F1 Virtual Safety Car needs a rethink

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“How the f*** did Nico pass us?” was the car to pit radio message from Daniel Ricciardo on lap 8 as the virtual safety car was withdrawn. Rosberg was down in fourth when the VSC was deployed following the coming together with his team mate at turn one on the first lap.

The Virtual Safety Car is clearly different from a full safety car, where the field bunches up in race order and each car is right behind the one ahead. The current VSC operation gives the drivers a minimum time to drive to (max average speed) which reduces the pace of the cars on track and maintains the current gaps between the cars.

However, under the first VSC at the 2015 US GP which was primarily deployed to clear debris from turn one, something new in VSC history was to happen.

it appeared Lewis felt he may need to make amends for his first lap ‘error’ which had cost his team mate, and so Lewis drove slower than required under the VSC, thus allowing the Red Bulls in second and third along with Rosberg to close up on him.

On lap 5 when the VSC was deployed, Hamilton (P1) led Ricciardo (P3) by 4.9 seconds and Rosberg by 7.0 seconds. Hamilton’s next two laps were 2m 17.8s and 2m 17.0s and Ricciardo was able to reduce the gap to just under 2 seconds. Meanwhile Nico Rosberg was lapping in around 2m 15s, so by the time the VSC was withdrawn, he was now 2.7 seconds behind Lewis and on Ricciardo’s tail.

Yet it appears Daniel Ricciardo wasn’t really sure what was going on during this phase of the race. “Rosberg wasn’t right up our arse [when the VSC was deployed], he was a few seconds behind,” said the Aussie after the race. “So then when I saw him already close on us under virtual safety car, I was thinking, ‘surely he’ll back off again”.

“Then he passed me, and then it was green flag apparently. I don’t know what happened there. I was following suit, basically”.

The cars are given a warning prior to the VSC being withdrawn, so maybe Ricciardo wasn’t paying attention. Ricciardo claims the VSC procedures were unusual at the race in Austin. “It was a bit confusing, I don’t know why. On Sunday it was more confusing than it has been in previous races”.

“I don’t know if Rosberg just caught all of us out, but I was more confused how he was so close to us.”

However, Daniel should have been able to understand that if he was driving to his delta time and max average speed – but was catching Hamilton, then the race leader was driving more slowly than he was required. This would see Rosberg close the gap behind the Red Bull despite being under VSC conditions.

TJ13 has advocated the use of a VSC for a number of years, however, the current system is a botched and revised version of what Charlie Whiting intended to deliver following the Bianchi incident in Suzuka 2014.

The VSC was supposed to be a computerised replacement for double yellow flags. It would isolate a small area of the circuit where marshals were working forcing the cars to ‘slow down and be prepared to stop’. Then for the rest of the lap the drivers could travel at full speed for the rest of the lap.

To ensure no driver gained an advantage, the last car through the VSC zone first time around, would be the last car through the same zone before the VSC was withdrawn.

The problem with the VSC as it is currently operated is that drivers can still drive at excessive speeds through areas of the circuit where marshals are working. The cars at present are given average maximum speeds at which they can drive, this means if they drive slower than this for part of the lap – they can then drive full tilt for part of the lap.

Ricciardo’s expectations demonstrate this speeding up and slowing down is common during VSC periods. In Monaco this year, cars were crossing the start finish line under the VSC and clocking speeds similar to when racing.

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18 responses to “F1 Virtual Safety Car needs a rethink

  1. Why can’t they use an ounce of common sense and follow the WEC’s method with a code 60? Where the race director switches it on and cars automatically can go no faster than 60 km/h. Then as soon as the danger on the track has been cleared they simply switch it back off and the cars go back to racing.

    Even if the use of the pit lane speed limiter was mandated, it is a damn sight better than sticking to a set delta time that we have at the moment. Take the control away from the drivers and limit the speed electronically.

    It is such an easy system to implement. If the WEC can use it fine, why can’t F1 follow the lead?!

