Formula 1

FIA explains bizarre Tsunoda safety car unlapping anomaly

by Jack Benyon
2 min read

It was perhaps appropriate that a race that featured the first Max Verstappen/Lewis Hamilton controversy of the 2022 Formula 1 season also featured an oddity around lapped cars at a safety car restart.

AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda was not permitted to unlap himself during the Brazilian Grand Prix’s final safety car period, due to a bizarre situation in which the timing system thought he had already done so once while entering the pits.

Cars unlapping themselves at restarts became a huge point of contention in F1 at the 2021 title-deciding Abu Dhabi GP, when erstwhile race director Michael Masi decided they would not be allowed to do so ahead of the final restart, then announced they would after all, but then only allowed those between Hamilton and Verstappen to go through before the race restarted – leaving Verstappen right on Hamilton’s tail and on fresher tyres. He duly passed Hamilton for the race win and world title.

The FIA modified the wording of the relevant rule for 2022 to try to prevent a repeat.

But in Brazil on Sunday, the race was able to restart with the two Williams having unlapped themselves but the lapped Tsunoda still mid-queue.

“I got told I had to stay in the line, so I just stayed,” said the puzzled Tsunoda. “I thought I could overtake [to unlap], but they said no so I just stayed.”

The FIA has investigated what happened and said nothing went wrong as such, and saying an “unusual situation arose as a result of the idiosyncrasies of the specific circuit and scenario”.

Tsunoda was registered on the timing system as a lapped car and should have been allowed to unlap himself, but on the next lap he made a pitstop.

As he came into the pitlane, he was able to go faster than the cars behind the safety car on track.

He therefore did unlap himself in the pitlane – albeit briefly – and then the train of cars on track repassed him as he sat in the pits and returned him one lap down.

“When he rejoined the circuit, the systems correctly indicated that he was again a lap down, however as he had already unlapped himself once, he was not eligible to do so again when the safety car period was ending”, said an FIA statement.

“Race Control checked this was correct with F1 timing and they confirmed that only car 6 (Nicholas Latifi) and car 23 (Alex Albon) could unlap themselves.”

Therefore it seems a car cannot unlap itself twice while behind the safety car.

The FIA insists there were no “systems or procedural errors” and added it was “one of those unpredictable scenarios that can happen and there are no immediate changes that need to be implemented”.

The incident will be discussed at a future Sporting Advisory Committee meeting as part of what it calls “normal review procedures”.

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