“He cheated!” How Pérez mugged Grosjean at the virtual safety car restart

I’d read about concerns that some drivers were somehow exploiting some kind of loophole in the rules surrounding the virtual safety car (VSC), but I never understood what that loophole was. But this from Keith Collantine and Dieter Rencken is a crystal-clear explanation of what was going on when Sergio Pérez gained two seconds on Romain Grosjean during a virtual safety car period.

It seems far from ideal that this is able to happen. Especially if drivers are beginning to focus on pre-empting when the VSC period might end, rather than on driving safely, at a time when the racetrack is meant to be neutralised.

2 comments

2 comments

  1. Tracks can have up to 20 marshalling sectors, and from previous research I can tell you Suzuka has 18. The track is 5.807 km long. This means that a marshalling sector is, on average, 322.61 (last digit recurring) metres. Therefore, to meet the rule, it’s only necessary to comply with the delta for one segment in six… …unless you are in a sector divisible by three. If you are lucky enough to be in the middle of the Esses, the Degner segment, the run-up to Spoon, the 130R area or the first part of last straight, you only have to comply with the delta for one segment in seven. As long as the pro-rata lap time makes sense (because you artificially slowed in the positive segment you did do positively), you’re in the clear. So Checo had even more advantage than the article implied, as due to rounding, he had 300 metres instead of Grosjean’s 250 metres to ramp up speed, in addition to having more time on the straight than Grosjean before reaching the chicane.

    This may explain Checo’s comment on the post-race F1 segment with Will Buxton, where he said Romain had probably been unlucky with the delta “as there is sometimes a glitch…”. We now know the system was almost certainly working to design, but having 50 metres less space in which to create space would constitute bad luck. I don’t think he considered the possibility that Romain and Haas had not made any attempt to exploit the technique, let alone that they didn’t know the trick was possible or permitted in the first place.

    Formula E and WEC have countdowns for when VSCs and their equivalents end, which helps ameliorate this (if the countdown isn’t running, it’s too far into the future to be worth bothering with manipulation tricks like Checo).

    Paranthetically, this appears to be another example of Haas reading the rulebook as if there was such a thing as a “spirit of the rules”, as distinct from the more literalist interpretation that more experienced teams (like Force India) use. It’s symbolic to me that the most idealistic team on the grid got overtaken by the most pragmatic team on the grid due to contested rule interpretation.

    The fact that Checo ever let the gap rise to 2.4 seconds should have been a warning to the Haas team. There is rarely reason to artificially create that much gap on a neutralised track when it previously didn’t exist. I was surprised they did not pick up that the Force India team was planning something (even if they could not fathom what trick they were attempting to pull. I will admit that I did not know the system quirks well enough to fully comprehend either; I’d just assumed Checo had got a really good launch off the second Degner after the VSC went green and Romain had been flat-footed by being on the straight).

    This is also why Haas rarely does well in matters involving stewards – it’s often complaining for the “wrong” reason (as in, they might have a point, but it is a type of point inadmissible in F1 jurisprudence). There is no point complaining that a team cheated for following the rules, when the real problem is the rule was configured badly and should never have applied in the first place. People who are gaming the timing beacons are surely more likely to crash under the virtual safety car and therefore more likely to crash into one of the people or objects that is causing/continuing that state of affairs.

    The rule is unsafe and could cause a serious accident. Which, to complete the circle… the “previous research” I alluded to in the start of this comment was my background investigations for the Jules Bianchi crash.

  2. Great comment Alianora! A really useful and detailed analysis. I particularly like your point about Haas “often complaining for the “wrong” reason”. They’ve had a great few seasons for a new team, but they still have a few things to learn about how F1 works. 🙂

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