Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Istanbul Park, 2020

Vettel: “Embarrassing” F1 software shortcoming creates risky unlapping situations

2020 Turkish Grand Prix

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Sebastian Vettel believes Formula 1 can avoid potentially dangerous situations when drivers un-lap themselves during Safety Car periods by addressing a shortcoming in race control’s software.

The Ferrari driver was one of several racers who were released from behind the Safety Car in order to re-join the lead lap at Imola, then passed close by a group of marshals as they approached Acque Minerale. Vettel warned his team on the radio the situation was “very, very dangerous”.

Asked about the incident in today’s FIA press conference Vettel said that instead of telling drivers to regain a lap before restarts, F1 should rewrite its software so a lap can be added to their totals, without an extra lap being driven.

“I think we should probably focus more on the solution,” said Vettel. “I think the reason why we are physically un-lapping ourselves is because we can’t work out a software which actually just resets us.

“So we have to do the extra lap, which sounds quite embarrassing, but I believe it’s the truth. So I guess going forward we would just probably put some effort into a software that the lapped cars are not forced to physically un-lap themselves but you can just reset the lap on the screen and put them in the place that they are. I think that would be the solution.”

Stroll passed three marshals on the track
An F1 marshal explains why Stroll’s Imola near-miss raises safety concerns
The practice of sending drivers around the Safety Car to regain a lap is seen in other categories. Vettel says it has created dangerous situations there as well.

“Obviously as a consequence in the past you had people trying to catch the field, also in other categories, crashing and that can’t be safe under full course yellow to go out and crash.

“Plus, as you’ve witnessed in Imola, people working on the track trying to do a favour for us, recovering the car that was stranded there, cleaning the track. They work in the contrary these two things.

“I think we should just focus on the solution which I believe is purely software-related and given that it’s 2020 I think it should be possible.”

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55 comments on “Vettel: “Embarrassing” F1 software shortcoming creates risky unlapping situations”

  1. You must respect the race distance! -Jean-Marie Balestre

    1. Funny as it is… It’s completely true.

      Shaving a few metres off a chicane is something, but an entire lap of distance is unacceptable. They need to do that physical lap. The list of things it could affect are endless. They have more fuel availability, so less lift and coast potentially. They need 1 lap less of reliability. This list goes on. Absolutely daft suggestion by Seb.

      1. It’s not daft at all.

        They have more fuel availability, so less lift and coast potentially. They need 1 lap less of reliability.

        They had all those things when they were already lapped, but we don’t see lapped cars suddenly making up ten places do we because they’ll finish one lap less, do we? Without the SC they’d still be lapped and going nowhere. Letting lapped cars unlap themselves behind the SC already cost a driver points he wouldn’t have lost without the SC at the Turcan GP if my memory serves.

        1. It depends on why they were lapped. They may have had a mishap or a stop-and-go penalty. Unlapping would put them right back in contention, and as one lap less means no more fuel saving even more so.
          That does defeat the purpose of the stop-and-go penalty, no?

          1. Sorry, Bart, but I’m really not sure what your point is. If a driver is lapped (regardless of why they’ve been lapped), they’re very unlikely to be “back in contention” for anything – even if they unlap themselves, they’re still the best part of a lap behind.

            To be clear, I’m not in favour of allowing lapped drivers to unlap themselves under the SC.

    2. Yet lapped cars don’t ever complete race distance without a SC.

      1. Until a lapped car that gets a “free” lap win a race. Then you have the rest of the field doing 1 more lap than the leader….. could easily happen.

        1. Sorry, but you’re going to have to explain exactly how that “could easily happen”.

          If somehow a lapped car inherits the lead of the race, that car would then have to complete the full race distance, certainly not one lap less than anyone else.

          If a lapped car overtakes the leader of the race, he doesn’t become the leader of the race – yes, he’s no longer a lap down, but is still (very nearly) a full lap behind the leader he just overtook. He’d have to catch up and overtake the leader again in order to be leading the race. At that point he’s done the same number of laps as the previous leader.

