FIA gives approval for virtual safety car in 2015 season

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The virtual safety car system which has been relatively well received by a lot of drivers and higher ups in Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, has now been given the official go ahead to be implemented officially from the start of the 2015 race season. Until now, it had only been used on practice laps. However from next year, it will be a fully applicable safety feature on the track, meaning if anyone crashes, drivers will be forced to drop their overall speed on each affected lap or face penalties.

The idea behind the system is to slow drivers down by a set amount when something dangerous happens, in order to avoid pileups and incidents like the tragic crash of Jules Bianchi, who ploughed into the back of a recovery tractor during the Japanese Grand Prix earlier this year. While he’s now out of a medically induced coma, he is still in critical condition.

Previously the only system in place to slow drivers down was a yellow flag, which would notify them that they needed to slow down a little and be more careful. However, over time what has happened is drivers have become too worried about slowing down, fearing it will give their competitors an advantage. Unfortunately, that can lead to further accidents.

vsc

The VSC system has taken a while to get right, as its first iteration was far from perfect. On its first outing drivers had to slow down on one specific 50 metre section of track. What happened instead however was that drivers were distracted, spending most of their time looking at how much they had to slow down by. It was also causing them to slam their brakes on at the edge of the zone, causing potentially dangerous driving when cars are close together.

The system was next changed to give drivers a 200m section of track to work with and a warning either side of it to give them 10 seconds to bring their speed down, or raise it back up again. However now whole laps are seeing reduced speed, making it much easier for drivers to work with, rather than making sure they’re hitting the right speed at the right time.

“Most of the drivers preferred the VSC approach, because [with the single sector] they were concerned about braking from high speed down to the slow speed limit,” said an FIA spokesperson to Autosport.

“Some drivers were worried they might not see it, and some drivers were worried they might see it too late. And these large differences of speed could cause some difficulties.”

The final go ahead of the VSC’s implementation came from drivers and FIA officials after a meeting during the Abu Dhabi F1 race recently. Between them, they agreed that the VSC system would be implemented from the beginning of the 2015 F1 season.

It may be the case that it sees further tweaks down the road, as it’s still a very young safety protocol, but hopefully it will help keep the drivers that bit safer, whilst not cutting down on the sport’s excitement, something that the fans have been concerned about. Especially when there was talk of using the real safety car more often, as they do in American racing sports.

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.