Drivers find Virtual Safety Car a challenge during trial run at the United States GP
Button and Grosjean report difficulties in adhering to moving time
By James Galloway in Austin
Last Updated: 03/11/14 6:17pm
Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean believe more work is needed on Formula 1’s Virtual Safety Car idea after the system was trialled for the first time in Friday practice for the United States GP.
In the wake of Jules Bianchi’s horrific accident at Suzuka last month when the Frenchman crashed into a recovery vehicle in wet conditions under double-waved yellow flags, the FIA have pledged to examine ways of taking the requirement to slow down during caution periods out of the drivers’ hands.
The ‘Virtual Safety Car’ system was given a trial run at the end of both practice sessions on the opening day in Austin with the drivers still on track at the chequered flag continuing for an extra lap adhering to a delta time on their steering wheel display.
Unlike the delta time currently used when the real Safety Car is deployed, when drivers have the remainder of the lap to make sure they are inside the time in question, the system trialled on Friday is designed for when certain parts of the track contain yellow flags.
And while agreeing with the principle of the new safety measure, McLaren driver Button and Lotus counterpart Grosjean felt that it was difficult to manage from inside the car.
“There are positives and negatives. When you’re wheel-to-wheel and the system comes on you can’t just hit the brakes like we are now to get the speed down,” Button said.
“In that respect it’s very tricky. I like the idea but you do spend a long time looking at your steering wheel. With the way the Safety Car boards are now and with the lap that we do when there’s no Safety Car you can dip below the time and you get away with it because as long as you cross the finish line positive [against the target time] you are okay.
“Whereas with this system you always have to be positive. You want to be as close to zero as possible because you can lose two seconds to the guy in front. So if you drop below and the restart happens you get a ten-second penalty, so it’s very, very tricky.”
Grosjean, meanwhile, found it “very difficult” to know what speed to travel at from corner to corner and hopes the system can be simplified.
“The delta time goes minus nine tenths, minus six, plus three, minus two… I found it very difficult to follow. You open a bigger gap, like two or three seconds, but then it goes green it’s lost," the Lotus driver explained.
“I only did it in P2, so I didn’t have much training on it, but I found it quite hard.
“We will see what the drivers say and if anyone is thinking that it’s a bit difficult we try to see something a bit more easy for us. If you go negative you get a penalty. At one corner I was +1.2 seconds and at the next corner I was minus six tenths. What’s going on? It was really hard to judge it.”
Nonetheless, despite believing there are teething problems to resolve, Grosjean welcomed the swiftness of the FIA’s move to improve safety after Bianchi's accident.
“It’s good that everyone goes in the safety direction. It’s unfortunate that it took what it took to get there but it’s very nice to see how quick the FIA has reacted and we are really trying to make things safer for everyone,” the Frenchman, a countryman of the critically-injured Bianchi, added.