With the Austin grand prix set to take place this weekend, it marks the first time ever that the FIA will be testing a “virtual safety car” system which has been talked about a lot in the past few weeks, following the horrific crash of Marussia driver Jules Bianchi who is still in a critical, but stable condition in a Japanese hospital.
Today, during the first practice runs, the virtual safety car system will be in effect. What that means, is that should an accident occur and a yellow flag situation appear, drivers will be given a warning on their heads up display, letting them know when they enter a dangerous area. They will then be required to drop their speed by 35 per cent below the maximum. If they don’t comply with these rules, they will be penalised.
If the system works well, it could be rolled out to other Grand Prix in the future, potentially becoming a standard safety feature.
Of course in many ways you hope the system doesn’t need to be trialled today, since it would only happen in the event of a crash or other accident. However at least if it’s there, it should help prevent crashes like the one that Bianchi was unfortunate enough to have.
Bianchi, driving on a yellow flag lap, aquaplaned and skidded off the track at the Japanese grand prix, where he collided with a recovery tractor and received a serious head injury. Its thought that he was travelling too fast, as there is no real way to force drivers to slow down on a yellow flag lap and many choose not too, believing that if others don’t, they will fall behind.
Some have called for a more liberal use of the safety car, which sees drivers forced to slow down in the event of an accident by a ‘safety car’ that takes to the track and deliberately sets a slower speed. No one is allowed to pass it. In American racing for example, a safety car is used every time there is a crash on the track, though fans of F1 have suggested that a system like that merely allows those near the back of the pack to catch up and removes some of the excitement of racing.
For now it’s not clear what the ongoing plan for F1 is, but the Bianchi crash raised a lot of questions about how crashes are policed. Currently a safety commission made of ex drivers, team leaders and F1 officials is investigating different methods of making the sport safer, without compromising its integrity or excitement. They are due to make their report to the G1 governing body, the FIA, on the 3rd of December.
Race director Charlie Whiting will be overseeing today’s virtual safety car test and has shown interest in its further usage in the future, stating: “One of the most important things to learn here is that it is probably better to take the decision to slow down away from the drivers and have a system where it is clearer to everyone how much we think drivers should slow down.”
Image Source: PH Stop