The FIA has come under much criticism this season since the sacking of permanent F1 race director Michael Massi. The sport now has two part time race directors together with each weekend two grace and favour stewards who together with a driver steward adjudicate the events which occur during a race. TJ13 has for years called for professional stewards to improve consistency in race decisions which is now high on the drivers’ agenda.
Late in the race at Sunday’s 2022 GP at the French Paul Ricard circuit a virtual safety car was deployed following the breakdown of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Gunayu with just 4 laps remaining.
A full safety car may have helped Carlos Sainz cause given he’d been pitted from P3 with 10 laps to go and was in a forlorn chase to catch the battling Perez and Russel in P4 and P3.
Yet the virtual safety car was the right call from race control because the Alfa was cleared quickly and a full safety car would have seen the race finish under caution.
With 2 laps to go the FIA’s Race Control issued the message to the driver’s that the virtual safety car is ending. This means that from the instant that message is sent there will be a random time between 10 and 15 seconds when the green flag is shown.
Perez was leading the Mercedes driver was exiting turn 9 when the ‘safety car ending’ message was displayed, yet it was at turn 12 almost 45 seconds later when the green flag was issued.
“It was very unfortunate what happened with the virtual safety car,” Perez said after losing a place to Russell at the restart.
“I got the message it was going to end out of Turn 9, so I went for it and then it didn’t end. Then I got the message saying it was going to end through Turn 12. And I was just too close to it.”
Having not watched any replays, Perez believes Russell had different information though in fact that was not the case.
“It seems like George had different information and he was able to prepare better for it [the restart].
“I mean it’s a shame the virtual safety car interfered with the result, to be honest. It shouldn’t be the case, but today it was the case.
“It [the message of VSC ending] was totally wrong, there was something going on because it said it was going to end out of Turn 9 and it only ended out of Turn 12.”
In actuality all the drivers received the same “safety car ending” message from Race Control, and Russell even bolted up to the back of Perez after the 15 seconds had elapsed. The Mercedes driver then backed off and Perez bolted forward creating a big gap to Russell.
However, because Perez was now approaching the next timing loop early, he had to brake to stay within the time allowed for that sector under the VCS.
George Russell explained, “I had to pre-empt [the green flag] and it can go both ways but I knew I had one opportunity when the VSC was ending. If you time it right and carry the momentum you can catch out the car in front.”
“He [Perez] may have been too quick and had to brake, so he’s braking and I’m accelerating and it gave me the opportunity [to overtake]”
But the extreme delay in either issuing the green flag much later than there mandatory 15 seconds or telling the drivers the safety car was ending too early is a big mistake and one that Michael Massi never made.
The cumulative cockups from the FIA’s race control are embarrassing this season and clearly demonstrate despite the criticism for his decisions last year in Abu Dhabi, Michael Massi was far more competent than the current arrangements the FIA have instigated to replace him.
Team boss Christian Horner believes his driver was robed by the shoddy procedure claiming he believed Perez had the pace to hold off George Russell and was therefore denied a podium. He said he would be raising the issue with the FIA and demand answers as to why the safety car protocol was woefully implemented.
UPDATE: FIA explain procedural failure
The FIA has just issued an explanation for the delay in restarting the French GP following a virtual safety car.
Apparently the hardware used to operate this function failed which forced Race Control to revert to a back up plan.
A statement from the FIA said: “A second VSC ending message was sent due to a hardware issue, which led to an automated switch to backup systems that worked exactly as they should in that scenario.
“The same information is supplied to all teams concurrently. The VSC ending countdown time to the green light being displayed on the trackside panels is always random.”
It is ludicrous that a multi billion dollar sport can suffer these and other failures. In Monaco the race start was delayed for over an hour due to a lack of power for the electronic race control systems.