Archive: safety

It is awful that, less than a week after the death of Dan Wheldon, another major motorsport star has been killed during a race.

Unlike IndyCar, I follow MotoGP quite closely and I have watched all of the races this year. I was a big fan of Marco Simoncelli. For me, Marco Simoncelli was the clear stand-out rider in a MotoGP series that is not as exciting as it once was.

Simoncelli had his critics. Some thought he was too aggressive. It is perhaps true that sometimes he stepped beyond the line. But he was still young. As this year progressed he was beginning to become a more measured rider — and he was no less exciting for it.

Simoncelli has single-handedly saved a few dull MotoGP races by actually doing extraordinary, exciting things. His talent was clear for all to see, and I personally thought he would become a World Champion in the future.

Sadly the journey came to an end today. What is especially sad is that in the lap or so up to his fatal accident, he was demonstrating exactly what made him such a wonderful spectacle in a brilliant ding-dong battle with Alvaro Bautista.

Thoughts must also go out to Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, who collided with Marco Simoncelli. It must be an unimaginably awful experience.

It is always a hair-raising experience watching motorcycles race. It is clearly an especially dangerous form of motorsport. As we see time and again, when control is lost, a bike can go anywhere. Worse still, a rider can go anywhere too. It is always a heart-stopping moment when a rider goes down in the middle of the circuit as opposed to a run-off area.

The skill and bravery of motorcycle racers is one of the things that makes it such a draw. But today, there was another reminder that the quest for more safety can never stop.

Thanks for entertaining us, Marco Simoncelli.

Korea International Circuit logo
Are hopes for a Korean Grand Prix in 2012 disappearing down the plughole?

Last weekend saw the second Korean Grand Prix. Already there are murmurs that it may be the last. Autosport are today reporting that the Korean Grand Prix organisers are seeking to renegotiate their contract with Bernie Ecclestone in order to stem their losses. Good luck with that one.

Watching the Korean Grand Prix over the weekend, it was difficult not to draw a parallel with the Turkish Grand Prix. It seems to suffer from a lot of the same problems, with an extra few problems on top just to make sure.

Istanbul Park was notorious for being in the middle of nowhere and tough to access. The Korean circuit, located at Yeongam, appears to be similarly remote. Although close to medium-sized city of Mokpo, it is several hours away from the main hub Seoul. This has been the source of some grumbles from within the F1 fraternity over the past two years.

But more striking was the emptiness of the grandstands. It did not seem quite as bad as Turkey, but it certainly was a cause for concern and a topic of conversation over the weekend. It seems as though Formula 1 has failed to capture the imagination of the Korean public.

Apparently, almost no other events take place at the circuit during the rest of the year. So it is not difficult to imagine that the facility might be struggling financially.

A lot of surprise was expressed at how little has been done to the circuit since the inaugural race last year. Even then, the circuit famously faced a race against time to even be ready to stage the race at all. In the end, it is said that corners were cut, raising concerns about the safety of the race.

Drainage was poor, the newly-laid tarmac was slippery, leading to some of the worst visibility conditions in memory. Earlier this year, Fernando Alonso said, “it remains quite shocking what we did in Korea.”

Some elements of danger have clearly not been removed in the past year. The pitlane entrance and exit are both viewed as unsafe. I had expected the pitlane exit at least to be modified following the first race, but no.

I am staggered that such a patently inadequate design to both the entrance and exit has come about. During the BBC commentary, David Coulthard joked that Hermann Tilke must have had his YTS designers working on the circuit.

Hermann Tilke has come up with a lot of goofy circuit designs, but this problem takes the biscuit. How many failed circuit designs do there need to be? You really do wonder how he has managed to be almost the only person involved in designing or redesigning Formula 1 circuits in the past 15 years, yet still manages to come out with stuff like this.

The original vision was for a city to surround part of the circuit. But none of the city appears to be in place yet. Part of the circuit is even described as a “temporary street circuit”, though quite how can you call it this when the streets themselves do not even exist yet?

