Motorsport is dangerous, and sometimes we need to pause the action to ensure the race can continue safely. However, getting the race underway again in a fair and safe way is just as important, and there are some restart procedures that need to be followed in F1.
There are two types of restart in F1. If there has been a safety car, the race will have a rolling restart in single file once the track is safe. After a red flag, the race can either have a rolling restart or a standing restart, and this is decided by the race director based on several factors.
Restarts can sometimes be exciting in Formula 1, because it brings the entire field back together and any advantage that a driver has built throughout the race will be wiped away. Restarts can sometimes be chaotic as well. In the article below, we’ll discuss how restarts work in F1.
What Is A Restart In F1?
A restart in F1 happens after the race has been neutralized by a safety car or a red flag. If there is a situation on track that puts the lives of drivers or marshals in danger, such as debris from an accident, then the race needs to be controlled through a stoppage or a safety car.
The race will then need to be restarted to get the action underway again, and this can be done in one of two ways – standing start or rolling start – depending on whether there was a safety car or a red flag. The restart is important for all teams and drivers because it serves as a second chance to gain positions or lose them.
Formula 1 restarts can be intense, especially when there is a standing restart. Any driver that has worked hard to build up a gap over the cars behind them will lose their advantage with either form of restart as the grid bunches back up again after the restart.
What Causes A Restart In F1?
A restart in F1 is caused by any kind of stoppage in the race. Stoppages can be caused by several different things, such as safety cars and red flags. The race is stopped in the interest of safety, and so provided the race can once again go ahead, race restart procedures will be followed.
Over the years the sport has learned from its mistakes, and the FIA do not take any chances when it comes to safety in modern Formula 1. If there is a severe crash, a safety car can be brought out to slow the pack down and neutralize the race. This happens because the stricken cars need to be cleared off the track.
Any debris from the crash also needs to be cleaned up before the race can resume. Any time marshals or a tractor is sent out onto the circuit, a dangerous situation is created. Whenever the lives of drivers or marshals are at risk, steps need to be taken in order to keep them safe. This can either lead to a safety car or a red flag.
In some cases, the weather conditions can also force the race to be halted. If the rain becomes too heavy, or if the circuit becomes too slippery for the cars to drive on, then the race will need to be stopped, and it can only be restarted when the track conditions are safe again.
Do They Use Standing Or Rolling Restarts In Formula 1?
Formula 1 uses both rolling and standing restarts when getting the races underway again. However, it depends on the incident and the track conditions in the moment, and the decision is made by the race director. They will determine which type of restart is best for the situation.
For the race to be restarted, the track must first be declared safe. This means that any stricken cars must be removed from the track, debris must be cleaned up, and the marshals must be back in their designated spots. In terms of weather, heavy rain must have eased to an extent where the circuit is drivable for a Formula 1 car.
If there has been a safety car or virtual safety car, the race will always get underway with a rolling restart, with the safety car pulling into the pits before the cars resume racing. Red flags are different, as the race director can decide whether a standing restart or a rolling restart is more suitable to get the race underway again. However, in most cases, a standing restart will be used.
Rolling Restart Procedure
Rolling restarts are usually used after the safety car has been brought out on track. Following an incident, whether it’s a car that has crashed or had a mechanical failure, or if there is a lot of debris on track, the safety car will be used to slow the pack of cars down and they must remain in single file behind the safety car.
When the danger has been cleared off the track and the track is safe to race on again, the safety car will head back into the pits. This will be indicated by the lights on the safety car switching off, indicating that it’s heading back to the pits, and the teams will also inform their drivers on the radio.
The drivers must remain within ten car lengths of one another in single file. In the final sector, the race leader will slow down and let the safety car get back to the pits. At this point the race leader becomes the pace car and they are in control of the pace at which the pack is going.
Once the safety car is safely back in the pits, the race will go to green flag conditions and the lead driver will be allowed to accelerate back to full pace at any point after the safety car line (a line on the track just before the pit lane). Drivers may not overtake before this line.
