Just because the virtual safety car (VSC) system that the FIA implemented at the recent Austin, Texas Grand Prix wasn’t perfect, doesn’t mean it’s throwing out the idea altogether. In-fact, it’s going to be trialled again at the next Grand Prix, set to take place in Brazil on the 9th of this month, but with a few specific changes made to help drivers use it without getting quite so distracted.
The VSC was introduced at the recent Grand Prix, as an added safety measure to try and help avoid accidents like the one that occurred in Japan last month, when driver Jules Bianchi collided with a recovery tractor that was helping out another racer during a yellow flag lap. While Bianchi remains in a serious condition, a discussion arose over whether he had sufficiently slowed down during the lap, as traditionally there is no hard and fast rule about how much drivers should slow down by.
They often don’t at all, worried that it will give other drivers an advantage.
While some had suggested that a real safety car be used whenever there was any sort of crash, fans and regulators are loathe to use that system since it slows down the race and can allow for those at the rear to catch up significant time that would otherwise not have been earned. The solution opted for instead, is the VSC, which essentially tells drivers to not go above a certain speed limit when on potentially dangerous parts of the track due to a crashed racer.
This has the desired effect, but drivers suggested it was difficult constantly checking that their speed didn’t exceed the limit.
“We need to tune it a little bit better,” said driver Fernando Alonso after the race in Austin, “because we had some tones in the radio that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, so there are some things to put in place there.”
To fix some of these issues, the FIA is making changes to the VSC at the Brazilian Grand Prix. They include:
- Drivers will now be given up to 10 seconds to bring their speed down after a notification
- A 10 second warning will also be given that the speed limit is being removed
- Sections of the track that have the limits in place will also be extended to 200 metres rather than 50, so it will be easier to stick to the limit.
Regardless of these little tweaks however and a few minor complaints, drivers were overall quite positive about the virtual safety car, with most suggesting that while it needed a bit of work, clearly something needed to be in place following on from the Bianchi crash. While fans have suggested that crashes like that are rare, it’s more a case of how yellow flag laps were going to see drivers pushing it more and more and not slowing in-case they lose ground and thereby putting their lives in danger.
In the mean time, everyone hopes Bianchi will make a full recovery. At last count, he was in a critical but stable condition in a Japanese hospital.
Image source: Jltesh Jagadish