As someone who generally doesn’t care about Formula 1 and as someone who doesn’t much care for Schumacher either, I would normally have had a chuckle at his misfortune.  I decided to watch the video though and started wondering what the problem actually was.  My conclusion is: nothing at all, and the stewards are flat wrong.

The facts of the case are not in dispute:

  • The race entered the final lap with the safety car deployed due a previous crash.
  • Race Control issued the ‘Safety car in this lap’ message
  • Before the end of the lap (and thus the race), the safety car turned off its lights and left the track via the pit lane
  • The yellow flags were removed and greens flags waved at the safety car line.
  • After passing the safety car line, Schumacher overtook Alonso and finished the race in 6th position.

Now of course, the big controversy is, was he allowed to overtake?  To answer that question let’s look at the regulation under which Schumacher was penalised:

40.13 If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

Most people commenting on this have simply said “look! it says no overtaking!”, but hold on there Watson; the rule starts with a condition.  All the words after ‘deployed’ take effect only if  “the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed”.

So what does that mean?  Well, lets define terms.  When does the race end?

43.1      The end-of-race signal will be given at the Line as soon as the leading car has covered the full race distance in accordance with Article 5.3. (5.3 states how long the distance is)

So our condition becomes “the leading car covers the full race distance whilst the safety car is deployed”.  So, in order for 40.13 to be applicable, the safety car must be deployed at the moment that Webber crosses the finish line.  40.13 suggests, however, that just because the safety car isn’t on the track, doesn’t mean it’s not deployed.  Again, we need to properly define the term.  The first mention of deployment is in 40.4:

40.4      When the order is given to deploy the safety car the message “SAFETY CAR DEPLOYED” will be displayed on the timing monitors and all marshal’s posts will display waved yellow flags and “SC” boards for the duration of the intervention.

This is a very interesting rule for our purposes.  Be aware that the word ‘intervention’ must refer to the deployment of the safety car as it is not used or defined anywhere else in the regs.  This means that as long as the safety car remains deployed, yellow flags and “SC” boards must be displayed.  If they are not, then the safety car is not deployed.

This is further evidenced by 40.11, which describes the procedure for withdrawing the safety car:

40.11      When the clerk of the course decides it is safe to call in the safety car the message “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP” will be displayed on the timing monitors and the car’s orange lights will be extinguished. This will be the signal to the teams and drivers that it will be entering the pit lane at the end of that lap.

At this point the first car in line behind the safety car may dictate the pace and, if necessary, fall more than ten car lengths behind it.

In order to avoid the likelihood of accidents before the safety car returns to the pits, from the point at which the lights on the car are turned out drivers must proceed at a pace which involves no erratic acceleration or braking nor any other manoeuvre which is likely to endanger other drivers or impede the restart.

As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.

Note that this procedure was followed 4 times during Monaco. After the first 3, normal racing resumed at the safety car line.  Those who support the penalty are claiming 40.13 means that the green flag does not allow overtaking after the safety car leaves on the last lap.

The trouble with that position is that the text simply does not support it.  40.13 is conditional on the safety car continuing to ‘be deployed’ when it leaves the track, but 40.4 requires that yellow flags and “SC” boards are displayed during a deployment.  By following the 40.11 procedure and displaying the green flag, race control signalled that the safety car was no longer deployed and thus 40.13 cannot apply, no matter how illiterate the stewards are.

That won’t stop them or the FIA wielding illegitimate power though.