The FIA has introduced a new rule intended to improve safety but acknowledged it will create situations where some drivers are disadvantaged more than others.
This is one of several rules changes the FIA proposed in response to a situation which occured during last year’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Pierre Gasly was furious when he encountered a recovery vehicle on the track while he was driving quickly to rejoin the pack during a Safety Car period.
During Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car periods, the speed of drivers is limited either by the course car at the front of the field or target ‘delta’ sector times which are shown to drivers. In response to the Suzuka incident the FIA said it would looked into the possibility of creating a ‘dynamic’ VSC in order to limit the speed of cars more accurately in danger zones.
“What we want to do is to provide drivers with a tool to help them during incidents and to make races even safer,” explained FIA technical director Tim Goss, who oversaw the research into the rules change.
“For some years with the Safety Car and VSC we have used delta times, a reference to a speed limit that we have around the track. So, when there is a physical or virtual Safety Car, the drivers are informed of that delta time on their dashboard display and by radio tones and they have to maintain a positive value, meaning they are slower than the reference time for the lap.”
However the use of delta times means that if a driver is particularly slow at one point on the track – such as a very low-speed corner – they can increase their speed elsewhere and regain the lost time. The FIA wants to ensure this does not happen in areas of the track where incidents are being cleared up.
“What we want to do now is to extend the use of the delta time concept to ensure that cars are strictly slowed to the required delta time when double waved yellow flags are shown under a VSC or Safety Car, so we are introducing a dedicated reference speed limit in the area where those flags are displayed,” said Goss.
Drivers will be given warnings via their dash displays and audio messages alerting them to any double waved yellow flag areas they may encounter.
“Under a VSC, when a driver enters the double yellow, what he sees on the dashboard is zero, so the delta time resets, and he then has to drive below the new speed limit,” the FIA’s head of F1 electronics Olivier Hulot explains. “And he again gets a positive or negative delta relative to that speed limit. So it’s the same principle as before, except that it’s specific to a double yellow zone.”
The FIA conducted track tests of the new procedure earlier this year in which drivers were required to follow the wet weather Safety Car speed limit. The governing body said its analysis showed enforcing that limit in double waved yellow flag areas “would achieve a good step in safety”.
However the new arrangement brings with it the possibility some drivers will gain or lose more time in Virtual Safety Car periods than others. At present the use of a delta time means all drivers remain approximately the same time apart on the circuit from the beginning of a VSC period to the end. However under the new system some drivers could pass through the double waved yellow flag area on more occasions than a rival, and therefore lose more time.
“If a car goes through a double yellow, but not another one and that car has to slow down, it is losing time relative to rivals,” Hulot acknowledged. “However, for the FIA safety is paramount and when there is a hazard on the track or marshals on track then we have to minimise the risks no matter what.”
Similar arrangements are already used in series such as the World Endurance Championship, though their races of six to 24 hours’ duration are considerably longer than F1’s.
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