Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Sochi Autodrom, 2019

Ferrari ‘100 metres away’ from avoiding VSC for Vettel’s retirement

2019 Russian Grand Prix

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Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said the Virtual Safety Car period which cost them victory in Russia could have been avoided if Sebastian Vettel’s power unit problem had developed a hundred metres later.

An electrical problem on Vettel’s Ferrari power unit meant the team told him to stop his car immediately. He pulled over by an access road at turn 15 which meant race control deployed the Virtual Safety Car to allow marshals to move it safely.

“We got a problem on the hybrid side of the power unit and we got a loss of insulation on the car,” Binotto explained. “So for safety reasons we called to stop immediately.

“Obviously a shame because 100 metres maybe later we could have got [to] the pit lane. But it was the safest action we could do for Seb and obviously the safety [comes] first.”

Drivers are not always told to retire if their car becomes electrically ‘unsafe’, as was the case for Alexander Albon at Silverstone. Binotto said uncertainty over the exact cause of Vettel’s problem led them to tell him to retire immediately.

The VSC period gave Lewis Hamilton the opportunity to make his pit stop and rejoin the track ahead of Charles Leclerc, which cost Ferrari their chance to win the race. FIA race director Michael Masi said there was no better alternative to using the VSC in response to Vettel’s stoppage.

“The car was unsafe, effectively from an electronics point of view. And it stayed unsafe until the end of the race. So to recover it in the safest possible manner and putting marshals out there to do so, it was a very simple decision to put out the VSC.

“Moving it back into that hole because of the electrical issue that there was with the car, we made sure that it was well and truly clear and in a safe position until going forward.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
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29 comments on “Ferrari ‘100 metres away’ from avoiding VSC for Vettel’s retirement”

  1. and we got a loss of insulation on the car,”

    Ah, so that’s what Vettel was gesticulating to the marshals who approached him near the gate.

    1. Surprised none of the commentators picked up on it sooner. He leapt well clear from the top of the car, and never returned to it.

    2. It was in Bahrain when Ricciardo had similar problem with electrically charged car and he jumped clear of the car. It was surprising none of the commentators picked it up.

    3. Slovenian commentators picked it up, it was obvious, Vettel was pointing at rubber gloves some marshals had and gesticulated heavily. Then opened himself the gate :D.

  2. And I thought it was an epic blunder on their side.

    Still somehow doesn’t sound exactly right… it is a bit unclear how 100 meters could not be taken, when Seb was already and still in the car… they could have even blocked pit exit…

    Anyway, regardless, they lost because of reliability of one car. A shame in a sense.

    1. A safety issue like that, 100 meters extra is several seconds extra danger of getting hit with high voltage for the driver, which frankly any sane manager should not risk @dallein, it’s to the credit of the team they took security over race results (and I would say that any other way should risk severe penalties from not just the FIA, but also the public prosecutor in the country of the GP). The FIA have set procedures ever since they got these electric risks, and I am glad that teams seem to follow them.

      1. Physics doesn’t support this idea.
        Drivers jump from the car for a reason – not to touch the ground and car at the same time.
        While already sitting in a car, even 100 more meters, driver is not able to touch ground in any way…

        If they fear that somehow the car can become grounded and somehow electrocute the driver inside – then driving off the track is even more dangerous than reaching pits in 100 meters.

        If you or anyone can provide better explanation – please do.

        1. Depends on Wiring.

          If whole chasis is hot then there is no real danger.

          theoretically surge could go trough drivers seat and driver and that would be dangerous.

          Ferrary probably had idea what the danger was

          1. OK Miroslaw, F1 cars are on some kind of rubber, an insulation (more or less – I don’t know P-zero’s insulation capacity) material. If you are on a ‘live’ F1 car – with a high electrical voltage, but with also a a large abnormal current Ampères (which are connected with the basic and evolved Ohm’s Laws), Ferrari could only guess (‘probably’) what the danger was. (maybe none, maybe very high) Which leads us to the very strange behaviour of Seb – which was exactly what a driver would do, when his team hadn’t a clue at that time. Seb did exactly what was known to him: to save (a) himself, (b) the people around him. Seb did a good job. Ferrari didn’t. And ‘probably’ does not fit.

