Ron Dennis calls for SC rule to be reviewed after Alonso suffers unavoidable “bad luck”
the 2007 F1 season saw the introduction of a new rule concerning the deployment of a safety car during a race, which includes a significant change to refuelling possibilities when the safety car is out. The new rules state that no car will be allowed to enter the pits for any reason from the moment the “sc” sign is first displayed until all cars are queued orderly behind the safety car. Regardless of the reasoning, the pitlane is now due to close when the safety car is deployed, and reopens when a queue forms behind the safety car.
However, with the satefy car being released a total of four times during the Canadian Grand Prix, and most significantly the first being at the time drivers were due to make their first pitstops, the rule now faces criticism most notably from Ron Dennis as the team faced a dilemma with Fernando Alonso’s pitstop strategy.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Nick Heidfeld were fuelled light for the first stint of the race and completed their first pitstop just before a car crashed on track to prompt the deployment of the safety car. As they were doing their outlap, Fernando Alonso (and possibly Nico Rosberg) was on course to start his inlap for his scheduled pitstop. The safety car sign was displayed on lap 24, just as Alonso was on his inlap into the pits – yet he entered the pitlane before the safety car left it to join the track, after which the pitlane closed as per the regulation. Nevertheless, due to the fact Alonso and Rosberg entered the pitlane while the “sc” sign had been displayed, the two of them were later given 10 second stop-go penalties for breaking the rule against pitting under the deployment of a safety car.
The decision was met with annoyance from McLaren as Alonso, Ron Dennis and Norbert Haug all in particular protested that because it was Alonso’s scheduled pitstop on lap 24, he would have run out of fuel if he didn’t pit on that lap. More so would it be the case as it is usually another lap or two before all cars queue up behind the safety car, and thus before the pitlane is reopened for pitstops; and it is thought that 50% more fuel is consumed when running slow behind the safety car. Due to the risk of Alonso being caught up in this situation and therefore almost certain to grind to a halt on the track under the safety car on his initial fuel load, McLaren took a chance and brought him into the pits quickly as scheduled before the pitlane closed.
The circumstances exposed a gap in the new rules, that does not appear to compensate for situations where the safety car deployment coincides with a driver’s scheduled pitstop; whereby the driver is handicapped from refuelling under the new rule when his fuel load is nearing empty out of no fault of anyone’s.
Fernando Alonso expressed disappointment at being unlucky for a safety car to have been deployed twice coincidentally on the laps his two pitstops where scheduled, yet accepted that these were the rules. “I came into the pits for the first time on lap 24 as I had no more fuel so basically there was nothing I could do. It was a shame as this resulted in a ten second penalty but I guess that unfortunately those are the rules but there was no alternative other than to stop on track with no fuel. I came into the pits for the first time on lap 24 as I had no more fuel so basically there was nothing I could do. It was a shame as this resulted in a ten second penalty but I guess that unfortunately those are the rules but there was no alternative other than to stop on track with no fuel”.
However, Ron Dennis in particular is calling for the rule to be changed to accommodate certain eventualities such as this where a driver can be unfairly disadvantaged and insisted that any driver could be caught in the situation in the near future, so the FIA should think of changing the rule as soon as possible. Norbert Haug echoed his concern of Alonso’s situation, saying, “Fernando fell to the new Safety Car rules and received a stop-and-go penalty because he had to refuel as the pits were still closed during the first safety car phase, but when the tank is empty you have no other choice than to come in.”
The teams now go to Indianapolis where the safety car is also quite often seen; therefore, the teams will be likely to take this unforeseen scenario into consideration when planning fuel strategies.