  2. Easier said than done.

    1. Let’s do it the easy way then:
      – lapped cars can ‘unlap’ themselves, but stay behind SC during SC period;
      – when clear track (SC switches off lights) and unlapped cars can overtake SC and race for position from SC line;
      – (unchanged) rest of cars are now led by leading car and can start racing from SC line (or as defined by race director).

      As you’ve noticed I don’t mind that the leading cars will catch up with the unlapped cars in a couple of laps.
      It’s the same for all and not the ridiculous rule that lapped cars can not just unlap themselves but even catch the end of the leading ‘train of cars’ with warm tyres.

    2. @jerejj Pretty dumb comment by Seb, he didn’t give it a thought really. can’t have unlapped cars race a shorter distance. fuel, tyres, reliability and the purity of the sport would be in question, not to mention that lapped cars are often out of order, therefore you would need some shuffling regardless.

      1. hopefully he meant drivers should not get to un-lap, get a freebie, if so then the whole point is mute anyway as you can just do blue flags instead, just do them under sc.

  3. I don’t see this as a solution. An extra lap’s worth of fuel, or one lap less of tyre wear could end up being crucial in the final analysis.

    Or imagine a situation where a driver completes just enough laps to get over the 90% threshold required to be a classified finisher, but one of those laps was actually ‘credited’ to them behind the Safety Car, rather than them having physically completed it. If that was the difference between getting (for example) a point for 10th place and not, that could have big implications in the championship and for prize money etc.

    1. I don’t think that’s what he meant. From what I read in the article, the race software currently cannot figure out that they are one lap behind after the green lights and unlapping fixes that problem. Seb’s take on it is fix the software and we don’t have to unlap ourselves.
      Of course it means they’ll finish the race one lap down, just like in the olden days, but it would be better than what’s happening now, even if it’s a bit embarrassing for the drivers.

      1. This was never an issue in the days of stopwatches, clipboards and pencils. Now, with all of today’s technology available, F1 can’t count laps for 20 cars? It’s pathetic.

        1. No but there were numerous other issues with that method including not knowing results on occasions until multiple pieces of time keeping were reviewed.

          1. Maybe, but they got the result in the end.

            If the only reason for letting lapped cars unlap themselves under the SC is really because the FIA’s software can’t count, then it is indeed pathetic.

      2. Bart, just proceed with the regular blue flags, cars are a lap down all the time, in fact they already were at the time of the sc… If race direction can deal with cars a lap down on a regular basis, then it should be the same under sc conditions. I think someone is confused, I don’t know who that is. Seb, race direction or we.

    2. They have all been running under SC, so are more likely to have more fuel than they need (the opportunity to burn some off may even be a bonus).
      Also on the plus side, the cars that just unlapped themselves got a nice opportunity for tyre warming.
      Whichever way its called could be to the advantage of the cars affected

    3. @red-andy
      Um, the cars are already a lap down. If the race continued without a SC period, they would have finished with less miles covered either way (more fuel and less tire wear). Personally, I don’t really care if they get a lap back or not. I understand both arguments, but I don’t view it a big deal. Just that the FIA need to put safety first and not rush things. They should do it one of two ways…. 1) keep it as is but make sure all marshal’s are off track before releasing lapped cars or 2) just send all lapped cars to the back of the lead lap cars without granting their laps back. The main point is to not have lapped cars interfere with lead lap cars.

      1. @flyingferrarim Yes, but by this proposal the cars would be back on the lead lap, and have the advantage of less fuel use/tyre wear. But I agree that the main solution would be not to release the lapped cars until the track is clear.

        1. @red-andy and both advantages are very small when taken under a safety car… Probably much, much smaller than the benefit of warmer tires at the restart.

  4. Jose Lopes da Silva
    12th November 2020, 14:33

    Maybe we could insert a second safety car just for the unlapping cars ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  5. Once the pack is bunched could they send the lapped cars through the pit lane so they emerge in their order but at the back of the pack?

