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FIA

FIA President reveals where the idea for Virtual Race Control originated

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has revealed that the idea of introducing a Virtual Race Control was his own, sparked by visiting some of the Formula 1 teams in the pre-season.

Abu Dhabi Start 2021
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Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA President, has stated that it was his idea to introduce a Virtual Race Control ahead of the 2022 Formula 1 season.

With the sport's governing body carrying out a full investigation into the well-documented events of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, one of the steps taken by the FIA to improve the issue of race governance was the introduction of a Virtual Race Control room.

This will take the form of a control room, set up in an FIA office away from the circuit, which will use the very latest software to help the on-location Race Control room and Race Director carry out their duties enforcing the regulations.

Speaking over the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, Ben Sulayem explained where the idea had germinated in his head.

"One of the main things [then] is the FIA Virtual Race Control, and that's very important," he told Tom Clarkson in a special interview for the FIA website, when asked about the implementation of the new technology.

"The idea came to me in January when I made a visit to some of the Formula 1 teams. I went to one of the lounges and said, 'What's that, that looks like a theatre?' And they said, 'This is actually a Race Control, but virtual!'

"I said, 'Why don't we have one', and asked, 'Do we [the FIA] have one?' They said, 'No'. Now we invested in it, and it's [already] working, so we didn't promise and [then] didn't deliver.

"We are delivering, they will have another Race Control there, they will have officials from the legal department who will support.

"The Virtual Race Control will not be running the race; the race will be run from the country itself."

Ben Sulayem addresses the appointment of new Race Directors

Another change for this season is the appointment of two Race Directors, with Michael Masi ousted from his role.

In his place, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will alternate in the position throughout the year, and will be ably supported by former Deputy Race Director Herbie Blash – who served under Charlie Whiting.

"We cannot run the Race Control as we used to," Ben Sulayem admitted.

"Formula 1 is such a high-tech and dynamic sport that we have to be able to run as actually leading [the way].

"The Race Control cannot be just one Director. That's the reason we brought some of our staff back, like Herbie, for example, to support the Race Director.

"On top of that, we have to do rotations and not just one [Race Director] because, if you talk about 23 races, human fatigue is there, and you're talking about travel, so that cannot be so. This is also a solution."

Removing the ability to talk to the Race Director

Another change for this season is preventing team bosses from directly getting in touch with the Race Director via the radio.

A non-disruptive process has been implemented, and gone are the days of the likes of Toto Wolff and Christian Horner complaining to the person in charge.

Ben Sulayem said there is a system in place for emergencies, but that the practice has been stamped out.

"I think it was used as entertainment for the fans, but it has its downside," he explained.

"The Race Director and the whole Race Control was just bombarded by unnecessary [messages] and everybody was complaining. But that was putting - I don't think pressure, but I think stress - on the Race Director. So now, [there will be] none of this.

"If there is an emergency need for them to radio [Race Control], then they press a button, then it will go through."

Finally, the wording of the Safety Car regulations has been changed to clarify that "all" cars should unlap themselves under the Safety Car when called to do so – a key component in Masi's controversial decision-making in Abu Dhabi.

"All cars will [unlap] under the Safety Car," Ben Sulayem commented.

"Not 'any'. If you look at 'any', it can be 'all' or 'any'. We looked at the regulations and there are the safety regulations which we have to look into more, and that we will amend – not just the technical, but the safety regulations."

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RacingNews365.com F1 journalists Dieter Rencken, Mike Seymour, and Thomas Maher look back over the 2022 season opener in Bahrain, which was won in dramatic fashion by Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.

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