The circuit itself is nothing special in terms of racing either. At least Turkey had a good circuit, with its instantly-legendary quadruple-apex Turn 8. I was also keen on the last few corners, where there was often some great wheel-to-wheel racing. Korea International Circuit has none of that.

In a way, it was a shame that the Turkish Grand Prix has ended up being dropped from the calendar (although it remains on standby to step in, just in case any more races — Bahrain, the USA or Korea — fall off the calendar). But at least Turkey managed to get seven races under their belt. Korea has two so far. Would anyone miss it if there wasn’t a third?

Senna film poster

If you follow Formula 1 online, it has been absolutely impossible to avoid the hype. Films about Formula 1 do not get made often. It is highly unusual for so much footage to have been prised out of Bernie Ecclestone. When you factor in that the film is about Ayrton Senna, a driver who has reached an almost legendary status, it was inevitable that this film would attract a lot of attention.

Moreover, the film has been met with near (although not quite) universal approval. Seasoned film critics and those with no interest in motorsport have lapped it up enthusiastically.

So it has been a painful wait. I was delighted to learn that it was being shown at my local cinema, so I took the first opportunity to watch it.

I found the film truly engrossing and hugely emotional. The story of Senna’s career — or at least one version of it — is very well told. Some of the footage, particularly of drivers’ briefings and the like, is absolutely astonishing.

Alain Prost

The film’s treatment of Alain Prost has come under a lot of scrutiny. It is said that Prost is cast as the villain of the film. I was relieved that his treatment was not as bad as I had feared.

I actually felt that Prost comes across quite well in the film — though this may be for ideological reasons, and that I already understand the Prost–Senna rivalry. It is easy to see why, in a film that celebrates Senna’s approach, others may feel that Prost’s alternative approach to racing does not come across so well.

In fairness to the filmmakers, I think it does illustrate that the frosty tensions between Senna and Prost had thawed in the final months of Senna’s life. We see Senna embracing Prost on the podium at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, Prost’s reaction to Senna’s fatal crash from the TF1 commentary box and Prost as a pallbearer at Senna’s funeral. A caption at the film’s climax also displays the fact that Prost is a trustee of the Ayrton Senna Foundation.

Important details skipped

However, I do feel that the film does not get across just how controversial Ayrton Senna was. The only time it is really tackled is in a relatively brief clip of Jackie Stewart’s famous interrogation of Senna’s dangerous driving.

I was also disappointed in how little of Senna’s career is actually covered. The film skips straight from karting into F1, then practically fast-forwards to the Prost–Senna rivalry, which is clearly the meat of the film. Thereafter, the 1992 and 1993 seasons get the briefest look in. In the process, the championship victories of Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost are belittled, particularly through the skilful vilification of the Williams car.

After the film had finished, I felt like only a handful of incidents had been covered. I was left feeling that only a superficial account of Senna’s career had been presented.

I can fully understand why this is so. There is a limit to what Bernie Ecclestone will allow. So the filmmakers are left with the quandry of how to sum up an amazing driver’s entire career in the time it takes to complete just one grand prix.

Authentically inauthentic

I also found myself being annoyed by tiny details that I felt detracted from the authenticity of the film. For instance, almost all of the source footage must have been shot in 4:3, but the film is in a different aspect ratio, meaning that all of the footage is cropped. When much of the footage is blurry enough as it is, this doesn’t help.

A significant proportion of the film also contains a blurred-out Globo DOG, with a new one superimposed on top of it (presumably to meet the requirements of the Brazilian broadcaster). Then there are the mock TV captions that crop up throughout the film.

These are small details, but I found them irritating me. To me, they detract from the cinematic mood.

When I read about the edits that have been made to some of the footage, particularly the sound, my eyebrows were raised. “They managed to change it, so it’s very authentic,” says Manish Pandey. It reminds me of a line from the Pulp song Bad Cover Version: “Electronically reprocessed to give a more lifelike effect.”

