The ruling comes after several controversial incidents this year in which drivers have vigorously defended their positions and in some cases forced challenging rivals off the circuit.
One of the most publicised of these cases came at the Bahrain Grand Prix when Nico Rosberg of Mercedes robustly defended his position from attacks, or attempts to pass, by Lewis Hamilton in a McLaren and then Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Both challenging drivers felt aggrieved at the way in which Rosberg moved his car to defend his position, forcing them to run wide and in Hamilton’s case off the circuit completely.
The race stewards investigated the incidents at the time and took no action because it was said that no “significant part” of either Hamilton or Alonso’s cars was alongside Rosberg at the time.
The incidents created some uproar, however, and many drivers called for a clearer explanation of what might be considered to be a “significant part” of a car.
Charlie Whiting, the race director of the ruling body the International Motoring Federation (FIA) has now made clear that “any driver defending his position on a straight, and before any braking area, may use the full width of the track during his first move provided no significant portion of the car attempting to pass is alongside his.
“Whilst defending in this way, the driver may not leave the track without justifiable reason.”
In an effort to clarify the ruling, he added: “For the avoidance of doubt, if any part of the front wing of the car attempting to pass is alongside the rear wheel of the car in front this will be deemed to be a ‘significant portion’.”
This, in effect, means that an attacking car has to find a way to move the front wing of his car alongside the rear wheels of the defending car to be able to claim that he is in a position to overtake — and that the defending driver cannot move around to defend that position.
At the time of the Bahrain incident, Rosberg said he would be happy for the FIA to provide clarification on driving standards.
“It is driver safety and we need to do the best we can so that we can move forward. We could look at implementing more rules in that situation because it is not very clear, but it can be looked at,” he said.
“Rules such as a car width (when a driver is moving back towards the racing line after making a block) is very good because we need that clear situation to penalise drivers when there is a need to…”
The clarification means also that Rosberg can rest easy because in both cases in Bahrain he defended his position without breaking the rules.