Written by Dan Jones, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
In the aftermath of the 2022 São Paulo Grand Prix, following Max Verstappen’s refusal to allow his Red Bull Racing teammate, Sergio Perez through to take P6 in his hunt for second in the championship, the Dutchman ‘gave his reasons’ for not allowing the Mexican past, which many believe to be in reference to Perez deliberately crashing in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix held in May. Although it hasn’t been confirmed that Perez deliberately looped his RB18 at Portier, the onboard shows a telling story, and re-ignited the question: Why are we allowing drivers to benefit from their own mistakes?
There have been many examples of this in recent years. A notable instance here was Charles Leclerc crashing on his second qualifying run at the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, and although he wouldn’t start the race, it prevented others from setting a faster time than the Monegasque, and secured him pole. More recently, in the 2022 São Paulo Grand Prix, George Russell spun in the beginning of the session, and beached his Mercedes at Turn Four, bringing out a red flag. As conditions worsened into Q3, no-one could improve from their first runs, this provided Russell a P3 start for the sprint, which would prove to be a huge factor in the Briton claiming his first Formula One victory.
Many believe that the solution to this problem is the ‘IndyCar rule.’ The IndyCar rule features three punishments depending on the severity of the incident. If a driver causes a ‘local yellow,’ (in F1 terms, a driver causing a yellow flag in a singular sector), which affects another driver’s lap, the best lap time of the driver causing the incident in that particular session is removed. So for example, if a driver spins on a flying lap, which causes another driver to slow down, they will lose the best time they earned in the session. However, if they do not impede another driver, think back to Max Verstappen’s spin in Q3 for the British Grand Prix, the driver goes unpunished.
The next stage is causing a full-course yellow, a VSC in F1 terms. The punishment for causing a full-course yellow is the driver’s best two times in the session being deleted. For example, Russell’s incident in Sao Paulo may not have warranted a Red Flag, as he was in an easily recoverable position, and drivers would not be at risk a VSC is deployed (Of course, F1 don’t currently deploy the VSC in qualifying, but do in practice sessions), and in that scenario would have lost his two best times in the session.
The most extreme punishment is for causing a Red Flag. If a driver causes a Red Flag, they lose their best two times in the session and are not available to advance to the next session. For example, Carlos Sainz’s crash at the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Q2 guaranteed his progression to the next session. If the IndyCar rule had been enforced, Sainz would have lost his best two times, and even if they were good enough for the Top 10, he would still not be allowed to advance.
If a driver causes a Red Flag in the Firestone Fast 6, IndyCar’s equivalent of Q3, all their lap times in the session are deleted, so Sergio Perez would have lined up 10th in Monaco if the IndyCar rule was enforced, as he would not have set a lap time.
Implementation of the IndyCar rule would almost certainly prevent any deliberate crashing or incidents, such as Perez in Monaco, or Nico Rosberg at the same venue, eight years earlier. The punishment for making the mistake would far exceed the benefit of making the mistake, for Perez, he would have lined up for the Grand Prix 10th, on the track most difficult to overtake on the entire year, whilst Rosberg would have either had his best, or two best laps deleted, which would take away his pole position.
And even if crashing wasn’t accidental, it would still prevent drivers from benefiting from their errors, like Leclerc or Russell, the latter’s mistake would significantly help him in his bid for his first Grand Prix win. It’s not enjoyable for a fan either seeing a driver getting personal gain for their own mistake; it almost doesn’t feel sportingly correct.
As is the case, this rule would have its own drawbacks as well. Drivers may be more inclined to drive cautiously to avoid making a mistake, and, as qualifying is all about taking risks and finding the limit, it may prevent magical moments, such as Max Verstappen’s lap at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, until he threw it away in the final corner. Had the rule been in place, Verstappen may have been less risk-taking on his lap. It wouldn’t quite be qualifying if both driver and car were not at their absolute limits.
Additionally, the two-lap deletion rule is only effective in IndyCar, as drivers may do five or six laps in a qualifying session. In F1, drivers will only one or two runs per qualifying segment, and if both are deleted, it makes life a lot harder for the drivers, as time is limited, as well as tyre usage.
On the contrary, it could play into strategy. If a front-runner, such as Leclerc or Verstappen made an error in Q2 and brought out a yellow flag, would they risk putting on a second set and ruining later chances in Q3 or even the race, or have to do multiple fast laps on a singular set which could put them at risk of elimination?
Do I think the implementation of the IndyCar rule would be a success in F1? Yes, with a couple of changes. I believe that, if a driver causes a yellow flag but is able to continue, their fastest lap of the session should be deleted, the same rule that IndyCar uses in that procedure. As a VSC is not used in F1 qualifying, and the Red Flag rule is too extreme for F1 purposes, it could easily be adjusted where a driver loses their fastest time and cannot advance, instead of the usual two laps. This means that drivers would not be forced to do additional runs, in case they do make an error. As F1 has four more drivers in its final qualifying segment than IndyCar, deleting all lap times seems a bit too extreme, so I would adjust the rule, where drivers would have their two best times deleted in Q3. The rule would not apply to a driver who suffers a mechanical failure.
With more and more drivers seeming to benefit from their own mistakes, a rule in qualifying similar to that of the IndyCar Rule would be welcomed in F1 qualifying by both fans and drivers alike, as it does not hamper other’s chances at progressing, and would stop deliberate crashing, particularly on the streets of Monte Carlo, where the problem seems to arise commonly. With the rule being such a success in IndyCar, there is no reason not to be the case in F1. So let us know, would the IndyCar rule be something you would support in F1?