Race Start Procedure
The pit lane is opened 30 minutes before the drivers head out on their formation lap, and in the next 15 minutes, teams can send the cars out for any installation laps they wish. Each time they do, the cars must come back through the pit lane, thus never passing the grid. Completing laps before the race begins is unusual, however, as the drivers have their fuel loads worked out already, and strategy is very important.
The pit lane closes again, but all the drivers should, by this time, be on the grid ahead of the formation lap. If a car is still in the pit lane as it closes, they have to start the race from there. The cars, drivers and teams are usually surrounded by their guests and various circuit personnel and this is acceptable until 10 minutes before the race starts. The grid is then cleared allowing just mechanics, drivers, and race officials.
Drivers don’t have to make a decision on which tyres they want to start with until there are just three minutes left, but if they haven’t fitted them before this time, they have to start from the back of the grid. Engines must be running with a minute to go, and everyone but the drivers has to leave the grid with 15 seconds to spare before the formation lap.
If a driver struggles to get started, but can get away with the rest of the pack, he can still join in and retake his place in the formation. If he can’t get away, then he has to raise his arm, and once all cars have passed, he’ll either start from the back, or more likely, be pushed into the pit lane to start from there.
There is no overtaking allowed during the formation lap, aside from passing anyone stuck on the grid, or them taking their place back. The cars line up on the grid, waiting for the lights to come on. If a driver has a problem now, having completed the formation lap, he raises his arm. Another formation lap will take place, and this one is counted as a race lap.
Five red lights come on one by one, and then go out to signal the start.
If it is raining, this changes, as we saw at the Italian Grand Prix this weekend. If it starts to rain 3 minutes before the start, then the race director can revert back 10 minutes, to allow teams to reconsider their tyre choices. If the weather is very bad, and a safety car start is required, then all drivers must start on extreme wet tyres. The safety car will put its orange lights on a minute before the start, which is when teams will know this is going to happen. The five light procedure doesn’t take place, as the safety car lights turn green when it is time to start.
The cars follow the safety car under strict policy – no overtaking, etc – until the race director decides it is safe to let the cars go. That’s when racing can begin properly.
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