Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Paul Ricard, 2022

How Russell took advantage of a Virtual Safety Car glitch to pass Perez

2022 French Grand Prix

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Sergio Perez was left fuming after what he believed was an error with the FIA’s Virtual Safety Car system led to him losing the final place on the podium at the French Grand Prix.

George Russell pounced on Perez at the restart of the race, taking third place off him with four laps to go.

Perez said the VSC system was “totally wrong” and “interfered with the result” of the race. He pointed out he was originally told the race was about to restart approaching turn eight, but it did so much later than he expected, at turn 13.

The FIA sporting regulations start that once teams are given the message “VSC ending”, the race will then restart “at any time between 10 and 15 seconds later.”

However on this occasion a problem occured with the VSC system. The race did not restart and the VSC period continued. The FIA switched to a backup system, and the procedure to end the VSC period was triggered a second time.

“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,” an FIA spokesperson told RaceFans.

“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.”

During a VSC period, a target maximum lap time is set which drivers must not lap quicker than. To ensure they stick to this target around the entire lap, their difference to it is measured at a series of intervals.

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When a race is due to restart, drivers pay close attention to these intervals, ensuring they reach them as early as they are allowed to without violating the “delta” time difference.

In today’s race, when Perez’s race engineer Hugh Bird told him “Virtual Safety Car ending” as he approached turn eight, Perez accelerated to restore as much of a lead over Russell as he could under the delta.

However the race did not restart and Russell closed back in on Perez at Beausset. Red Bull reminded their driver to “stay on the delta.” He asked “why isn’t it ending?”

“Stay on the delta,” Bird reminded him. The second instruction to restart the race then came through. Bird told Perez: “Virtual Safety Car ending” as he rounded Bendor, turn 12.

Behind him the communication on Russell’s radio was more one-way. Ricardo Muscconi told him the VSC period was ending as they approached the chicane. When it continued, Musconi said “still VSC ending, watch your delta” as Russell closed back up to Perez.

Like Bird, Musconi told his driver the VSC period was ending when the second message came through. As both drivers got on the power Perez had more wheelspin than Russell, who passed him on the approach to turn 14.

Speaking after the race Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was unsure whether both cars had been given the same information. “What was frustrating for him was there was an issue with race control, with the VSC, because they couldn’t turn it off, so they had to do a reset,” said Horner.

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“Just talking with him, he was saying he wasn’t getting the delta in his car. So he was bang on his delta and I think George either pre-empted it, but was within the delta, or maybe the information to that two cars was different. So we have to go and explore that.”

As the FIA indicated, there was no sign the drivers had been given different instructions. But in the unusual circumstances of the VSC period not ending as planned, Perez had reacted slightly differently.

Other teams found themselves in the same position. Asked by RaceFans whether the VSC situation caused any confusion over when the race would restart, Alfa Romeo’s head of track engineering Xevi Pujolar said: “No, it’s just annoying because we thought that, okay, the safety car is ending and it was not ending and then we didn’t know what was happening.

“But then a few seconds later it was a message from race control and we informed the drivers that there was an issue. But other than that it was okay.”

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2022 French Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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30 comments on “How Russell took advantage of a Virtual Safety Car glitch to pass Perez”

  1. Thanks for this solid explainer that seems to put all the facts together to give us a clearer picture of what went down, great stuff.

    1. +1 At the time I couldn’t figure out why the ‘ending’ was seemingly going on for ages.

      1. My wife was yelling at the tele.

  2. Bang on! Excellent move from Russell

  3. FIA has a hardware failure, enacts standard backup protocol.

    All but one driver reacts appropriately.

    Horner creates fake conspiracy that Russell was somehow given an advantage by the FIA.

    /facepalm

    1. Yeah – only the most ridiculous of people would believe in conspiracies about the FIA favouring one driver over another, huh?

      1. You win :-)

  4. The difference seems to be that when the 1st VSC didn’t end, Russell immediately braked to keep his delta whereas Perez got into a discussion about why the VSC didn’t end. At the end of the discussion, Perez had to manage the delta whereas Russell was accelerating. Also, Perez kept saying that Russell was going off track in turn 6 but I didn’t see that during the live coverage. Does anyone have the feed of that?

