Drivers say Virtual Safety Car still needs work

2014 United States Grand Prix

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The Virtual Safety Car concept gained the cautious endorsement of leading drivers after it was tested during Friday’s practice sessions at the Circuit of the Americas.

The system is being trialled in the wake of Jules Bianchi’s crash during the Japanese Grand Prix, and allows for the speed of drivers to be controlled when there is a hazard on the track by giving them a target lap time on their dashboard.

Fernando Alonso said drivers are supportive of the plan but the first test showed it is still in need of refinement.

“I think that, for a first try it went well, although there is still much to do,” said Alonso. “All us drivers agree it’s a very worthwhile idea, we just need to get used to it.”

Jenson Button agreed, saying, “there were positives and negatives to today’s virtual Safety Car test”.

“I like the idea, but you spend a lot of time looking down at your steering wheel in order to ensure you’re correctly driving to the delta. If you drop below it when the restart happens, you get a ten-second penalty. In that respect, it’s very tricky.”

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    Keith Collantine
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    16 comments on “Drivers say Virtual Safety Car still needs work”

    1. I really like this idea, but think it would be a lot safer/easier if it was an actual limit on the car (like the pit lane limiter) applied in the appropriate sector. The driver would simply have no option but to comply and could still give full attention to the track.

      1. +1

        Although I wouldn’t use an actual sector (as in “roughly 1/3 of a lap”), but rather a smaller section (which already exist, though unofficially) that’s just a few hundred metres long. Ideally, the lines where the speed limit can start to be applied should be at the exit of a slow-ish corner to avoid sudden breaking and potential pile-ups. That way, there would even be a chance for clean racing up to the neutralised section. That might require a small extra rule that disallows running side by side in a neutralised section.
        I’m quite optimistic that this kind of innovation will not only be a great step for safety in racing, but also a way to get rid of safety cars, which I feel are bad for racing, because they tend to punish those who haven’t done anything wrong. I know they’re a great contribution to safety, but they’re also an artificial element, having changed the outcome of many races. I hope that a few years from now, there will be technologies in place that eliminate safety cars for good.

    2. Why can’t they just incorporate into the software in the car an automatic throttle override working in a similar way to how the DRS closure is triggered where when the SC is called, or there is a localised double yellow, when the driver uses the brakes at the end of an acceleration zone, then automatically the throttle will not open to anymore than say 15% of WOT until the car leaves that sector where after that the electronics automatically and progressively open the throttle again in increments over say 3 seconds or so in total elapsed time to limit the chances of the drivers losing control of the car on re-acceleration because of a misjudgement of the actual throttle pedal position when the pedal becomes the input device again. Theoretically all of the parts are there in the car, ie fly by wire etc to make this work, and I believe there are ways to tell the car what sector the car is on the track as well, possibly using ground loops, or maybe even GPS. So in this instance I would imagine this could be done with adding some code to the computers in the car and not have to spend stupid amounts of money in doing so. Great idea hey. Bernie, its my idea first, give me a call, I want a fee.

      1. The problem with a system like that is, you are taking away control of the car from the driver while they are racing, what happens if cars are wheel to wheel through a corner when this happens? Or if a driver suddenly lost power would he think it’s an issue with the car and start playing with the steering wheel until he see’s a VSC has been deployed. I like the idea of a VSC but only if it isn’t deployed every 5 seconds as soon as a yellow flag is waved. One of a big possible gain from this would be the lack of having to put a real safety car out unless really needed. But something tells me that the real SC would be put anyway.

        The only way I could see automatic throttle control happening is if the driver got a 5 second warning beep in their ear that is way going to happen.

        1. Let the drivers activate it and give them a certain number of seconds to do so (say 15). The race director would deactivate it when the coast is clear and they can go racing again.

          If a driver doesn’t activate it within the allotted time, they get a black flag for unsafe driving.

    3. What about a higher speed type pit limiter?

      1. that is what I assumed they would do, but instead it seems they have made it harder for the driver with stupid delta times. they can flash a light on the steering wheel “S.C”, which means slow to 130km/h or whatever, and a few seconds later an electronically controlled speed is locked in.

    4. Surely it would be possible to have either a flashing light on the dash or bleeps in the earphones that change frequency as the lap delta limit is approached after which the note would be constant… rather like the parking sensors on my car… ?

      Penalty should be a stop-go plus the error in lap delta otherwise the spectators wouldn’t know what’s going on later in the race.

    5. Yes one problem I figured is that tyre temperature will drop too much when they go at slow speed. It will be no problem if VSC is deployed only in 1 sector and drivers can build temperature in other 2 but if it’s entire lap than it will be problematic.

    6. I’m trying to reconcile this Virtual Safety Car idea (which I think is broadly a good thing) with reports earlier this year from Charlie Whiting and others that Safety Cars would be phased out in 2015 and replaced with red flag stops, followed by standing restarts.
      Have I remembered incorrectly? Or was that proposal ultimately scrapped?

      1. The idea was not that safety cars would be phased out, but that every safety car period would end with a standing restart rather than the current single-file rolling restart.
        The proposal was fortunately scrapped a few months ago.

        1. Afaik it wasn’t scrapped. It was merely Bernie saying he doesn’t want it.

      2. @timothykatz
        The SC isn’t being phased out in 2015, it will still be used but instead of a rolling restart the cars will line up on the grid for a standing restart.

        1. Aha! Thanks @beneboy and Muulka.

    7. Speaking of watching the steering wheel, did anyone notice the new the Force India one? It looks like it should be in an xbox not an F1 car lol

    8. Jonathan Sarginson
      7th November 2014, 2:00

      …how does the FIA implement the VSC in WEC?…it’s been in use for a while now, and seems to be very successful…also I am very much in favour of the speed being controlled electronically by race control..not by the the drivers…

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