How the weighbridge system works and why Vettel was a naughty boy

How the weighbridge system works and why Vettel was a naughty boy
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    Vettel got himself into a little bit of trouble during qualifying at the Brazilian Grand Prix
    when he was called in for a weight check in the middle of Q2.
    There were many opinions across social media as to the fairness of the actions of both
    Vettel and the stewards but let's break down why the weighbridge exists, why the weighings
    are carried out in the manner that they are, and how Vettel got himself under the gaze
    of the stewards. As you probably know, the cars and drivers
    need to be a minimum weight at all times while on the track through official weekend sessions.
    There are a number of safety and speed-restriction reasons for this. Teams want to make the cars
    as light as they possibly can - the more you lower the weight of the car, the more you
    can accelerate the cars and the faster they will go under the same energy. And here are
    the equations to prove it! The cars are also much more manoeuvrable and
    nimble the lighter they are and the more sensitive they are to aerodynamic effect. So - plenty
    of positive side effects from having a lighter car.
    So teams will absolutely make their cars as light as they can, right down to the minimum
    allowed weight. The FIA and their stewards and scrutineers
    have to keep a close eye on the weight of the cars. While we're all sure the teams
    are all perfectly honourable participants in the sport, the FIA's job is to think
    'how could someone break the rules?' and 'how do we make sure they can't get away
    with it?'. The stewards job is to follow the procedures set out by the FIA to check
    the rules and penalise infringements. The FIA have a mobile weighing platform, known
    as the 'weighbridge', that the cars are pushed onto. It actually consists of four
    highly sensitive digital scales, one setunder each tyre. Together they sum to calculate
    both the car's total weight and the centre of mass, based on the distribution of weight
    on each corner of the car. This is almost exactly like a giant Wii Fit
    balance board if you had one of those. The driver can also stand on one of the individual
    scales if they need to be weighed separately from the car, like after the race, when the
    cars are parked up in parc fermé. Incidentally, the current weighbridge is a
    new, more mobile solution brought in recent years. It can sit out in the pit lane instead
    of inside the scrutineering garage so the cars can roll-on, roll-off which is much quicker
    than being pushed into the garage and then carefully backed out again.
    The whole scrutineering bay, including the weighbridge is situated right at the beginning
    of the pitlane. This is important. It means a driver cannot reach their own team's garage
    before passing scrutineering. If a car is called in for weighing, a red
    light will show as they enter the pit lane. The driver will be directed to the weighbridge
    at which point the scrutineers - and the scrutineers only - will push the car onto the weighbridge.
    They will then roll the car free and only then can the car return to its own garage
    and team members. This means that the scrutineers can inspect
    a car as it existed on track. No team member can sneakily chuck a bit of lead into the
    cockpit to bring the weight up before the car hits the scales.
    Remember we're always trying to sidestep the ability to cheat, no matter how noble
    we think the teams actually are! As for procedure - a select number of cars
    are randomly called in to be weighed at the end of all free practice sessions. There's
    not any real advantage to running underweight in free practice so the cars don't tend
    to be weighed by surprise in the middle of those sessions.
    Through Q1 and Q2 cars are called in to be weighed at random through the session. The
    way this works is: if a car is on track, there's a chance the computer may pick that car out
    to be weighed. The team is not informed of this. The first
    time a driver knows they've been selected is the red light as they enter the pitlane.
    This means a driver can't go around collecting rubber or anything like that on their way
    into the pits. The whole process of being weighed takes about
    30 seconds if everyone is on the ball. Multiple drivers can be called at once so no one wants
    any unnecessary delay here. So - why are driver's selected at random,
    and why - in the interests of fairness - is not everyone called in for weighing?
    Well, it comes down to time. Qualifying sessions are quick. There just isn't the time to
    call everyone in as it would cause a massive queue and ruin the flow of the session for
    a lot of people. Whereas calling in a few people here and there just adds minor inconvenience
    to a small number of drivers. The drivers are randomly selected so the threat
    of the weighbridge is there. No one can risk running underweight. The risk is the same
    for everyone, so everyone bears the weighbridge in mind when putting their quali strategy
    together. You can't really just do it at the end of
    the session either as drivers come in and out of their garage through the session. So,
    if you were a dastardly cheater you could run the car light on your first run, come
    into the bits, add loads of weight, do a second run and then when you got weighed at the end
    of the session if would look like you were legal through the session.
    That's why the threat of the weighbridge at any time is there. It's sometimes unfortunate,
    but it's the same risk for all. Now, let's examine exactly what happened
    to Vettel in Q2 in Brazil. When Qualifying 2 began, the threat of rain
    was thick in the air. There was a pointed anxiety among all participating teams: all
    cars were sent out early in a hope to grab a fast lap while the track was still dry.
    This is known as the banker lap - just getting a lap in on good track conditions at all costs
    to avoid getting caught out by the rain. Now, like everyone else, Vettel and Raikkonen
    were out there straight away on supersoft tyres but didn't continue on from their
    outlaps to set a fast lap. Instead, Ferrari decided to get them onto the soft tyres to
    set up a better strategy for the race as the top ten start the race on their Q2 tyre.
    So, Vettel came back into the pits from his outlap but unfortunately got the red light
    summoning him to the weighbridge. With the rain drawing its way across the track,
    this was extremely frustrating for Vettel. He needed to be out on track. Ferrari's
    swap to the Soft tyre was a risky move and every second counted.
    He raced over to the weighbridge, knocking over a cone on his way.
    Now, it's usual practice (in the interests of safety) for the driver to turn off the
    engine and allow the scrutineers to push the car onto the scales.
    But Vettel didn't want to turn off his engine. He wanted to drive up. Every second counted.
    The scrutineers waited, signalling him to turn off the engine, causing further delay.
    Vettel nearly ran over a steward, despite being signalled to brake, so eager was he
    to get up on the scales. This was the first part of his error. The
    word of the stewards and scrutineers is law. If they ask you to turn off your engine you
    do it. There's a reason there's protocol here - and that's mostly for safety.
    Vettel did turn off his engine eventually once on the scales, as the vibrations of the
    engine would mean they wouldn't be able to get an accurate reading.
    After the weight was taken, the scrutineers moved to roll him off the scales, as is protocol.
    But instead, Vettel restarted the engine using the power of the electric part of his hybrid
    power unit and drove off the scales, breaking them and putting them out of action.
    Luckily for Vettel he did turn off his engine and get allow them to get an accurate reading.
    If he hadn't, he would have been disqualified from qualifying and would have started the
    race from the pitlane. There's a very clear rule for this, with precedent to boot.
    As it stood, the FIA had to make a judgement call on the weird, dangerous behaviour from
    Vettel and the fact that he broke scrutineering equipment due to his action. He got away with
    a fine and a reprimand. It was a show of disrespect to the track staff, which is normally highly
    frowned upon. A lot of people say that it's unfair to
    call cars in during changeable conditions and maybe there is space to discuss that aspect
    of the rules. However: let's not forget that Ferrari were already on track and could
    have set that banker lap instead of coming in. The weighbridge rules are decades old
    and Ferrari were fully capable of factoring in the risk of a weighing into their decision
    to change strategy and pull the cars into the pits.
    The FIA have to treat the rules as they are written when running an event and the drivers
    have to respect the staff that run the race and respect the rules and protocols. If you
    want to change the rules, that can be brought to the table between the races.
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