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About that safety car pitstop by Button - Was Jenson's Canada stop illegal or a shrewd strategy move?

Published by Mr. C

As Christine pointed out in her F1 Digest show earlier, during yesterday's race in Canada, Jenson Button entered the pit lane whilst it was closed under safety car conditions, and then exited without receiving a penalty.

Despite much due-diligence I've yet to find a single explanation for this anywhere. However, I have a vague idea that Button's stop may have been a stroke of genius on Honda's part, or at least, they may have found a way of exploiting a loophole in the regulations.

Jenson's Pitstop in Canada

Retracing the steps

Let's take a quick look at the early part of Jenson Button's Canadian Grand Prix.

  • Jenson starts the race on the soft tyre, which for todays race is the prime choice
  • On lap 17, as a result of Sutil's accident the safety car is deployed
  • Jenson enters the pits on lap 17 while the pitlane is closed
  • Honda mechanics remove the tyres and replace them with the super-soft compound (this is the option tyre and thus fulfills the requirement to run both types of rubber during the race)
  • Jenson exits the pitlane under a green light, as the safety car is elsewhere on track (along with the rest of the pack)
  • Jenson eventually catches up with the back of the slow moving queue
  • Pit lane opens on lap 19 (only possible after all cars are lined up behind the safety car)
  • Button pits again along with other drivers, this time swapping back to the preferred soft compound and additionally taking on fuel

After all of these events have played out, Jenson can happily spend the rest of the race running the better of the two tyres. He took his pitstop along with everybody else and effectively lost nothing.

Cooking the books

I should add at this point, I'm filling in some gaps that the TV cameras couldn't confirm (given that they had other pitlane dramas to focus on), but I'm reasonably confident that's how things played out.

So, assuming the above is correct, how did the guy avoid being penalised? Well, this is what article 40.6 of the 2008 Sporting Regulations states:

From the time at which the "SAFETY CAR DEPLOYED" message is displayed no car may enter the pit lane for the purpose of refuelling until all cars on the track have formed up in a line behind the safety car and the message "PIT LANE OPEN" is shown on the timing monitors.

I added the emphasis, but note that there's nothing in that sentence relating to the changing of tyres.

In the spirit of the regulations

Have Honda found a loophole in the regulations that avoids running a troublesome tyre? Is this Ross Brawn doing the very thing he does best? Did any other teams notice, and will there be any alterations made to the regulations to prevent this in the future?

I would also raise the question of how fast Jenson traveled when catching up with the rest of the pack? We know that the pitlane is closed to discourage speeding while dangers may be present on track, but this new approach makes that principle irrelevant.

There is an argument to say that even if there is a loophole, it didn't do the Englishman a great deal of good, as he still finished third from last. However, in a faster car and specifically a faster car that can only deal with a single type of tyre, this could offer huge gains to anyone willing to take the gamble.

I may be wrong of course. In yesterday's case, Jenson's rubber could've been shredded. He simply may have had to pit regardless.

Incidentally, I'm assuming that this is the reason the regulations specifically mention fuel and not anything else, allowing cars who may be suffering damage from whatever brought out the safety car in the first place, a chance of repair.