    1. The issue with sending the cars back to queue without unlapping is that it will give a 1 lap advantage to the car that was just ahead of the latest lapped one, whilst just before the SC that distance could have been just a couple of seconds.

      Imagine Russell fighting for 10th with an Haas (and on his tail) and just let the race leader passed and the SC comes before the Haas is passed. The Haas is allowed to go the end of the queue and Russel will end up behind him still but a full lap down!

      That is why the change of software is needed to allow the solution of going via the pitlane but adding 1 lap so that they don’t loose a lap to cars that were just ahead.

      1. But is it an advantage for a driver to have one lap more fuel and one lap less tyre wear than the rest? Say there are 3 cars that needed to unlap themselves, but instead they are told to go to the back of the pack and had an extra lap credited to them. So do those three drivers have an advantage compared to the 16 in front (I’m assuming one of the cars has crashed)? I know they have an extra 5 to 10 kilos or so of fuel on board, but is that an advantage? Wouldn’t it be a disadvantage?

      2. @bakano
        So? That is unfortunate but cars have lucked out on red flags (therefor getting a free pit stop) placing them where they don’t necessary belong. This happens. If they don’t want to get caught out by a SC, then don’t allow yourself to get in that position in the first place! There are situations that are unavoidable and teams will, at times, get caught out. The only reason for giving back laps is for entertainment purposes only. The only important element is that these cars out of the way of the leaders and don’t impact their races.

        Going a lap down is essentially saying….. “It’s not your day, so don’t ruin it for the rest”!

  6. The most obvious reason to me it seems to have all cars cover the same distance.

    Imagine if a car gets that free lap because it was lapped, but then later (In a crazy race) on goes on to win.

    You could have a situation where he sees the checkered flag first but didn’t go the full distance, who would win in that scenario? Perhaps rules would have to be rewritten to cover all possible outcomes.

    So yeah, no that easy Seb.

    1. You could have a situation where he sees the checkered flag first but didn’t go the full distance

      I can’t see any circumstances where that would happen because the moment a lapped car inherited the lead, that car would have to do the complete race distance. Lapped cars only do less laps because the leader has completed race distance and the race ends at that point.

      Imagine the car in 4th place in a 70-lap race is lapped by all the top three. Top three are neck and neck and just started their last lap, car in 4th place crosses the line and complete his 68th lap, starts his 69th. The top three all tangle at turn one, sustain damage and DNF. Car in 4th place inherits the lead, but is still on lap 69. The race won’t end until he completes his 70th lap.

  7. Sounds like the wrong cure.

    The problem is that race control didn’t know the marshals were still on the track. They should simply have waited 1 more lap to let the lapped cars overtake. It would have been even more dangerous with Vettel’s idea in place, as the race would have been started 1 lap sooner, with the same marshals still on the track, as the extra lap for the lapped cars wouldn’t be needed.

    The cure is fixing the communication between track posts and race control.

    1. Agreed, but the whole problem was caused by the “need” to release lapped cars.

      1. What if the marshal’s were there for some other reason, without race control knowing ? *That’s* why the cure is fixing the comms issue.

      2. The “need” is to get them out of the way of the fast cars at the restart – it doesn’t apply to what happened at Mugello but that situation could happen at any race with limping cars mixed into the pack.

        1. But they were in those positions when the SC was activated. The only difference is that the field is now bunched up, which should actually mean the faster cars can get past more easily, especially as the backmarkers will get blue flags as soon as racing restarts.

  8. Giving lapped drivers a free lap would give them an unfair advantage of having extra fuel to burn for the rest of the race.
    This can be easily offset by adding a pre-defined number (different for each track) to the amount of fuel they need to have left in the tank at the end of the race. Then unlapped drivers would just end up driving heavier cars.

