Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2019

Mercedes explain why the Virtual Safety Car cost Bottas four seconds

2019 French Grand Prix

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Mercedes have explained why Valtteri Bottas lost four seconds during the Virtual Safety Car period in the French Grand Prix, which allowed Charles Leclerc to attack him at the end of the race.

Motorsport strategy director James Vowles revealed Bottas was at risk of receiving a penalty and had to slow down suddenly, which left him four seconds “positive” to the target time when the VSC period suddenly ended.

“This was the shortest VSC we’ve had so far,” Vowles explained in a video released by Mercedes, “32 seconds total duration of which 18 was from the VSC deployed to the VSC ending.

“That period of time is very, very busy for the drivers. First of all they are towards the pit entry so we have to make sure they know that they are not [pitting] and that takes a few seconds to get out. Next, we have to put the [power unit] into a number of different modes to make sure it is safe to operate under a VSC and ready to go at the restart.

“From the VSC ending message it was 14 seconds, again a very short period of time. During that, Valtteri was actually in a high-speed corner going into a slow-speed corner when the VSC came out and actually went what was called ‘unsafe’ on his delta time. That means he is negative, that means he is in a condition that if he carries on that way he could receive a penalty.

“So priority one was getting him safe relative to the delta time, i.e. slowing down, which took a few seconds to do. He did that, he was about four seconds safe relative to the delta time and everything was good. The problem is, when we got the VSC ending message he didn’t have very long and a lot of distance in order to get back into a condition of being, let’s say, zero.”

However Vowles pointed out the time lost under the VSC was only a small part of the reason Leclerc was able to catch Bottas.

“As a result of it we lost a few seconds relative to optimum, but you would’ve seen that Charles Leclerc had exactly the same thing. He closed up only by a few tenths, he suffered from the same dilemma because he was at the same part of the track we were.

“So, under those VSC conditions, when it’s a little bit longer you have enough time to really get back close to that delta time of around zero, but when it’s so short like that it’s just a little bit busy and we didn’t quite optimise it fully.”

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Keith Collantine
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21 comments on “Mercedes explain why the Virtual Safety Car cost Bottas four seconds”

  1. This comes across as the worst of VSC, but 4 second loss is nothing compared to bunching up a pack where someone may be half a minute ahead. I’d still take VSC over a real SC in these circumstances any time.

    1. It does make me wonder if maybe there could be a reasonable minimum VSC time, maybe a minute or something @chrischrill; it can’t be super safe to have drivers busy fiddling settings while there is a hazard on track.

      1. Sincerely agree with you on that, 30s or 45s perhaps rather than a minute but the idea is a solid one.

      2. I don’t think it matters how long it is, the vital busy-setting-fiddling is always going to be required instantly.

    2. It’s a shame that this VSC came into existence because of something as mundane as a bollard, not even a car crash or a collision. Still I don’t exactly get how Bottas manged to lose four seconds. It seems as if he over-corrected and slowed down more than necessary, which is strange given they have those delta times.

  2. I’m so tired of engine modes and drivers piloting an airliner instead of an F1 car. Do we really need all this commands? Ok, let’s allow bidirectional telemetry and let the engineers do their things instead of asking the driver to change from one SOC to another.

    Or at least let FIA remotely set a limiter (power cut to 50%?) and use VSC for multiple complete laps.

    VSC attracts its fair share of hate, but if drivers could concentrate only in the delta I think it would be much more reasonable for circumstances like this one.

    1. @m-bagattini – I’m not going to comment on all of what you said here, because I’m not sure what I think on all of it.

      However, the “let FIA remotely set a limiter,” is a non-starter in my opinion. One, if it engaged in a tough moment it could lead to losing control or damaging tyres or more generally, unexpected consequences. Two, if a fault occurred and the limiter engaged—especially if it engaged on less than the whole field—what then? I guess you could send out a safety car to eliminate damage done to affected racers but then you are damaging others. The benefit of leaving in the control of the drivers/teams is that if something goes wrong then it is on them and they cannot blame the FIA.

      They could have a limiter like is used in the pits though. Though even that would raise the question of are you allowed to be at 100% of the limiter at all times under VSC or are there times when you need to be under that speed.

