George Russell, Mercedes, 2022

FIA’s virtual race control room concept a “great” idea – Russell

2022 F1 season

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Mercedes driver George Russell has welcomed a series of changes to how incidents in Formula 1 will be handled by race control announced by the FIA this week.

After multiple controversies over penalties awarded by race stewards to drivers involved in incidents in recent seasons and the furore over the finish of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem announced on Thursday a raft of changes to how incidents would be judged in Formula 1 from this season.

Among the changes included the introduction of a virtual race control room, similar to the Virtual Assistant Referee system (VAR) that has grown in use in football over the last decade. Race director Michael Masi will be replaced, with the role now shared by World Endurance Championship race director Eduardo Freitas and DTM race director Niels Wittich

As president of the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) – the union of Formula 1’s 20 race drivers – Russell confirmed that the FIA had sought the view of the sport’s drivers before deciding on the new systems.

“The GPDA did speak with the FIA,” Russell said. “But to be fair to them, they were incredibly proactive straight away after Abu Dhabi to find better solutions.

“I think the ‘VAR’ solution is great and it makes total sense to have further assistance, people analysing live and more input to get a quicker view and decision to be made. Times progress, things move on. The way that drivers are exploiting the rulebook is understandable and, equally, the FIA need to do more to compensate for that, because every team, every driver, is always going to look for a way to get the upper hand.”

While Russell does not suggest that the shakeup of race control will eliminate controversies over racing incidents and penalties in Formula 1, the Mercedes driver believes they amount to a positive step forward for the sport.

“I think it will take some time to really refine, but I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Russell said. “But it’s never enough. It’s always going to need more. And I think the ‘VAR’ and the more things we can do virtually can only be beneficial.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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  • 17 comments on “FIA’s virtual race control room concept a “great” idea – Russell”

    1. Good that Mercedes, and it’s drivers, are happy with the changes announced by the FIA. Now let’s see what happens if decisions from the new race directors don’t go their way.

      1. We just have to find new ones and everyone at Mercedes will be happy again.

        1. @xenomorph91 and if Hamilton does another media black out the world will be happy.

    2. I’m going to reserve judgement until we see exactly what it is & how it works as right now i’m not sure I fully understand how it will be implemented or work.

      I would like to see not just more consistency but also a bit of common sense as I think both have been lacking & I also would prefer decisions be made with the sport been put above the show.

      I hope the changes been proposed will achieve those, But we’ll see.

      1. ditto @stefmeister

        kinda weird because steward already served as virtual referee of track action. problem is they’re just somewhat inconsistent. what’s the virtual race control needs to do if steward has already got all video access? just improve the quality and standard of the stewards then.

        unlike football when the game can be paused when the ball was out of play, the same can not be applied in racing. even safety car period counts in the racing lap. it’s not that they can wave red flag for every questionable accident, can’t they?

        1. Yep the inconsistentcy was the problem. In football even with VAR it can still be inconsistent due to different referee interpretation and situations. It will be better but it is a bit a utopia to think it will be perfect, in racing it’s never the same.

          In the end I hope they stick to “let them race”.

          1. “Let them race” just makes the inconsistencies worse, because they let some people race and not others. We’ve seen the worst consistency I can remember this year, and a big part of that was the fact that they were allowing more flexibility with the rules due to the “let them race” principal. 2 near-identical incidents in the same race have resulted in vastly different outcomes, often.

            Operating to a woolly principal is almost guaranteed to result in inconsistencies. Operating to written guidelines which are known by all is likely to result in consistency. Most sports give these guidelines a name… What was it? Roles? Riles? Ah, Rules!

    3. Of course he thinks it is great.
      George probably thinks that everything is “Great” just about now

      I don’t know about you guys but isn’t that picture just a little bit scary?
      Doesn’t he look just a little bit like the scheming psycho from a Batman movie?

      I await the next season with baited breath :O

    4. Wouldn’t remote race control make more sense than calling it virtual. Just makes it sound like a buzz word exercise. The v in VAR for football stands for video.

      I’m much more interested in what tools and technologies they will employ to keep up with enforcing the regulations as they say, rather than over hyping the “virtual” remote aspect. Will be great if they can more accurately analyse vehicle positions and trajectories rather than so many incidents being steward gut calls.

