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Formula 1

How a VSC F1 system failure fooled Perez out of a podium

by Edd Straw
5 min read

An FIA hardware issue briefly delaying the virtual safety car restart of Formula 1’s French Grand Prix cost Sergio Perez third place, according to the Red Bull driver.

Perez was running third ahead of Mercedes driver George Russell on the 50th lap of the 53-lap race, with both drivers told the VSC period triggered by the need to recover Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo was about to end as they approached the Turn 8/9 chicane.

However, what the FIA described as a “hardware issue” with the VSC system triggered an automatic switch to a backup. This meant that the restart was delayed by around one minute, with Russell overtaking Perez when that happened.

The primary VSC system and its backup operate independently. The first system issued the first VSC restart instruction and triggered the countdown.

This had not been completed, meaning that when the backup system was switched to, it was necessary to issue a new VSC restart instruction and a fresh countdown.

This led to the restart happening one minute after the initial VSC ending message was issued, rather than the “between 10 and 15 seconds” mandated by the rules.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix Race Day Paul Ricard, France

This delay to the restart meant Perez initially pulled away from Russell out of the chicane, before realising the VSC was staying in place longer than anticipated. The pair were back together by the time they reached Turn 11.

Both were aware the restart was imminent, with it finally happening as the pair rounded the Turn 13 right-hander at the entry to the Turn 14 left-hander.

Perez initially attacked Turn 12 more than Russell, pulling away, but as the VSC was still active he had to back off and brake to ensure he didn’t fail to keep to the delta and trigger a penalty.

Russell timed his restart to perfection and dived passed a wheelspinning Perez when the race went green.

Perez said the system was “totally wrong” and the confusion caused led to him being overtaken by Russell.

“It was really unfortunate what happened with the VSC,” said Perez.

“I got the message that it was going to end out of Turn 9, so I went for it. But then it didn’t end, and I had the message saying it was going to end. Then it ended after Turn 12 and I was just too close to it.

“It seems like George had different information and he was able to prepare better for it.

“It’s a shame that the virtual safety car interfered in the result. It shouldn’t be the case, but it was.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix Race Day Paul Ricard, France

Russell, who claimed his fourth third place of the season thanks to the move, felt that the restart was “straightforward”.

He too was expecting the VSC to end earlier, but was able to launch the move thanks to the timing of his restart and avoiding the need to slow significantly to avoid failing to hit the delta, as Perez did.

“To be honest, I just gunned it when the lights went green,” said Russell. “I got the run on him and went around the outside at Turn 14.

“You sometimes have to try and pre-empt it a little bit and when you’re in the race on your own you’re just playing it safe, leaving a little bit of margin.

“I just got a really nice run, timed it perfectly, I think. He had to brake a little bit, maybe he was a bit too quick.

“So with him braking, with myself accelerating, it just gave us that closing speed. And it was pretty sweet.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he planned to seek an explanation from the FIA about exactly what went wrong.

Speaking shortly after the race, he suggested that Perez had also suffered a problem with the delta information he was being fed.

He described the situation as “frustrating” given it denied Red Bull a double podium and Perez third place after a difficult race.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix Race Day Paul Ricard, France

“Checo struggled a little more this weekend with [tyre] deg than we’ve seen previously,” said Horner.

“What was frustrating for him was that there was an issue with race control with the VSC, because they couldn’t turn it off so they had to do a reset.

“He was saying he wasn’t getting the delta in his car, so he was bang on his delta [time when the restart happened] and I think George either pre-empted it and was within the delta, or maybe the information between the two cars was different. So we have to go and explore that.

“But it was frustrating because I think he would have had the pace to hold him off for a double podium.”

When asked by The Race about this problem, the FIA said that no delta time information issues had been reported to it in the aftermath of the race.

In a statement, the FIA also confirmed that all teams received the same information, and that the restart countdown was also available on trackside panels visible to the drivers.

“A second VSC-ending message was sent due to a hardware issue, which led to an automated switch to backup systems that worked exactly as they should in that scenario,” said the statement.

“The same information is supplied to all teams concurrently. The VSC-ending countdown time to the green light being displayed on trackside panels is always random.”

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