The last few months in Formula 1 have seen a lot of discussion over improving safety for drivers, following on from the horrific crash suffered by Jules Bianchi during the Japanese grand prix, that saw him collide with a recovery tractor while it was trying to retrieve one of the already crashed vehicles. Since then there’s been talk of safety car usage being increased to American levels and there’s been trial runs of several different technologies. However despite much derision from some quarters, the most popular option so far has been the virtual safety car.
F1 governing body, the FIA, certainly prefers it over the “slow zone,” trialled this weekend at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which saw drivers have to initiate their pit-limiter when they entered certain slow zones. While this was thought to be an interesting way to test fire a system of automated braking from the vehicles, in reality it’s been deemed too dangerous, as what happens is drivers drive at full speed up to the zone and then slam on the brakes, before applying the limiter. This rapid braking at near-random intervals in a race is likely to cause more accidents than it prevents according to drivers and the FIA.
So it’s back to the virtual safety car system, with instead of slow-zones, forces a full lap of reduced speed to keep a bit of the competitive edge, whilst also forcing drivers to drop their average speed.
As it stands, the only thing keeping drivers from going full out when someone crashes, is that yellow flags are waved to signal for them to slow down. The problem in practice with this system, is that over time drivers have begun to ignore the yellow flags for large stretches of the lap, since any slow down will give an advantage to the other drivers, whether they’re doing it for safety reasons or not.
Earlier this month, after the VSC’s first trial run, drivers were quoted as saying the system needed more work and since then it has been developed. Initially it was only applicable for a 50 metre section of track, but that didn’t give drivers enough time to react. It was later extended to 200 metres and has now been extended again to cover the entire lap, giving drivers a delta time that they must not go below, in order to bring their overall speed down across the whole lap.
It’s hoped that with further tweaking this will give drivers a solid enough reason to slow down on yellow flag laps, without needing to bring out the safety car which some feel gives an unfair advantage to drivers at the back of the race, since they are allowed to catch up any laps that they are behind. Fans don’t really like the use of safety cars at all, it being one of the key differences between F1 and the American based circular track sports racing events.
[Thanks Fox Sports]
Image source: Formula Uno