Verstappen’s Safety Car restart tactic is banned

Jamie Woodhouse
Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen behind the Safety Car. Saudi Arabia March 2022

Max Verstappen will need a new tactic for Safety Car restarts now the FIA has blocked drivers from moving alongside another car.

When the Safety Car is readying to return to the pit lane and allow racing to resume, enough of a gap must be created between the Safety Car and the lead driver to allow it enough time to get back to the pits.

Of course, it is vital then for the leader to perfectly time the moment they get the power down and resume their race, the same true for the following pack with no driver wanting to end up on the back foot.

And as we saw at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, followed by the 2022 Bahrain and Saudi Arabian GPs, all three of which featured a Safety Car period, Verstappen likes to move alongside the lead car in the build-up to the restart.

But now he will no longer be able to do that after the race director at the Australian Grand Prix, Niels Wittich, issued a diagram clearly displaying what will and will not be accepted at a Safety Car restart.

As the image shows, it will no longer be permitted for two cars to be alongside and close to each other at a restart, nor will having even half a car length alongside the other car.

If the car is not directly following another but is out of its slipstream, the following car must not have any part alongside the one ahead.

 

For Verstappen, all focus is of course now on the race in Australia, where he has given himself a strong chance of making it back-to-back wins by qualifying P2.

He achieved that place on the front row despite feeling far from comfortable behind the wheel of the RB18.

Asked on track by Johnny Herbert for his immediate reaction to qualifying P2, Verstappen replied: “Not good. I didn’t really feel good in the car the whole weekend so far.

“I think there’s not been one lap when I actually felt confident, so a bit of a struggle.

“Of course, second is still a good result, but just not feeling that great to go to the limit. We’ll try to analyse it.

“Probably in the race pace everything stabilises a bit, but for me this weekend so far it’s been all over the place. I think also as a team we want more.”