Formula 1 race director Michael Masi has explained why the safety car was deployed for six laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix just to retrieve Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes.
He said the move was a standard reaction to the use of a crane at the trackside – and that a virtual safety car would not have been sufficient.
Bottas pulled off with an engine failure and in response to a message from his engineer coasted to a gap in the barrier where he thought his car could easily be pulled out of harm’s way.
Onboard TV footage showed that after vacating the cockpit Bottas struggled to re-fit the steering wheel, before leaving it in the car and climbing over the barrier.
Two marshals subsequently picked it up and eventually managed to re-fit it, and then appeared to be trying to put the car in neutral.
As they could not move the car, a crane was required.
Since the 2014 Japanese GP crash that led to the death of Jules Bianchi, any deployment of a crane obliges race control to deploy a full safety car in order to properly slow the field – even when the car is on the inside of a corner and the crane only briefly outside the protection of the barriers, as was the case on this occasion.
“Valtteri did a fantastic job where he stopped,” said Masi. “They were trying to push the car back into the gap, which is why we went double yellow, as we had the marshals there.
“It was off track, they were trying to push the car, but the car got stuck on the bump.
“So we actually had to deploy the crane to move it out. For me as soon as a crane is deployed, that’s it, straight safety car.”
Asked if there was an issue with the Mercedes not being in neutral, Masi replied: “The marshal said it was stuck on the bump and left it at that. And obviously as soon as I have to use a crane, it completely changes it.
“Being off track was why I covered it under a double yellow flag originally.”
Although Bottas’s car and the crane were behind the barrier very quickly the safety car period dragged out to six full laps in part because so many lapped cars were required to pass the leaders in order to get their laps back as stipulated under the rules.
“Basically the top five cars were the only unlapped cars,” said Masi.
“Probably the first part of it was actually getting the leader behind the safety car, which took a little bit longer purely because of car positioning, and then getting the list from timing of all the cars.
“So the first focus is obviously to clear the incident. And then the unlapping of cars is a secondary scenario.”