A few years ago I had a chat with Alex Tagliani about full-course cautions, and he proposed an interesting solution that would help to stop drivers getting caught out by an ill-timed yellows: Speed governors on the cars, like the ones used at go-kart tracks.
When a full-course caution is called in IndyCar, the pit lane closes and the cars line up in race order behind the pace car before they are allowed to dive into the pitlane for fuel and tires. The reason for this is that series wants to confirm the running order before the cars to stop.
The problem with this system is that it benefits those who have already stopped and penalises drivers for managing a race from the front and doing a better job on fuel and tires.
“When there’s 25 or 30 laps to go and I know I am in the window [to get to the finish] and there are people pitting, the first thing that comes into your head is that you hope you don’t see a yellow,” Tagliani told me a few years ago.
“So, you drive full of stress and worry, because if a caution happens, the guys who pitted will go to the front and steal the position you worked so hard to earn.”
And this got me thinking about what Tagliani proposed as I saw that the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile was reviewing its procedures in the wake of the horrifying Jules Bianchi accident during the Japanese Grand Prix.
Tagliani suggested that using technology to slow the cars to a set speed under a yellow would ensure that no driver gains ground before the pace car picks up the leader.
“When a full-course yellow comes out, we have a light on our dash to tell us and it could be used as an engine governor just like Go-Kart tracks have – we have the technology to do it,” Tagliani suggested.
In fact, a variant of the system Tagliani proposed is already used in Formula One, where the drivers must stay within a specific speed delta until the leader pulls up behind the safety car. F1 also keeps the pit lane open under safety-car conditions.
Although a speed governor may not be the best solution, maybe adapting Tagliani’s idea is the way to increase safety in F1 during the short periods when a car is being recovered and a local double waved yellow was previously shown.
As soon as there’s a wreck that requires heavy equipment to be exposed during its removal, race control would call a full course caution. In addition to the waved flags and the lit trackside signs displaying “FCC,” an indicator light on each car’s dash would also illuminate. IndyCar has these for full-course caution periods.
As soon as that dash light goes on, the drivers would be required to slow and meet an agreed delta time in each sector until the race is restarted. No driver can pass once the system is engaged, and the delta time system means nobody gets an advantage and nobody loses an advantage. Essentially they slow to a set speed and keep the gap that existed under green conditions.
Considering that a wrecked vehicle usually gets removed within a lap or two, deploying the safety car for these previously local yellow instances would mean that the fans lose several laps of racing because lapped cars must pass and get back onto the end of the line before the return to green.
Adapting Tagliani’s system to F1 would not only ensure safe removal of the car but also eliminate this wait time and ultimately deliver more racing laps for the fans.
While this system would be used for the short periods during a quick car removal, the safety car would still be used to pace the field when there’s a more serious accident, when vehicles such as the medical car must be deployed, when inclement weather makes it too dangerous, or any other time race control deems it necessary.