Standing Restart Procedure
Standing restarts usually only happen following a red flag incident where the race has been suspended. As soon as the red flag is shown, drivers must slow down and return to the pits immediately.
Drivers will start in the positions they were in when the red flag came out and the race was stopped. Drivers will then head out of the pits and do a formation lap to the grid. The drivers will stop in their respective grid slots and wait for the starting procedure to commence. A standing restart works in the exact same way as the start of the race.
The drivers will wait for the five red lights on the gantry to light up. As soon as all five red lights go out the race will get underway once again. Standing restarts are a great opportunity for drivers to get a second chance at making up places in the first few corners.
Virtual Safety Cars
Virtual safety cars have also been introduced into the sport in recent years. This is done to neutralize the race without the need to bring out the physical safety car or having to stop the race with a red flag.
Virtual safety cars are used for smaller incidents that can be cleared off the track quickly, such as a front wing end plate that has broken off and is left on the track for example. When the virtual safety car is active, the drivers must reduce their speed by around 40%, and this can be measured on the car’s digital dashboard that shows the drivers if they are above or below a time delta.
After a virtual safety car, the race will resume with a green flag. There is no standing or rolling restart, and the cars will simply accelerate back up to their racing pace once the track is clear and safe enough for the race to continue.
Strict Rules On Restarts
Restarts can be dangerous and chaotic at times, so it’s important for the FIA to impose strict rules on the drivers that they must follow during a restart procedure. These rules mostly apply to the safety car restarts as the standing restarts are the same as a standard F1 race start.
During a rolling restart, the lead driver must accelerate in a smooth and consistent manner, and they are not allowed to speed up and slow down erratically when they are the pace setters. Accelerating and braking before the restart can lead to a concertina effect that would cause a serious incident, such as the one we saw at Mugello in 2020.
Mugello has a long main straight, and this is where the rolling restart went horribly wrong in 2020. Following some chaotic opening laps, the safety car was brought out in order to neutralize the race and clean up the track.
There was some confusion among the midfield drivers as the leading pack accelerated at first and then began to slow down again. However, the backmarkers did not react quick enough and were accelerating to full race pace when there was a collision in the middle of the straight.
Can Teams Work On Their Cars Before A Restart?
One of the advantages that some drivers can get from a red flag is that their team is allowed to work on their cars before the restart. With all the cars back in the pit lane, the mechanics are allowed to change damaged parts on the cars (as long as they are replaced with parts of a matching spec to the damaged ones) and even change the tires.
This essentially means that the drivers get a free pit stop, as they will be allowed to put new tires on their cars. Any cars that have been damaged will also gain an advantage since their cars can be repaired without them losing any time to their rivals.
The Grand Prix at Imola in 2021 is one of the races where we saw the red flag being an advantage for Lewis Hamilton. Just before the race was suspended, Hamilton had gone off track and into the gravel trap, hitting the barriers and damaging his front wing in the process.
Hamilton spent more than 40 seconds finding his way back on track, and without a stoppage his race would most likely have been over. Another incident took place that brought out the red flag, and this meant that Hamilton could nurse his damaged Mercedes back to the pits.
During the stoppage, the Mercedes team was able to fix the damage on Hamilton’s car and get him back in the race. Hamilton would have lost more than a minute to the rest of the pack under normal racing conditions, as pitting to replace the front wing could have cost him an extra 30+ seconds on top of the 40 seconds he lost in the gravel trap.
What Is A Safety Car Restart?
Safety car restarts are sometimes used when the weather conditions are less than favorable and the race has been stopped with a red flag. During heavy rain the cars will be driven behind the safety car for some laps. This is done to clear water off the racing line.
As the cars go around, they can ‘push’ some standing water off the track via their wet tires and the shapes of their cars, making the track more drivable. Once the drivers and the FIA consider the track to be safe enough for the race to get going, the safety car will be sent back into the pits and the race will resume with a rolling restart.
There are two types of restarts in Formula 1. A rolling restart will usually always be used after a safety car. If the race has been stopped with a red flag, it can be resumed either with a standing or a rolling restart, depending on the situation, but it’s usually via a standing start.