After the impeding chaos in the qualifying session of the Singapore GP, the FIA has decided to reintroduce the rule of the maximum time that each driver must strictly adhere to during the imminent weekend in Japan at the Suzuka circuit. The rule is therefore being applied again after it was successfully tested during the Monza weekend at the beginning of September, where no cases of impeding were recorded in any qualifying session.
The FIA reinstates the rule of the maximum time to be respected in qualifying at Suzuka.
During each race weekend, the federation imposes a maximum time that all drivers must adhere to between the two Safety Car lines at the end of the pit exit and before the pit entry for all in-laps during qualifying. The same applies to reconnaissance laps before the start of a Grand Prix.
For the Italian Grand Prix, race director Niels Wittich had extended the restriction of this maximum time not only to in-laps but to all laps completed in qualifying. The ultimate goal was to avoid dangerous clusters of drivers just before launching themselves and cases of impeding, as happened in Singapore. This rule was successful at Monza, with no impeding incidents recorded.
At Marina Bay, however, the scenario of drivers crowded on the final corner reappeared, with Max Verstappen, breaking away from the group at the last moment, posing considerable risks to drivers coming up behind him. Wittich wanted to clarify the rule thoroughly to the drivers through an official note.
“For the safe and orderly conduct of the event, unless exceptional circumstances are accepted as such by the stewards, any driver who exceeds the maximum time from the second line of the Safety Car to the first line of the Safety Car on ANY lap during and after the end of the qualifying session, including in-laps and out-laps, may be considered as if unnecessarily slow.”
Those caught exceeding the delta set by the FIA could be subject to possible penalties. However, if a driver can demonstrate valid reasons for not adhering to the maximum time (as seen with Leclerc and Sainz at Monza), the federation may also turn a blind eye.