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Hill: Driving standards better than ever

NEWS STORY
13/02/2013

Mat Coch writes:

Coming out of a season which saw Romain Grosjean become the first driver in nearly two decades sit out a following a ban, 1996 world champion Damon Hill believes driving standards in Formula One have improved in recent years.

The 1996 champion, who is now a pundit for Sky F1, believes that while there has been some increase in drivers taking excessive risk, the self-policing the sport now employs has successfully stamped out most of the concerns.

"There was a time when it was very controversial," Hill opined on the latest Pitpass Podcast. "There were drivers who overstepped the aggressiveness threshold and appeared to be condoned or even encouraged to drive in that way.

"I think today that there's a little bit of self-policing that goes on with the drivers. I think that with the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers' Association) they get an opportunity to air their grievances with driving standards and I think there is peer pressure involved."

Accidents and mistakes are an unavoidable part of motor sport as drivers make split second decisions. It is inevitable that some of them will be made in error, but that is not to say they are made rashly, Hill contends.

"There's a line over which you don't want to see drivers go and I think they've been pretty good with the stewards in finding a balance," he contends. "You don't want to neuter the competition, you want to see some brave moves but just running off the track because you can is not really racing, it's just blocking. It's not use of skill it's use of belligerence."

However the march towards ever improved safety is a key concern, and should remain so according to Hill, and is something which adds to the overall spectacle as drivers can take increased risk with far less danger.

"The responsibility for safety has been taken on by the FIA and to a very successful level," he believes. "In terms of what the drivers can do, I think that they're involved in the discussion but the expertise really is in the hands of the FIA safety foundation, and all the work Sid (Professor Sid Watkins) used to do in testing new ideas and creating the parameters.

"I think there is this idea that in the 60's and 70's, or 60's anyway, that there was a code of conduct, a bond between drivers," he added. "They were literally risking their lives and you would not pull off any of the stunts that they do today in those days without being accused of being a maniac and risking other drivers lives. But they still did race pretty hard.

"It's better now that they've got the protection, the knowledge that you can be a bit more aggressive with a driver in racing conditions without being just pig headed. You've got to somehow think how can I get past this guy, or how can I stop this guy from getting past without causing us both to crash, because that's failure in terms of racing.

"There is margin for that now, without there being such a great concern for the drivers safety as there was in the days gone by.

"When Ayrton Senna crashed in to the back of Alain Prost in Suzuka I'm still totally stunned and amazed that he wasn't kicked out. If he'd done that today he would have got a five-race ban or maybe even a season long ban because that was downright dangerous."

You can hear the full interview with Damon Hill on Episode 2 of the Pitpass Podcast, available from iTunes and Pitpass tomorrow (Thursday).

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