Formula 1 Race Director Michael Masi has issued a warning to teams ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Drive too slowly in the run up to your flying laps, and you’re going to be punished.
If you’ve watched your fair share of F1 qualifying sessions over the past few years, you’ve likely noticed a trend of drivers moving lethargically immediately before putting in their runs. There are a number of reasons they might do this. Perhaps they’re trying to allow a gap to the car ahead, so they can drive unencumbered by traffic. Perhaps they’re maximizing their ERS to deploy on the following lap, or conserving their tires. Or, in the case of a power circuit, perhaps they don’t want to give the driver behind a tow and forfeit one themselves.
That last example is precisely what happened during Q3 for the 2019 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where a whole gaggle of cars slowly trundled around the circuit because none of the drivers wanted to be the first to set off and give up the opportunity for a slipstream. It was a bit of a farce, and you can relive it with the video below.
That’s not so much the worry for this weekend’s race at the Baku Street Circuit, though. Masi’s concern here appears to have more to do with safety, according to Motorsport.com. A driver going too slowly through Baku’s curvy, crest-laden and blind final sector could present an unexpected roadblock to anyone behind them, creating the perfect conditions for a big accident.
In today’s notes, Masi wrote: “For reasons of safety, during each practice session, acts such as weaving across the track to hinder another car may be referred to the stewards.
“During free practice session 3 and the qualifying practice, the time published in accordance with Item 8 [the safety car line maximum time] of the race directors’ event notes will be used as a guide by the stewards to determine if a driver is considered to be driving unnecessarily slowly on an out lap or any other lap that is not a fast lap or in lap.
With specific reference to Turns 17-20 he added: “During any practice session, any driver intending to create a gap in front of him in order to get a clear lap should not attempt to do this between the entry to Turn 17 through to the exit of Turn 20.
In short, race control will be monitoring how cars’ times compare to the “safety car line maximum time” — the longest amount of time a driver is allowed to take between the first and second safety car lines, located after and before the pit lane, respectively. A driver who fails to complete a lap within that time during the third free practice session and qualifying may risk penalty.
Many devastating incidents in racing history can be attributed to one vehicle moving a heck of a lot faster toward another vehicle off the pace — from Gilles Villeneuve’s deadly accident in 1982 Zolder qualifying to even just last weekend, when MotoGP rider Enea Bastianini flipped his bike while slamming on the brakes in an attempt to avoid hitting Johann Zarco, who was slowing to his grid stall seconds before the race at Mugello.