Thursday 13 December 2018

Formula One race chief defends use of safety car as Vettel rages

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel before the race. Photo: Reuters
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel before the race. Photo: Reuters

Jack De Menezes

FIA race director Charlie Whiting has defended the use of the safety car during Sunday's dramatic Chinese Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel claimed that it took him "out of the race" due to the timing of its deployment.

Vettel had surrendered the lead to Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas during the first pit stop phase, but was right on the Finn's tail when a collision of the cars of Toro Rosso drivers Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly triggered a safety-car period.

However, the full-course caution started just as Bottas and Vettel passed the pit lane entry, preventing them from choosing to pit for fresh tyres and leaving them vulnerable to those behind who had time to stop for fresh rubber - namely Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

The charging Red Bulls were essentially gifted a free stop as the full safety car allowed them to catch up with the pack, as opposed to a virtual safety car that would have maintained the advantage that the leading pair had built up.

"Obviously the timing of the safety car was bad for Valtteri and myself, because we had no chance to react," Vettel said.

"The safety car was caught almost straight away, so basically we were taken out of the race there and didn't have the choice to jump on fresh tyres or stay out."

From the restart, Verstappen and Ricciardo begun to scythe their way through the field, although Verstappen's antics attracted widespread criticism as he went off while attempting to pass Lewis Hamilton before colliding with Vettel while challenging for second place, taking both of them out of podium contention.

Ricciardo was able to negotiate the Finnish pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Bottas to take the win, but there was no doubt that the Australian benefited greatly from the timing of the safety car as his new tyres gave him a considerable advantage over those in front on old tyres.

Whiting, the man in charge of actioning the safety car, defended the timing of the deployment.

"I don't look to see who is going to be advantaged or disadvantaged," he said.

"It's a little bit of a mystery to me why this has all come into sharp focus, because we've had the VSC (virtual safety car) since 2015."

© Independent News Service

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