  9. I think the fuel issue is overblown. There is no comparison between the burn rate behind the SC, when the cars are running is a special saving mode, and running flat out. And the reliability issue is also extremely marginal today. In any case, we are talking about advantages relative to cars on the lead lap, not among the lapped cars.

  10. That is what I thought and still approve.

    F1 race control probably spend less money on software than Ferrari does on catering.

  11. So the software changes their lap count increasing it by one. You can’t then say that a lapped car that is right behind the leader is now in second place. So that driver would then have to come out of place and drop back ‘x’ number of places until they are in the correct position. That doesn’t really seem like a better solution. It would be easier to have the lapped cars go through the pit lane at a slower speed than the field and come out at the back.

    1. Not really, you’re going to have, say (L= lapped): 1, 2, L1, 3, 4, L2, 5… etc. You tell 3 to pass L1, then 4 to pass L1, then 5 to pass L1 and L2, and so on. Shouldn’t be so difficult to do.

    2. @velocityboy though going through the pitlane could work fine, if time right, it means adding another lap or two under the SC probably.

    3. Yeah, the pit lane idea is nice. It’d still require software updates to allow the shuffle, but it makes sense having the lapped cars enter the pit in-order, waiting if necessary to reenter at the appropriate spot. I think that the potential tire cool-down (since you’re not able to scrub/etc in the pit lane) would offset the gains in not having to complete that extra distance.

  12. Asked about the incident in today’s FIA press conference Vettel said that instead of telling drivers to regain a lap before restarts, F1 should rewrite its software so a lap can be added to their totals, without an extra lap being driven.

    I tried suggesting this a week or two ago. Instead of lapped drivers going all the way round for a lap, adding 2+ laps of SC while we wait, work it via software, race director and team radio. Non-lapped drivers are told one-by-one to pass to the front until you’ve separated out unlapped and lapped, who should then be in order. Then put them on the correct laps via software. Safer and quicker than the current amateurish method. They can begin doing this earlier too. So the order is virtually ready by the time the track is cleared.

  13. I’ve been proposing this for a long time now. Why not just let the lapped cars *remain* lapped, and drop to the back of the grid? The lead cars would have lapped them anyway, sooner or later, had the safety car not come into place. This way you get your lead cars fighting for position, but don’t incur in anti-sport moves like artificially unlap lapped cars.

    1. @alfa that would mean that two cars a few seconds apart could suddenly be a lap apart. That’s not a solution.

      And the advantage of “artificially unlapped cars” is minuscule. Especially compared to the other luck or unluck a SC can bring.

  14. Or they could save the programmers a bit of work and just… you know… only release lapped cars when it’s safe to do so.

    The Safety Car’s there for a reason. They shouldn’t release an often-significant chunk of the pack to go zooming round until the track conditions are such that it’s safe for them to do that.

    1. I’m sure this was the intention, just not the execution. Of course that may mean races finishing under yellow – abomination.
      The other tool in the bag is to let them unmix from the SC train but keep them under VSC speeds when work is still progressing – for this edge case where the laps remaining are low they don’t need to catch the tail of the pack just be laps remaining * 3-5 seconds clear.

  15. Just put them at the back of the pack — treating that they have been blue flagged — letting the cars in the leading lap to move ahead of them. No free lap. They were anyway lapped, who cares?

  16. Why do release lapped cars after all? Just leave them in the queue. The whole procedure takes so long, gives them an enormous advantage and punishes the leader even further.

    1. Please explain what “enormous advantage” is gained. Thanks.

      1. They get a complete lap back

        1. Yes, of course, I thought you were referring to the “more fuel & less tyre wear” that some see as a big issue.

          Agreed and it’s why I disagree with letting them unlap themselves.

  17. Just red flag it and either have a standing start or a rolling start.

    I don’t really understand the need for a safety car with the VSC available. The delta time can be set to whatever is necessary for the situation. Drivers still need to respect yellow flag zones.

  18. What’s “embarrassing” (and sad) are Vettel and Ferrari finding themselves in a situation where they need to unlap themselves.

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