    • That’s because F1 has a regulation that if something is a no brainer, common sense or trivial it should be banned! 🙂

  2. Maybe take a look at the slow zones at le mans. Oh wait bernie hate le mans and things that are effective. Never mind…

  3. They cant agree on common sense ideas because the teams have no way to gain an advantage from that. With the VSC the teams know they can pull these kind of stunts and they care very little for the driver who loses out and the viewers who think ….WTF!?

  4. “it appeared Lewis felt he may need to make amends for his first lap ‘error’ which had cost his team mate”

    Is that just speculation?

    “and so Lewis drove slower than required under the VSC, ”
    and
    “On lap 5 when the VSC was deployed, Hamilton (P1) led Ricciardo (P3) by 4.9 seconds and Rosberg by 7.0 seconds. Hamilton’s next two laps were 2m 17.8s and 2m 17.0s and Ricciardo was able to reduce the gap to just under 2 seconds. Meanwhile Nico Rosberg was lapping in around 2m 15s, so by the time the VSC was withdrawn, he was now 2.7 seconds behind Lewis and on Ricciardo’s tail.”

    By deduction, I make it that Ricciardo was doing an average around 2m 16s for those two laps.
    Is there any FIA data as to which of the three drivers was driving correctly to the stipulated lap time. i.e. what was the required lap time?

    • Given that Rosberg was 2 seconds a lap quicker than Lewis – and wasn’t penalised, Lewis was obviously driving more slowly than required. The FIA do not supply the delta time I’m afraid

      • Surely we just need a rule to ensure drivers don’t drive slower than the delta times set, as it’s the actions of Lewis that allowed Nico to catch up significantly and overtake Ricciardo rather than the VSC really.

  5. In a way, I think that due to FIA’s incompetence this VSC adds an additional element of unpredictability…and boy, do we need it!

  6. The current implementation (and the reason why it was implemented) of the VSC says everything about the state of F1 now. Severely lacking in all area’s, not effective, hasn’t been thought through very well, jada jada jada just a big mess.

  7. This is not the first time we’ve seen this a discrepancy with the VSC, you only have to go back to Spa

  8. I agree with others. Implement something similar to the pit speed limiter but at a faster speed to ensure tyres are safe.

  9. To make the virtual safety car as it is implemented right now even close to fair, the average sector speeds allowed would need to be dynamically set in regards to the leader’s speed so gaps would remain constant. Otherwise stuff like what happened in the last race will become used universally and the whole idea behind slowing drivers down on grounds of safety becomes corrupted. Making the VSC fair is not a solution either though, or drivers would end up staring on their little steering wheel displays more than they’d pay attention to what’s happening on the track, which is the point of a safety car, virtual or not.

    Frankly, the Formula 1 is the only top tier motorsport series, which has this kind of attitude problem. I’ve watched lots of different series from all over the world over the past decade, but nowhere else have I seen such a cavalier attitude towards their own safety from drivers than in Formula 1.

      • My worry is they won’t sort out the VSC until either drivers pile into the back of each other through a car in the lead slowing down to allow a team mate to catch up if a constructors title battle is very tight or a driver will plough into marshals and kill them. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but there have been too many close shaves recently. F1 has lapsed back into it’s usual taking safety for granted attitude.
        It will I think take the death of a driver on track, to get anything done. You can say what you like about Mad Max, but he appears to have taken safety a lot more seriously than Todt does. The hands off approach is not good enough for F1 given how teams and drivers squabble and lose focus when it comes to safety issues. Complacency has set in, even the death of Jules does not seem to have dented that.

        Perhaps I’m still traumatised from seeing Senna crash and learn later on that he’d died. That day is seared into my memory.

  10. I noted from watching the Formula E race that someone broadcasts to all drivers a countdown for when the VSC is coming to an end. Could F1 not implement this also?

  11. If Ricciardo was sticking to delta then Rosberg should have stayed the same time behind Ricciardo, but both of them catching Hamilton. Unless Ricciardo had to slow up even further due to Hamilton???

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