A safety car period starting on lap 31 of the Chinese Grand Prix turned a mundane race on its head, but arguably also cost Valtteri Bottas victory in the race and at least a podium for Sebastian Vettel who questioned the timing of the deployment of the Mercedes with flashing lights.
On lap 31 of the race, the safety car was deployed about a minute after the collision between Toro Rosso drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley, as marshalls were required to clear the debris scattered across the track.
At that point, Bottas and Vettel were past the pit entry and could not peel into the pits for fresh rubber as did eventual race winner Daniel Ricciardo. It was the turning point of the race in Shanghai.
After the race, in which he finished eighth Vettel driver told reporters, “Obviously the timing of the safety car was bad for Valtteri and myself, because we had no chance to react.”
“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.”
“I understand if something happens and you have to react straight away, then you can’t always respect where cars are relative to each other.”
“But we had two laps of the debris on the track, so why not call the safety car half a minute sooner and then everybody has the chance to decide whether they pit or not? In my point of view, it’s not right to send it when you actively change the race,” insisted the Ferrari driver.
But F1 Race Director Charlie Whiting explained why Vettel’s remarks were off point, “It’s a little bit of a mystery to me why this has all come into sharp focus, because we’ve had the VSC since 2015, we’ve had the safety car for 20 years.”
“We know that in every intervention there will be winners and losers, but I don’t look to see who is going to be advantaged or disadvantaged.”
“If we have to sit there and work out who is going to be advantaged and work it so everyone has exactly the same chance… We don’t have time for that. It’s not our job to do that.”
“I think we wanted to make sure it was necessary. We didn’t want to do it just on the basis that three or four teams called us to say we need a safety car, which happens nearly every time.”
“I asked the clerk of the course if they could get it in a gap in the traffic, and he said: No, it’s too much. We had to make sure it was justified,” added Whiting.
It should be noted that Vettel himself can thank the timing of the safety car deployment for his victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Big Question: Did race officials take to long to deploy the safety car after the Toro Rosso collision?