  3. I would prefer it if F1 closed the pitlane during a VSC. It’s meant to neutralize the whole race, but it doesn’t really.

    1. It’s silly especially in an era where refueling is prohibited. The pitlane could easily be closed for those cars that do not want to retire.

      Funnily enough F1 closed the pitlane – or rather gave penalties for those who pitted during SCs about a decade ago when refueling was still allowed. Important to consider it was that rule which made Crashgate even possible in Singapore 2008.

    2. You don’t need to close the pit lane, just reduce the pit lane speed limit to neutralise the advantage gain.

      1. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought part of the advantage has to do with the fact that they have to meet minimum times for each sector and with the pits next to the start line, a pit stop will often encompasses two sectors where they can drive as fast as they’d like (because they’re standing still getting tires changed during portions of these sectors).

  4. If a driver is in the car when it becomes electrically “unsafe” the driver is unharmed as long as he doesn’t touch the ground, as Albon proved in another situation. So this is either only half the story or its bull.

    I go for the first as I have thought since the Ferrari suddenly became so powerful earlier this season, that they are pushing their power unit to such a point that failures will begin to happen towards the end of the season. That is always a risk for all teams when so few units are allowed each year. But I believe Ferrari are making a big gamble for glory now they know the championships are almost certainly out of reach.

    Conversely, until the championships are tied on I suspect Mercedes are being conservative with their units.

    1. Exactly!
      The more I though yesterday and think today – the more it looks like only half the story.

  5. Good call. Everybody is talking about safety, this was a safety issue. Touching the car at that time could be deadly.

  6. What vettel said while getting out of the car is pretty funny too:
    (video contains a naughty word. If you are hopelessly sensitive, don’t click.)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_Piw0hTNNM

    1. Bring back the beautiful V12’s. Haha.

  7. Vettel would have been at least 100m further down the road if Ferrari hadn’t deliberately delayed him before his pitstop…

  8. To put this in some context, Ferrari only had to ‘delay’ their radio message by a second or so, to get that extra 100m.

    tough calls makes races.

    1. Also, given this apparent electrical issue, would the car have been scrutinised after the race in the same way a car finishing and winning the race.

      In other words, if there was something about the car you needed to hide, would a retirement achieve this?

      We’ve still had not reports on the apparent use of ‘oil’ by farrari, eg as recorded in the radio chatter of the singapore race.

  9. Depends on Wiring.

    If whole chasis is hot then there is no real danger.

    theoretically surge could go trough drivers seat and driver and that would be dangerous.

    Ferrary probably had idea what the danger was

    1. Exactly that. If, for example, there was a possibility of sending high voltage through a fuel tank sensor you would want the driver out of the car as soon as possible. Ferrari did not know the extent of their problem so they had to play safe.

  10. I’ve looked at the corner and runoff from a few angles, and I’m 90% sure Vettel could have driven forwards into the safe space his car was wheeled back into. It’s wide and deep enough, he wouldn’t have needed to drive any further than he did, and if he’d done that there’d have been no need for a VSC.

    That said, there was a marshal stood right in the middle of the entrance and Vettel wouldn’t have been able to see who and what was in the space before turning in, so it’s a good job he didn’t… perhaps they’re told to avoid swinging blindly into marshal areas, and that’s the reason he didn’t even try.

    1. @neilosjames The entrance was closed with a gate. Vettel himself opened that gate!

      1. The entrance itself looks open here, with the gate to the paddock further back: https://youtu.be/47Pn2bII_sg?t=249 (at 4:09, the marshal’s stood in the open section). But I’ll go re-watch that bit on my race recording, might be the angle playing tricks!

      2. Checked – the run-off was open, the gate Vettel opened was the one to the paddock.

  11. People say they want more variation in race winners. One way to do that is the random benefit of pitting under the safety car – if you have just pitted it usually puts you at a disadvantage.

    Every time we introduce a rule to remove a situation which is ‘not fair’ we make the sport more predictable. I say keep the pit lane rules as they are now. Of course it is unfortunate that in this case it benefitted the championship leaders, but in other races this season it would have hurt them. That’s the unpredictability we need.

  12. so that’s what happened to ALO in that mysterious crash during 2015 winter tests.

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