Aside from the drive for cockpit protection which has facilitated the rise of the ‘halo’, the Virtual Safety Car is surely the most significant aspect of Jules Bianchi’s legacy. The system, tested at the end of 2014 and first used the following year, provides a means of reducing speeds in hazardous conditions, without having to deploy a full safety car, by imposing a lap time delta and effectively neutralising the race. But has it been a success?
First and foremost, it is difficult to argue against any safety mechanisms in Formula 1, particularly after the tragedy of Bianchi’s death, and the introduction of the VSC represented uncharacteristically immediate and decisive action from the FIA. Moreover, it offers a crucial middle ground between mere yellow flags (which certain drivers have had a tendency to ignore this season) and a safety car, which drastically alters the course of the race. Under the VSC, the drivers’ pace is restricted to ensure safety but all gaps should, in theory, remain the same.
How can we know for sure that it has been a success? Because virtually nobody has talked about it. If, for example, there was confusion over the delta time or safety was still compromised, there would surely be demands for changes. However, the little mention made of this innovation signifies an almost silent seal of approval from the F1 paddock.
Still, though, the approval is not universal. Carlos Sainz, for instance, branded the VSC “useless” in an interview earlier this month, expressing his preference for “proper safety cars to regroup the field”. Yet, had the sport’s governing body not introduced such a system, allowing for further accidents, there would have been uproar. Formula 1 cannot have it both ways. Drivers and teams cannot demand improvements to safety and then lambast them when they arrive – it is counter-productive. Even Sainz conceded his view was subjective: “If I am a race leader, I probably like it, if I am a midfielder, I probably don’t like it.”
My only complaint would be that drivers can, perhaps unfairly, capitalise upon the VSC by diving into the pits as others are trundling around, effectively generating the same effect as a safety car, yet teams will always find a way to use regulation changes to their advantage. Overall, then, the VSC has been an overridingly positive addition to Formula 1, and its removal would without doubt be a step back in the sport’s quest to eliminate casualties once and for all.
Photo: XPB Images