Safety Cars or “Pace Cars (as we say in the states) are a necessary evil. Accidents and other incidents are unavoidable. This effectively kills the racing, and creates a period of time of zero action. Race series have tried to speed up the process without sacrificing safety. Some, like “Code 60” are beautifully simple while others are more complicated. Enter the Virtual Safety Car used by Formula 1. On the whole it works. However there are rare instances where it can screw one driver.
Enter Daniel Ricciardo, who had managed to split the Mercedes duo in turn 2 on lap 1. He had already made his 2nd pit stop and was poised to regain his 2nd position from Rosberg when the Virtual Safety Car hit. The reduced pace allowed Rosberg to make his pit stop and come out ahead of Ricciardo.
“We seemed to be, at that stage, able to hold on to second,” said Ricciardo. “With the VSC, we lost 10 seconds to Nico, so I believe after the pit stops we would have had five seconds on him. But after the pit stops, he had close on five seconds on me, so that was frustrating. It would have been interesting, even if he caught me at the end, to at least have a fight. The race became a bit not-that-exciting after the VSC; without it, it would have made it a bit more spicy at the front. Unfortunately, third was the outcome.”
So what exactly is the VSC? According to Formula 1’s website:
- VSC (Virtual Safety Car) will primarily be used when double waved yellow flags are needed on any section of the track, but the circumstances are not such to warrant the safety car itself.
- If the VSC is called, teams will be notified via the official messaging system, while drivers will be notified by all FIA light panels displaying “VSC”.
- Under the VSC, drivers must reduce their speed and stay above a minimum time set by the FIA at least once in each marshalling sector. Stewards can impose penalties for any transgressions.
- Drivers must not drive unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner that could be deemed potentially dangerous to other competitors. Drivers may not pit, unless it is to change tires. They are also not permitted to overtake, except if another driver in front enters the pit lane or slows with an obvious problem.
- When it is deemed safe to end the VSC procedure, teams will be notified via the official messaging system. At any time between 10 and 15 seconds later, the FIA light panels will change to green and drivers are free to resume racing. DRS is also re-enabled at this time.
I want to make it clear that the VSC’s timing was to blame for Ricciardo’s bad fortune, not the regulations themselves. Moreover it was Riccardo’s own teammate, Max Verstappen was the one who brought out the VSC. Verstappen had encountered transmission issues and instead of pulling off to the side while he had the chance Verstappen tried to nurse the car back to the pits. Initially Red Bull told Verstappen to continue on and attempt to get the car back to the pits. When the car eventually failed stranding Verstappen on track, F1 officials had no choice but to deploy the VSC. Had Verstappen pulled off before his transmission completely failed the Marshalls could have safely removed his car from the circuit without the need for VSC. I can’t really understand Red Bull and Verstappen’s line of thinking. They were already playing catch up after a botched pit stop, combine that with his mechanical woes and his race was over.
“I was told by the team to stop right then and there. First I was told to go on. When I told them that I have a serious issue, that there were some hits on the engine I was told to immediately stop in the gravel. Usually it is in neutral and you can move it, but that was not possible any more. I could not move it into the gap. I just had to leave it there.” Verstappen Said in an interview after the race.
Verstappen has come under fire this season for his aggressive, some say, dangerous defending. That ruthless, willing to do anything to fight for position is what I like about him. All the greats had that attitude. However, in this case his never say die attitude in combination with Red Bull’s questionable line of thinking were at the expense of his own teammate. Had Red Bull and Verstappen thought about the big picture Riccardo could have finished 2nd or at worst had the chance to fight for 2nd position like he was looking for.
As a result Riccardo still managed to come home 3rd behind Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The latter closing the Points gap to 26.