Formula E

"A massive mistake" - Were the ordered position swaps at the Formula E race in Berlin against the rules?

Tobias Wirtz

Tobias Wirtz

Part of the chaotic Saturday Formula E race in Berlin was a brief full-course yellow phase following Joel Eriksson's retirement. This was quickly converted into a safety car phase. Shortly afterwards, race director Scot Elkins instructed several drivers over the radio to swap positions in order to re-establish a certain order. ABT driver Lucas di Grassi in particular, who had to drop two positions as a result, was furious after the race - as there is no such thing in the regulations.

"I actually overtook Rowland before the yellow period," explained Lucas di Grassi after the race in an interview with (see photo). "I was forced to (give back the position). But this rule doesn't exist! There is no scenario in a full-course yellow phase where you have to give back a position. That was a massive mistake!"

"During a safety car period, the previous measurement counts," he continues. "But with full-course yellow, you (as the driver) press the 50 km/h button. So you have to drive at 50 km/h from a certain point onwards. Either you are in front at that point or you have just passed illegally. But then you get a drive-through penalty and can't simply give back your position."

"I've never heard in the history of motorsport that you have to give back your position when you get a full-course yellow," he says. "There is no such thing. Because it doesn't make sense in terms of the regulations."

Swapping places does not comply with the rules, but the problem lies elsewhere

The sporting regulations cover the ABT driver's statement. Paragraph 39 explicitly states that after the full-course yellow phase has been triggered, the cars must slow down to 50 km/h and drive in a row behind each other. In the television footage, it can be seen that Mitch Evans and Oliver Rowland were driving alongside the ABT driver when the full-course yellow was called, but were also centimetres behind him.

It was only later that they lined up behind him. At first glance, the place swap ordered by the race director makes even less sense, especially as it does not appear in the regulations at all.

However, part of the problem lies elsewhere: unlike a safety car phase, a full-course yellow phase only comes into effect after five seconds, when race control has counted down from five to zero. The drivers have that long to reduce their speed to 50 km/h.

In particular in races like the one in Berlin, where four or five cars sometimes raced side by side, this can lead to confusion about the actual order, because one driver may have already reduced their speed after four seconds, but another only half a second later.

Late braking "part of the game"

Di Grassi also recognises this: "It's part of the game: you have to react as late as possible - but within the rules. So either you move outside the rules or you shouldn't give back the position. It's a very simple binary decision - black or white."

Even if the procedure did not comply with the rules - it happened. "That changed the dynamics of my race," grumbles a visibly annoyed di Grassi. "I lost two positions in the full-course yellow phase, which led to a series of subsequent incidents." The Brazilian is referring to the accident with ERT driver Dan Ticktum, which knocked him out of the race shortly after the end of the safety car phase.

Before the Shanghai E-Prix next weekend, the FIA should look at this passage in the regulations and come up with a solution. Because it may well be that we can expect a similarly chaotic peloton race in China as in Berlin...

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