      1. Exactly! I am absolutely amazed that. with todays incredible technology, there is not a better solution for the ways the cars have to follow the safety car. Even my modest family saloon has radar following that not only worsk out for itself how far I should be behind the car in front it also warns me if I am too close, that closeness can be varied by me too. The GPS is accurate to within a few feet and the cruise control and speed limiter are amazingly accurate in controlling the throttle and braking. We can put mindboggling remote control vehicles on mars, build computers that outperform the human brain by gazillions of calculations per second and measure the speed of the F1 cars to thousands of a second.
        Why on earth, when an incident occurs needing a safety car, can’t race control simply push a button that automatically locks every car to either a set speed, or to the speed of the safety car, uses GPS to keep the cars at the exact distance they were to other cars and plots a safe course around any hazards or dangers. Of course the drivers would have to be able to override such a system, but he would have to prove that it was necessary for safety or the health of his car, failure to provide a plausible reason could incur penalties.
        The present system of allowing following cars to catch up with the car in front, no matter what position they are in, is grossly unfair as it destroys all the hard work or good fortune that has built up any gap. F1 has gone some of the way towards this by introducing the Virtual Safety Car, but it seems to me that we have the technology to do far far more to manage these situations. An automated system could aid those examining the incident in the proposed virtual race control room by freezing everything as it was when an incident occurred. Going further it could even compensate any drivers disadvantaged by an incident by rolling back the positions to a prior time.

    5. GPDA Director who represented the drivers concerns on stewarding/RD post Brazil, and who subsequently past on his views to the FIA, welcomed the proposals whilst flagging up that drivers will still try to take advantage and the proposals will take time to be refined.
      Or in an alternate reality now George is part of the being part of the evil Mercedes gang he will only represent those issues that suit his and his teams agenda.

    6. The one thing missing – or that I am missing – in this is how this works in relation to the stewards. The race director runs the race, like the start, suspensions, safety cars, etc. That’s clear. But comparing this new ‘virtual race control’ to a VAR in football is a bit weird, because in football the referee is both the guy running the game and the guy handing out cards. In F1 these jobs are separate as penalties to drivers and/or teams may only be given by the stewards. The only authority the race director has is to flag incidents, after which the stewards must investigate – but may decide not to issue any penalties. The stewards can also decide on their own to investigate incidents.

      What I haven’t seen yet is if the VRC can order the stewards to investigate issues, or if the stewards can consult with the VRC during their own investigations. While Masi has certainly not been flawless, the stewards have caused more frequent controversy. It’s a bit odd not to see them named in any of these announcements.

    7. INB4 they discover that the person that the FIA appointed to lead this team is MICHAEL MASI

    8. In the new structure the interrelationships and specific roles of the virtual control room and the Race Director and the stewards is unclear but critical. Get that wrong and the mess of the last year or two will be nothing compared to the chaos which will ensure.

      A few questions:
      – Who is in charge of the race? And when can that person be overruled if at all?
      – Who is in charge of penalties for infractions of the rules? Virtual or stewards? Who has the final word? The Race Director?
      – Who is monitoring the performance of whom? Stewards monitoring the virtual or vice versa?RD of stewards and virtual?
      – Will the virtual control room free range races to look for problems or will they have to work to Race Director instructions as to what to look for? And if so will they be banned from looking into things they see but which have not been flagged by the RD?
      – Will the workings of this new system be subject to the Omertà rule currently in place or will the whole thing be subject to the daylight of public scrutiny after each race? That is essential to give confidence to teams, drivers and fans. No more opaque decisions without being prepared to justify them.

      It all needs to be precise and clear and some practice sessions put in place to work out the kinks.

      Whatever happens the stewards need to be monitored and called to account during and after the race. Masi has been the major problem but the behaviour of the stewards has been high handed, inconsistent and unaccountable except by an appeal to themselves about their own decisions. The policeman as magistrate and judge (and their friends form the appeal court). Anyone happy with that needs to remember Pastor Niemöller. The principal of ‘I’m alright Jack’ leaves everyone exposed to unfair and unacceptable risk.

    9. Sure let’s have more referees

      1. Certainly needed more in the closing moments of that last race….or better yet, a less arbitrary rulebook that allows one buffoon to muck up the whole close to a championship fight. Masi deserved to go, but he was put in front of the train with no real way to get out of the way. It was preposterous the whole year the way teams would get on the radio and beg for Masi to acquiesce to their their view of events, and the man Masi was dumb enough to listen every single time. He’s a bum who deserved what he got, but he got zero help. Ridiculous.

    10. It’s difficult to say if this is George’s genuine belief or if he’s part of the Mercedes media machine. Time will tell when a decision goes against him

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