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GPDA's silence is deafening

NEWS STORY
24/03/2008

Judging by the number of e-mails received over the weekend, Pitpass editor Chris Balfe wasn't alone in feeling shivers run up his spine as he watched the closing moments of Saturday's qualifying session at Sepang.

As Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso, both flat-out and desperate to post improved times in the closing moments of the all-important session, happened across Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen, both of whom were 'cruising' back the pits having already completed their final hot laps, it brought back memories of an afternoon in May 1982, when a charging Gilles Villeneuve, also desperate to post an improved qualifying time, came across the March of Jochen Mass, who was on his in-lap. What happened next is history.

It doesn't matter that it was Hamilton or Kovalainen, or indeed, Heidfeld and Alonso, involved on Saturday, it could have been anyone out there, and anyone who feels that we were not close to a serious incident should watch the replay again.

Sadly, this is what happens when one keeps dicking, sorry, changing the rules. After a while they become a mess and nobody knows what they're doing.

Only last season, in the interests of gamesmanship, as opposed to safety, during the final (fuel burn) phase of the session, drivers had to lap within 110% of the pole time or face punishment. Yet now, having done their day's work, drivers appear able to meander back to the pits, with no official ruling as to whether by doing so they are impeding, or worse, endangering, others.

Having been so vocal over the Australian GP weekend, particularly with regards its attempts to force Lewis Hamilton into joining, it is surprising that Saturday's incident has not elicited a response from the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA).

Furthermore, considering Jackie Stewart's emotional plea to the World Championship leader in Melbourne, it is somewhat disappointing that he too has remained silent.

Having spoken of his horror at seeing the body of his great friend, and teammate, Francois Cevert, at Watkins Glen in 1973, the Scot shouldn't need reminding that the Frenchman's fatal crash happened during the morning qualifying session.

Though no other car was involved in the incident - Cevert's Tyrrell went out of control after hitting the track's notorious kerbs - it serves to remind us all that such incidents don't only happen during Grand Prix, they happen during qualifying, free practice and even testing sessions at obscure circuits.

For the record, Hamilton was punished for "impeding Car 3 (Heidfeld) on its flying lap due to the fact that Car 22 (Hamilton) was travelling at very slow speed on the racing line", while Kovalainen was punished for exactly the same offence, impeding both Heidfeld and Alonso.

Speaking after Saturday's incident, Nico Rosberg said "It is a disaster that the rules allow such a thing," while Heidfeld, who officially complained to the Race Stewards, a move which ultimately led to the punishment, as "extremely dangerous".

"It is the responsibility of the drivers to get off the racing line," the Renault driver told Spain's Diario AS.

With safety being a cause celebre of Max Mosley, it is hoped that a new (sensible) rule will be in place by the time qualifying gets underway in Bahrain, after all, we know how much the FIA likes coming up with new rules.

In the meantime, one has to wonder at the deafening silence from the GPDA.

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