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F1 soul-searching must begin

FEATURE BY CHRIS BALFE
06/10/2014

As ever at such times one feels not only a great sense of loss and emptiness but anger, it's part of a natural process.

This morning, as Jules Bianchi fights for his life, the sport, once again, finds itself on the front pages and at the top of news reports for all the wrong reasons.

Whereas the world should be applauding these brave young men, particularly in the sort of conditions witnessed yesterday, and Lewis Hamilton should be soaking up the praise following his superb drive, we are instead on tenterhooks, fearing the very worst.

In their analysis of yesterday's incident, a couple of newspapers have pointed out the questions that need to be answered, interestingly, two of them, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, have only five. I have a lot more.

First off, yesterday's weather didn't come as a surprise. The impending arrival of Typhoon Phanfon has been known about since mid-week and by Friday some F1 sites, including Pitpass, were looking more like meteorological blogs.

And yet, once again, the powers that be dithered, responsibility appearing to be pushed from pillar to post. Whilst the FIA was happy to move the race time the promoter refused to budge. However, it was made clear that by promoter this meant track owner Honda, as opposed to 'The Wee Man'.

Fact is if Bernie Ecclestone had wanted the race moved forward a couple of hours or even a day it would have happened, and there was little that Honda would have been able to do about it.

From time to time I receive emails - some of them extremely abusive - about the adverts on Pitpass. I respond that the ads are a necessary inconvenience, that without them we couldn't exist. The more abusive complainants are reminded that we cover, and therefore they follow, a sport whose very lifeblood is advertising and sponsorship. It is the money from advertising and sponsorship that drives F1.

In turn, the sport's owners - of whom more later - are able to extract great wads of cash from broadcasters who want to cover the 'sport'.

Part of the TV deal not only guarantees a fixed calendar, a fixed number of teams and drivers - unlike the old days - it also guarantees session and race start times.

With the world's TV broadcasters set up to cover a race starting at 15:00 local time, there was no way that the schedule could be moved forward a day or even a few hours. No way.

Then again, why exactly was the race taking place at 15:00 anyway, when, at this time of year we know that it is already getting dark around 17:30.

Would it have anything to to do with those 'lazybone' fans in Europe, you know, the ones for whom races all around the rest of the world have to be scheduled in order to be viewed at a convenient time? After all, a 15:00 start time in Japan converts to 07:00 in the UK and 08:00 on mainland Europe, just right for breakfast, as opposed to 05:00 and 06:00 or worse.

So taking it as a given, that the race was not going to be moved forward, the event went ahead, behind the Safety Car. After just 2 laps the Safety Car led the pack back to the pits where gazebos were quickly erected as the grid set up camp.

Shortly after the 'race' resumed, again behind the Safety Car, and after a few laps the drivers were calling for the action to get underway. Got that, the drivers, the ones in the cars, the one's risking their lives.

Instead the Safety Car continued for several more laps until the powers-that-be deemed conditions good enough for the drivers' to be trusted.

A couple of years ago, the FIA, wisely, introduced a Driver Steward at each race, a former driver who would understand the racers' approach to certain incidents and would therefore be best-placed in meting out punishment and knowing when a driver was 'pulling a fast one'. Couldn't the FIA have gone one step further and introduced a sort of Driver Liaison, a former driver who could represent those guys out on track in terms of communicating with the Race Director.

If we have said it once, we have said it a million times, it is the drivers whose lives are on the line, so what on earth is the point of a Grand Prix Drivers Association, effectively the drivers' union, if it has no teeth, no power.

