The FIA has confirmed changes to the Formula E pitlane regulations for the Berlin finale this weekend in an effort to close the opportunity for teams to use strategic cut-throughs.
The move comes after Lucas di Grassi and Audi almost snatched victory by executing an outrageous move via the pitlane in last month’s second London E-Prix at the ExCeL Arena.
Audi pitted di Grassi from eighth position during a safety car to retrieve the crashed DS E-TENSE FE21 car of reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa.
Such was the slow pace of the safety car that di Grassi was able to rejoin the race at the first corner in the lead after his team calculated that it could make up positions with a strategic stop given the short pitlane length.
This was open to teams in the regulations as long as the car came to a complete halt at its pit. Di Grassi though was adjudged, via data from FIA mandated wheel-speed sensors, to have still been in motion before he then picked up the throttle to exit his box.
He was subsequently given a stop/go penalty for breaking article 38.7 of the 2020/21 FIA Formula E world championship sporting regulation which states that “the pitlane entry and exit remain open and cars are free to pit provided that they stop in front of their pit [under safety car]”.
Di Grassi subsequently failed to serve a stop and go penalty for the offence after his team did not inform him of the sanction.
This resulted in disqualification from the race and a fine of €50,000, €45.000 of which was suspended for the rest of 2020/2021 season “upon the same infraction not being repeated”.
Speaking to The Race after the di Grassi incident in London, the FIA’s Frederic Bertrand said that the Formula E rules were written with some flexibility in mind and a view to being “special”.
“What we feel is that the more we go special right now on those type of things, sometimes we end up with something which is not that good,” he said.
“So we probably will also [now] go more standard on many things so that we live on a more standard basis than more exceptional basis, which sometimes we have in formula.
“I think we will probably include that in the way we write the regulation in the future.”
The Race can now reveal that for this weekend’s Berlin E-Prix double-header the pitlane exit light will display red when the safety car reaches the so-called ‘SCL1’ line.
According to a directive from the FIA to the teams “unless instructed differently by the race director, [the light will go] green again when the queue has passed the SCL2”.
This system is different to the full course yellow pit procedure which was mandated ahead of the 2020/21 season after similar incidents at Tempelhof last August.
On that occasion both Mahindra cars of Alex Lynn and Jerome d’Ambrosio and the Nissan of Oliver Rowland tried a similar strategic run through the pits.
The FIA acted on this by changing the rule for stopping under FCY by insisting upon cars stopping at their pit boxes for 10 seconds.
d’Ambrosio, now Venturi Racing’s deputy team principal, told The Race today he believes the move is the right call heading into the crucial final two races.
“I think the rule amendment is the right course of action,” he said.
“We saw a similar situation in Berlin last year under full course yellow and the loophole had to be closed there so this ruling is consistent with that.
“The highly competitive nature of motorsport means that teams will always try and use every situation to make marginal gains and the FIA’s job is to make sure that we have a level playing field to compete from.
“At the end of the day, the rules are written, they’re not always perfect, there are loopholes and it’s the FIA’s role to close those loopholes or amend the rules as issues arise and the championship evolves.”
The Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler squad did not protest the penalties issued at the London E-Prix.
Subsequent radio messages came to light last week via Formula E’s regular highlights of driver/team radio, which indicate that Audi initially believed di Grassi had a puncture before he made the strategic run through the pits.
Di Grassi’s engineer, Markus Michelburger, states to his driver: “Safety Car….green code…..Safety Car…green code,” to which di Grassi replies “confirm, OK I have a puncture.”
“Puncture? Box, box, which side,” says Michelburger.
Di Grassi responds: “I don’t think so….it’s spacing up, it’s spacing up.”
Michelburger then reminds di Grassi to stop and go at his box before telling him not to overtake the safety car upon exiting the pits.
Audi declined to comment on the confirmed rule change when The Race contacted it earlier today.