
However, it lacks clarity when it comes to driving alongside another driver.
Palmer explains legality of Verstappen’s move
This made Jolyon Palmer claim that what Max did was completely fine and under the laws of the sport.
“Max [is] doing his little weaving, Charles is accelerating and braking on the throttle and brakes all to try and get the tyre temps up. But the whole way through this, Max is just sitting there alongside,” he said.
“He doesn’t overtake, he’s just sitting there, just being an absolute nuisance for the race leader.”
Haas reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi was not so convinced and asked him to clarify his statements.
“So long as you don’t overtake,” Palmer said in response.
“Remember in Abu Dhabi were he just about did, it is a fine margin.
“He even caught up with Lewis briefly and that was still being investigated by the stewards. Then he was on the racing line, so Hamilton could not really cut the corner.”
FIA makes rule amendment
Now, however, the FIA has ruled this move to be illegal.
The governing body feels that it jeopardises the safety of other drivers and has issued a new restart procedure.
“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,” article 55.14 states.