The GPDA should have been fully involved not only in terms of the Safety Car but also the decision as to whether the race should have been moved forward in the first place. That said, as anyone who has witnessed the meaningless PR sessions that pass for the official press conferences these days can we really ever expect the drivers to speak out? In this highly corporate era long gone is the spirit of driver unity witnessed at Kyalami in 1982.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by MadMalc, 24/01/2015 17:25

"Actually I agree with 95% of what you say here & why only 95%. Remember how many times Alonso has had a F1 car almost take his head off. You say you do not agree with cockpit covered, however I can see one day we will have a drivers head rolling across the race track. That is not what anyone including the crowd, with all todays technology I personally think it would not require any full cockpit type cover & neither would any F1 Driver.
How hard would it really be to add an extension bar from the existing car pick-up point IE: Safety bar above rear of the drivers head, could no one think about adding a strut type bar, that could be lifted before & after Race start.
This would no hinder any drivers point of view they are still getting the air flowing over & through them, it could be pulled enough forward & locked into place above the driver view. I know this would not sit nice with the drivers or the look of the car, but they can change wheels in two seconds due to the change in how they fit.
The bar could have an easy lock that would only require the driver to release the bar from the solid fit as quick as they change wheels, it does want everyone to understand what drivers may not like immediately, but they all would like to keep their heads on their necks. I have watched & been involved in F1 from the 1960s, even raced in three of them & the amount of times drivers have had another F1, shoot across their faces is growing as is the speeds. This has stood out to myself as more & more we have seen such incidents several times, I am just stating what I see could save one drivers life, no one would move quicker to do somthing within one race, if the above was to happen & No Fan wishes to see that either.
One thing I read about some racing circuit has a system whereby at the flick of a switch every car is reduced in speed, so they all maintain whatever position they have, I am sure that would be something that everyone would be okay with, again one life saved is enough to stop such accidents as were seeing now. Overall I think you give a good report & keep us well inside the information cicles, you do a wonderful job please, don't take this as disagreeing with anything you have wrote, keep up the great work you do for nothing and I know you do it for the love of the sport. Thank You, for it all."

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2. Posted by Martin B, 06/11/2014 20:28

"Bit of a late comment - just got out of hospital! Chris made some very appropriate comments in this article and I agree with all of them. I would add, there was a wet race in Suzuka some 10-15 years ago where about 5 cars went off at that very corner because I believe there is a small "river" which runs across the track just before that corner. So two questions - why haven't they fixed the "river" problem and secondly, as someone else commented, after that race why do they still send the recovery crane outside the barrier? Surely they could have done from inside. I don't know how many of you have been to the Macau Grand Prix. It is a far more dangerous race with several fatalities (bikes and saloon cars but not F3) in recent years but Macau's organisation, safety and positioning of large recovery cranes behind barriers in notorious crash points makes F1 look stupid. In Macau they will get a car off track in about 1 minute. The Macau Grand Prix is this 14-16th so if you can catch it try and take a look how they all the cranes ready with the lifting gear already hanging down above the track. Take a look anyway because it is a brilliant track with great racing! Coming to Massa, Ex F1 Official and Wayne DR - both correct, Massa should have either stopped and got out of the car or stopped and change his tyres. Chris's point on race timing to suit the European TV audience - absolutely spot on. So why then is Bernie chasing Asian and American races but sticking to European TV schedules? Because the European audience is bigger and he makes more money, especially from pay-per-view. Unfortunately one COULD argue that that is exactly why Jules is now fighting for his life in hospital. I watch EVERY race no matter what the time. I live in Hong Kong so that means watching Austin, Interlagos and Montreal at around 3.00am Monday morning. Also, TV companies don't seem to have a problem at all re-timing their schedule if a Wimbledon final happens to go on for 5 hours instead of 2 hours - so why can't F1 do that?"

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3. Posted by Ex F1 Official, 23/10/2014 19:03

"Cool it.
first of all the driver has control. Massa should have stopped.
second, Large cumbersome vehicles should never be track side. Off course cranes should be used
third, tires are adequate, if you wear them out, change them
fourth, racing in rain is okay,
fifth, though not proven, and I shall not enter that discussion - drivers need to SLOW down when there is a single yellow flag, double stationary, waving or a waving double. obey the rules!!!!
sixth, SC is a poor excuse for trying to maintain the rules. If drivers are reported as not adhering to rules, park them for a race. Not a 10 spot qualification penalty. Put penalty in pocket book.