      1. Forgot one point. Three, if you somehow design the system such that any faults leave the power uncut (to avoid scenario two above), then you could run into an issue where 19 cars have their throttle cut and 1 does not. Do you penalize the driver for not knowing that the FIA power control device was faulty?

      2. Agreed …. total non starter purely on safety grounds.

      3. Some good points there @hobo. Let’s not forget though that the VSC thing is not all that different from the pitlane limiter – it also means the driver has to fiddle with settings to run down the engine. Just that they do some of it while waiting the few seconds their cars gets serviced.

        That was why Verstappen got stuck in the wrong engine setting after his (too) quick stop in Monaco since he didn’t get to switch back in time to a normal setting with everything going on.

        1. @bascb – Yeah, do we know if Verstappen’s issue occurred because those sorts of settings changes are limited by regulation—can only change this setting at standstill or pitlane speed—or is it an RBR software issue? What I mean is, can RBR update their software to allow the driver to exit this mode no matter what? Or is this a situation where RBR was just following the rules and those rules dictate that you cannot exit this mode at speed?

          1. I am not sure @hobo, but from the description I think it was more that the changing of the mode is tied to something technical (protecting the engine) that just makes it impossible to change after a stop.

            On the other hand, there is a limit on using changes out of the starting mode (maybe they use this out of the pitlane?) after a lap (or two?) from the start, so it could be a regulation limiting it.

  3. I wonder why they can’t introduce just another SC\VSC mode, which is engaged with a press of a button?
    Like Pit speed-limiter.
    You hit the button – and that’s it – your speed is capped (at the same level for everyone), your engine is switched to whatever mode needs to be switched (because the button overrides any other commands) – you just cruise around and don’t worry about “deltas”.

    1. Precisely because of this situation, in a short vsc period it unfairly penalises cars that have to go through slower corners than cars that dont.

      1. @dallein – I thought the same thing and commented above before I read yours. I think the limiter makes the most sense.

        @asanator – that is not an issue with the implementation of a limiter though as the current system still penalizes drivers based on where they are on the track when the VSC starts and stops. If you want to correct for that, you could have VSCs that exist in terms of total laps. For example, if you engage a VSC when the leader (used for tracking purposes) is in turn 3, end the VSC when the leader is in turn 3 that way everyone loses similar time.

        Outside of that, the only way to remove VSC issues is to remove the VSC, which is probably not ideal.

        1. @hobo I think the solution is to have a longer “VSC Ending” phase. That means that once the track is declared safe, they have a timer that counts down meaning they could go + their delta time if they know they are entering a section of the track where they’ll lose out. They just have to make sure they are at 0 when the time runs out.

          It’s still not completely fair but neither are yellow flags – it’s just the nature of racing. You win some, you lose some.

          1. @petebaldwin – I think that is reasonable. I seem to remember (perhaps incorrectly) that the VSC restart is somewhat random on purpose. Perhaps like the actual SC, you are never sure when the lead driver will bolt? Assuming something like that was actually the aim, would we want to preserve that aspect (when VSC ends it will give you at least 10sec to adjust your delta, but the amount of time above 10sec is random) or is it not necessary?

            I’d be okay with losing the randomness aspect of the VSC ending.

        2. if you engage a VSC when the leader (used for tracking purposes) is in turn 3, end the VSC when the leader is in turn 3 that way everyone loses similar time

          Nope! Imagine while the leader is in turn 3, another driver is on the start-finish straight! Once the VSC ends they turn off the limiter, but the car isn’t instantly up to race speed, it has to accelerate and won’t even reach the normal speed before they get to the turn 1 braking zone. We’re talking seconds of lost time compared to the leader who is already going slow for a corner under normal circumstances anyway.

          1. @sihrtogg – I understand, but if you do it in even lap amounts, then everyone will have gone a full lap at VSC speed. So from VSC start to VSC end everyone should be exactly the same as when it started. As it currently stands it’s more random. That’s the only difference.

            The issue is that when it comes off, some would still be advantaged or disadvantaged as you say, but that cannot be avoided with the current VSC rules.

  4. Surely the answer to this is end VSC at the same point the drivers were when it was turned on, if they are all at zero delta they’ll be at the same point. Don’t allow pit stops during VSC to get round that issue.

  5. Turn on the sprinklers to slow them down

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