Formula One (F1) qualifying, along with Formula Two (F2) and Formula Three (F3) championships, have regularly been disrupted due to drivers slowing down at the end of out-laps to hunt for clear tracks for their next push laps. For some time now, this has created significant traffic around the final corner at most races, especially noticeable at the recent Belgian and Austrian Grand Prix.
A recent incident at the Monza F3 qualifying on a Friday further emphasizes this frustrating situation. The session had to be red-flagged (brought to a temporary stop) following a collision caused by heavy traffic congestion. Two drivers from the Rodin Carlin team, Ido Cohen and Ollie Gray, made contact because of the field cluttering up with vehicles.
Traditionally, to help maintain order, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) often targets drivers who drive too slowly on in-laps. This is enforced by applying minimum time limits between the second and first safety car lines, covering the complete racetrack except the area of the pitlane. Following complications at Monza, however, the FIA decided to extend this rule to include all laps – crucially out-laps, to prevent traffic turmoil from escalating.
In addition to the original instructions, FIA‘s race director Niels Wittich issued an addendum in his event notes on a Saturday morning. In it, he wrote, “4.2 For the safe and orderly conduct of the Event, other than in exceptional circumstances accepted as such by the Stewards, any driver that exceeds 1min 41sec from the Second Safety Car Line to the First Safety Car Line on ANY lap during and after the end of the qualifying session, including in-laps and out-laps, may be deemed to be going unnecessarily slowly.”
He further clarified, “For the avoidance of doubt, this does not supersede Art. 33.4 and Art. 37.5 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations, which apply to the entire Circuit. Incidents will normally be investigated after the qualifying session.”
The swift layout of Monza exacerbates the aforementioned traffic problems. Drivers are compelled to seek a drag from the vehicle in front to enhance their straight-line speed. This makes drivers unwilling to be the first to kick off the queue, thus promoting the tendency of slowing down.
In a rewind to the 2019 Monza qualifiers, drivers slowing down at the end of Q3 led to an entire convoy of cars failing to make it across the line for their final qualifying sprint before the end of the set time.