We all know a few drivers that should be there, A couple are racing this year
"

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4. Posted by Steve W, 11/10/2014 16:12

"F1 has no business racing in the rain anymore. The reliance on downforce enables the cars to travel much too quickly for wet-weather conditions and when the car breaks away...

If racing in the rain must continue, speed limits should be enforced for the conditions. Something like 100kph for light rain, 60kph for moderate rain and 30kph for heavy rain... "

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5. Posted by my tyres are going off, 08/10/2014 11:21

"Well there appears to be a slight consensus towards the idea of some sort of technology solution to yellow flag driving, as to some of the other comments.

The teams and drivers including Jules must take some responsibility. If the change to full wets was required then they needed to make the call. I agree with the prvious comment Massa should have stopped crying about losing places and pitted either for full wets or to retire.

Marshalls are part of the racing and do take some risk. There have been fatalities and serious injury in the past to this band of volunteers and yes their safety does need reviewing but it can never be 100% unless once again we red flag a race every time a piece of carbon fiber flies off a car and needs moving off the racing line.

The question of timing and fading light perhaps requires a minimum lux level to race for whilst you leave it subjective you will always risk racing into dusk conditions although I personally believe a low horizon setting sun can be worse than consistant low light

Any way some good points in this thread, shame we had to have Jules in hospital to trigger it

Good luck jules"

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6. Posted by daveke, 08/10/2014 8:27

"Instead of the safety car implement a speed limit. For example 50mph or 80kph from the instant there is a yellow flag. Every car can keep the time they have on the other car. It is already in play in a series and i like it very much.
All my best wishes to jules."

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7. Posted by wmcot54, 08/10/2014 5:12

"And then you have two-faced Niki Lauda saying that he saw nothing wrong after the race while telling the BBC broadcasters that it was like Fuji 1976 and that he would not be out there racing. A lot of people are losing my respect as more and more details come out on this incident. They all must hold to the Politically Correct line. None of them has the guts to come out and say it was wrong, we made a mistake. The simple point is that you don't hold a race during a typhoon - EVER!"

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8. Posted by WayneDR, 08/10/2014 1:53

"Firstly, Jules my prayers go out for you. KEEP FIGHTING!!!

Is doing 213 km/h around Dunlop under double yellows, compared to 222 km/h under race conditions (a 9 km/h decrease) sufficient to say a driver has "lifted"?

If the FIA had better definition for "lifting off" than sector times, and better enforcement of "lifting off" from a safety perspective, we could have avoided this incident totally. Racers will always be racers and push the limits (that is their job), the FIA need to provide the safe limits (that is their job). The telemetry is available to monitor this.

"The arguments for sending a Safety Car out were that the conditions were worsening, the light levels fading and some cars (like Sutil and Bianchi) were out on worn intermediate tyres which had done over 20 laps and had little rubber or tread left. F1 engineers have told this website that in those circumstances when rain is falling a worn intermediate tyre loses temperature very quickly, in as little as a lap, and then the grip level drops dramatically."

The FIA could possibly also look at limiting the number of laps (20 laps or min. tread depth) for full wets and inters, again setting a safe limit to race.


I have also lost respect for Filipe Massa following some of his post race comments. He was out on worn intermediates, the same as everyone else, and in a car that was not setup for the conditions, so he was losing places.

If he truly was "screaming over the radio for the last five laps that the race should be stopped", he had at least two options:

1) Pit and get full wets - the appropriate tyre for the conditions OR
2) (the ballsier option) Pull into the pits, park the car up and get out - Lauda did this in '76 and it cost him the championship, BUT we still all talk about it today - He made a stand for what he believed in!

Please, don't make comments post race about what others should have done, when you are unprepared to act yourself!"

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9. Posted by C5, 07/10/2014 19:07

"@ VC10-1103

"I am a little shocked to read some peoples thoughts that Bianchi was driving too fast. If you have been following motor racing long enough you will know all you have to do in conditions like that is misplace your car a couple of inches, clip the kerb or hit the water where it is a little deeper and you are off. Even the greats do that occasionally."