    1. @jimfromus Russell didn’t go off at T6 on either occasion Perez claimed he did.
      Clear on the live footage & otherwise, he’d also have shown up on FIA’s deleted lap times document, so all good on this front.

  5. You sort of play ‘chicken’ with the VSC, least you can in the F1 games. Where you back off and allow a gap to build, then accelerate build speed and hope it ends before you clip the delta.

    It essentially gives a rolling start where as the other car is nearly at a standing start.

    Of course it’s risky if the VSC stays out longer than you hoped. I guess that’s why the FIA randomise the ‘ending’ between 10 – 15 seconds.

  6. Nice analyses and good anticipation by Russell and his team. However, Russell should have never been in that position as he should have received a time penalty for shoving Perez of the track earlier in the race. Incredible that the stewards did not act on that occasion..

    1. However, Russell should have never been in that position as he should have received a time penalty for shoving Perez of the track earlier in the race. Incredible that the stewards did not act on that occasion..

      Or, Perez could be given a penalty for not leaving room when the driver on the inside has their front wheels in front of their rear…

      So, a penalty for both, or chalk it up as a racing incident? Looks like the stewards went for the low paperwork option.

    2. It was hard racing.

      Signed,
      The Race Stewards.

    3. It was a gp2 move. Just hoping the other guy sees your kamikaze move and jumps out of the way. I assume it was called a racing incident because Pérez wasn’t harmed. Cf. Zhou/magnussen.

      1. It was a champion move. Max used the very same tactic for the whole 2021 season.

    4. @Bojangles No, Perez should’ve received a time penalty for not rejoining the track correctly & thus maintaining position via off-track excursion.

      1. Pérez just tried to avoid a big crash. He gave position back to Sainz correctly. As Russell was never in front of him at this incident he didn’t have to give him anything “back”.
        Most comments here are very much biased in favour of Russell here, why is that? Usually I like Russell’s driving style a lot but the man was clearly divebombing here, anyone could see that….

        1. Take a look at the position of Perez car relative to Sainz in front of him throughout that incident and his braking line. He moved in the braking zone to block Russell off at the apex but couldn’t turn in as Russell was sufficiently alongside to have a right to the space. At that point with the angle of both cars the only way they both made it through the corner without contact was if Perez backed out or left the track. Plenty of people were expecting Russell to back out of the corner at Silverstone, it’s not unreasonable to expect the same at the next track is it?

          I thought calling it a racing incident for one time was fair enough but had there been a second occurence with the same thing happening then it would be penalty for Perez for me for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.

  7. There seems to be a culture at Red Bull of the drivers never admitting fault or mistake. And the team always finding excuses for their drivers. Unless of course it’s an incident between the 2 red bull drivers in which case full blame goes on the least favoured driver.

    1. Makes press conferences simple for CH – hardest part is workshopping the premise.

  8. Sky was a total mess today. Crofty and Di Resta missed the problems with the VSC completely, as they missed many other things. Di Resta especially is horrible and unfit to be an F1 commentator. Messing up driver names and confusing everyone the entire time with his extremely annoying accent. Please, no more!!!

    1. Also they didn’t seem to notice Russell overtaking Alonso in the first few laps.

  9. Scotty (@rockonscotty)
    25th July 2022, 0:46

    I don’t understand why they have all this messing about with lap time delta. Change the rule that under VSC, you have to run under the pit limiter. When the VSC clears, the pit limiter automatically disengages.

    1. Totally agree. If there must be a VSC (which I detest) then take away the silly and unsafe games that can be played with it.
      In reality, there’s nothing stopping a driver from charging through an incident zone at full speed, only to slow down before they reach their next delta point.
      That’s not a safety system.

      Even Indycar make use of a 2-stage pit limiter, which can be set up with multiple speeds.

    2. A constant speed limit wouldn’t be fair unless it was engaged for exactly a whole lap (or multiple).

      A car in a fast sector would lose way more time than a car in a slow sector.

      1. That’s not correct, @gdog.
        Relative to each other, they all ‘lose’ exactly the same – because they are all under the exact same conditions at the exact same time.

        1. they are not ”under the exact same conditions at the exact same time.” at the restart lol

  10. This system glitch ultimately ensured a rightful order for them that should’ve already been in place after Perez’s off-track excursion.

    1. You mean when Russell failed to leave any space for Perez, @jerejj?

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