Charlie Whiting, the FIA Formula One Race Director, Safety Delegate, Permanent Starter and head of the F1 Technical Department, has recently dismissed claims from Scuderia Ferrari German driver Sebastian Vettel regarding the fact that the Virtual Safety Car system is open to manipulation from drivers. The VSC was introduced in 2015 and when implemented drivers must reduce their speed and stay above a minimum time set by the FIA at least once in each marshalling sector.
Sebastian Vettel stopped under the VSC at the Spanish Grand Prix and slipped from second to fourth – behind Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen – where he remained for the rest of the race. The German driver accepted that he over-shot his pit box on cold tyres, costing himself time, but reckons the nature of the VSC system is open to abuse by drivers: “It’s the same for everyone. The FIA is supplying us with a system that makes us follow a delta time. So everyone has to slow down by 40 per cent. But I think everyone is aware you can have a faster way to go under VSC other than just follow the delta, by saving distance. We should have a system that doesn’t have a hole in because it forces us to drive ridiculous lines around the track. Everyone is doing it so I don’t think it’s a secret. I think our sport should be in a better shape than supplying a software that is just poor, and allows us to find some extra performance that way. It’s the same for everyone.” – he explained.
Charlie Whiting, though, disagreed with Sebastian Vettel’s viewpoint, stating: “I don’t know what he’s talking about, honestly. The VSC has a map in the ECU [Electronic Control Unit] which is 30 per cent slower than a quick lap. Drivers have to follow that lap. It’s measured every 50 metres of travel along the track. It measures where it is relative to the reference lap and gives you a plus or minus. Every 50 metres the drivers are reminded if they are above or below. They are allowed to go negative, but as long as they are positive once in each marshalling sector and at the Safety Car 1 line. Max and Seb felt they were stuck behind Lance Stroll, and it looked as if he was going too slowly. But at the time when the VSC ending was given, he was almost at zero, so even if someone does go slow, as long as they get to zero by that point, it doesn’t matter. So I’m not quite sure what Seb’s referring to.”
When pressed further on Sebastian Vettel’s comments, Charlie Whiting accepted that he “can sort of see” the Ferrari driver’s perspective but added that any benefit would be “absolutely minimal. If it’s measured every 50 metres, then any advantage you can get from using a different line on the track is going to be absolutely minimal. I can sort of see what he’s saying, but seeing the racing line is the optimum line, normally the shortest distance, one would think it’s a little difficult. But if they have some evidence of this, we’ll obviously have to have a look at that and see if it can be manipulated. From what we can see, from the course of a lap and a half or whatever it was, as long as they’re zero at the VSC ending point, then I don’t think any advantage can be gained. Where the advantage can be gained as we found out is coming into the pits and going out of the pits. Everyone knows that. It’s not new. What we’re looking at now is to also use the SC1 line, SC2 line and the timing line as mini sectors, so as to minimise any advantage that a driver might be able to get.” – he concluded.