I completely agree that this is indeed very easy to do. But it is also drilled into every driver, at every event, on every level of the sport, that yellow flags means you have to slow down to the point where you are SURE it is safe to pass the scene.

That is what I was trying to say.
"

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10. Posted by C5, 07/10/2014 18:54

"@ MrShadow

"Two things need to be looked at. First the possibility to reduce the effects of a crash with a rescue vehicle."

I do not agree. There should NEVER be a situation where there is a need to reduce the effects of crashing with a rescue vehicle. Marshalls are working around the recovery vehicle, unprotected. The though of an uncontrolled car taking out one or more marshalls is, in my book, a gazillion times more severe than a car hitting anything stationary, including a rescue vehicle. In fact, the biggest danger with the diggers is that a marshall may get trapped under one of its wheels, as it very, very sadly happened in Montreal last year. But diggers are still in use, because it is one of the most efficient and flexible ways of recovering stranded cars, and the risk profile can be made 'acceptable'.

The same has to apply to this situation. We have to do the best we reasonably can to prevent cars going uncontrollably off track under yellow flag conditions. But unfortunately, no precautions are 100% effective 100% of the time. Other than not racing at all. I'm not saying we should not keep learning and improving, but I feel, as I understand several of the drivers also do, that at the circumstances surrounding this particular accident, that the current rules and procedures are actually 'good enough'. Only, we may need to see to that they are better observed and enforced.

Sending out the safety car for every stranded car is a really bad idea. Just look at the full cause yellows in American racing. It ruins the racing, is totally unfair for the drivers, and is unendingly boring. And, besides that it coming with its own risks (restarting the race with cool tires and brakes for example), it still does not prevent cars occasionally skidding out of control and crashing even when behind the safety car.

I think we have to accept that, sometimes, bad things happen despite all reasonable efforts to prevent it. And I think this is one of those cases. Tightening up enforcement of the current rules is, to me, the correct response. Not a knee-jerk reaction with safety cars every two laps, closed cockpits, or bouncy-castle padding of recovery vehicles.

All my hopes and wishes to Jules for a full and speedy recovery.
"

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11. Posted by Daydah, 07/10/2014 17:58

"Mr McShadow missed the point of my proposal. The speed limiter would be in the control of the driver as in the ptlane entrance. Penalties for exceeding the limit would be severe. The use of a delta is too open to abuse with parts of the controlled distance traversed at unsafe speed balanced by other very slow portions."

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12. Posted by MrShadow, 07/10/2014 16:06

"Two things need to be looked at. First the possibility to reduce the effects of a crash with a rescue vehicle. Second a faster reaction to aquaplaning. An automatic speed limiter would not be good, as the sudden deceleration could cause even bigger accidents.
When a SC is out, drivers get a delta (target time/speed) on their steering. This could as well be done in case of an incident. "

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13. Posted by Edlewusa, 07/10/2014 16:00

"Of course the start time is absurd and should be earlier, but why let that get in the way to televisions and advertising dollars. The same problem occurs with races in Australia and Malaysia early in the season. US oval tracks have truck-mounted blowers to clear water and dry the track; why not in F1.

There is a video circulating where it appears that a green flag was being waved when Bianchi crashed. Is this accurate?"

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14. Posted by Daydah, 07/10/2014 14:18

"I believe the key is the reaction to waved yellow flags. When telemetry has to be studied to see if a driver lifts or not it is clear that the reaction is insufficient. A safety car is a clumsy response that destroys racing and introduces random benefits / penalties throughout the field as well as periods of boredom.
Surely the answer lies in the pitlane speed limiter technology where cars should have to traverse the sector containing the incident with a speed limiter on. It need not be as low as the pitlane but appropriate to the circuit or sector. No overtaking would also be necessary. Racing would continue unabated elsewhere with the necessary safety zone conditions allowing medical, recovery and cleanup activities to be carried out insafety."

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15. Posted by Ludovico, 07/10/2014 12:37

"Another example of how the powers-that-be amorality is turning into immorality without us being able to notice it (before) and without us being able to revert it (now). Or are we still on time? "

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