Ahead of the highly anticipated São Paulo Grand Prix, FIA Race Director Niels Wittich has introduced new rules to tighten up pit lane behaviour during qualifying.
This follows a number of incidents where drivers have been accused of obstructing each other as they jockey for position and try to make the best space for their flying laps.
Blocking prompts action
In a decisive move to improve the safety and fairness of qualifying, the governing body has now banned drivers from stopping in the fast lane of the pit lane. The policy aims to address the recent trend of drivers stopping in the fast lane to create gaps, which has led to concerns about speed differentials and potential hazards.
The issues came to light following a number of ‘blocking’ incidents, where drivers strategically backed up in the pit lane, causing conflicts and near-misses.
To counter this, the FIA had already introduced a minimum lap time delta at the Italian Grand Prix, enforceable between two Safety Car lines on the track. The logic was simple: maintain a pace above the set delta time to prevent artificial slowing and traffic congestion.
Failed stop-gap measure prompts further steps
While the delta time initiative was a step in the right direction, it wasn’t entirely effective, with drivers circumventing the restriction by stopping in the fast lane instead. This manoeuvre led to several stewards’ investigations, although penalties were largely avoided as drivers justified their slower speeds as giving way to faster cars rather than deliberately obstructing them.
The issue was particularly pronounced at the Mexican Grand Prix, where George Russell, Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso were among those investigated for possible infringements. In light of these developments, Wittich has taken further steps to curb such tactics.
Big changes coming
Wittich’s new rules are clear. Any act of stopping in the overtaking lane will now be considered “unnecessarily slow driving”, which is a violation of Article 33.4 of the Formula One Sporting Regulations.
This new guidance is intended to ensure that the pit lane, and in particular the fast lane, remains a zone of continuous flow and does not become a strategic bottleneck during the critical phases of qualifying.
For the sake of clarity and enforcement, the FIA’s pre-event notes, distributed to all teams, set out the expectations: during both the Sprint Shootout and Qualifying, drivers may create a gap between the pit exit lights and the SC2 line, but they must position themselves to the left. This is to ensure that other competitors can overtake them safely and unhindered on the right.
This adjustment is seen as a proactive step by the FIA to prevent any gamesmanship that could compromise the safety and competitive integrity of qualifying. As the teams and drivers prepare for the São Paulo Grand Prix, they will need to adjust their strategies and ensure compliance with these new guidelines. It remains to be seen if anyone successfully follows the new ruling without slipping up and getting penalised.
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