Intense and emotional

Having said that, the film is no less gripping as a result of all these niggles. I felt the grin across my face as I watched Senna’s awesome driving in the Toleman and the Lotus. The events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend are well-handled and emotional to watch.

However, here it does once again feel that certain events are rushed through. Rubens Barrichello and Roland Ratzenberger are both only briefly introduced before their crashes are shown. Not much time is reserved to dwell upon these events, even though Ratzenberger’s death was, for me, the most emotional part of the film to watch.

Summing up Senna

All-in-all, Senna is a brilliant, emotional film packed with extraorindary footage and with a well-constructed story. But the time constraint, and (let’s face it) the requirement to make a film that would be commercially successful, did leave me feeling as though only the tip of the iceberg was considered.

In fact, for me, the Top Gear feature from last year summed up exactly what Senna was all about in only 13 minutes. It outlines exactly what made Senna so different to other drivers, and was not afraid to investigate his controversial racing style while also underlining his parodoxical concern for safety.

The Senna film sets out to do something different. So in this respect I was slightly disappointed in the fact that the film is a celebration of Senna’s career, and not a thorough factual account of it. However, as a celebration of Senna’s career, it is difficult to imagine how this film could be improved, beyond being longer. I am eagerly anticipating the DVD release.

One of the most worrying trends in F1 is the increasing tendency of wheels and tyres to come loose and fly off. Since refuelling was banned for the start of the 2010 season, the speed of tyre changes has become easily the most crucial element of a pitstop. With the greater number of pitstops this year as a result of the current deliberately dodgy tyres, this has become even more critical.

During the Chinese Grand Prix we saw Jaime Alguersuari’s right rear wheel roll itself off the car soon after a pitstop. It flew off towards marshals, photographers and other bystanders, while Vitantonio Liuzzi took to the inside to avoiding being hit while he passed the stricken Toro Rosso.

Top F1 journalist Adam Cooper reported on Twitter that the wheel came dangerously to hitting him:

#F1 Here's the wheel that Jaime Alguersuari @squire3 tri... on Twitpic

# Hoping to bump into @squire3 [Jaime Alguersuari] tonight after his STR wheel nearly killed me! Luckily he missed…

# I was behind an opening in the debris fence and hit on the next secition, about 2m away, head height. Bit scary…

# Here’s the wheel that Jaime Alguersuari @squire3 tried to kill me with! Scared the #### out of me… http://twitpic.com/4m224g

For me, loose wheels are easily the most dangerous thing in F1 today. When two marshals died in he space of a few races just over a decade ago, they were both as a result of flying wheels. Stronger wheel tethers were introduced after those incidents, but these do no good if the wheel is not properly attached to the car in the first place.

With the emphasis on tyre changes now at the very forefront of every race, it is no surprise that teams have been looking to save time in this area. Mercedes have been particularly inventive, developing a wheel nut that is attached to the wheel itself.

But there have been lot of wheels coming off since the start of 2010, clearly as a result of not having been attached properly in the first place. Robert Kubica’s wheel detached after a few laps of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Mercedes also had a few wheel failures last year. Among these was the truly scary moment in Hungary when Nico Rosberg’s wheel came off the pitlane, causing all sorts of havoc as it bounced and rolled around while several dozen mechanics were busy working.

It is high time this was nipped in the bud. I am sure the teams would take more care in their pitstops if a real penalty was applied. This isn’t a sporting issue. It is a safety issue, and any teams that are not attaching wheels securely enough should face a ban.

Flying wheels are not just putting drivers at risk. They are putting marshalls and mechanics at risk. But worst of all they are putting spectators at risk.

Renault were suspended in 2009 after Fernando Alonso’s wheel came off in Hungary that year. However, the suspension was lifted. That was fine. Then, it was a one-off incident — in the refueling era there is little to suggest that Renault were cutting corners.

But today, the loose wheel problem is truly endemic. It must be stopped.

This BBC One closedown from 1996 didn’t quite go to plan.

Just as well it was time to go home.

I always find it interesting watching closedowns from the past. Continuity announcers just don’t seem so important these days, do they? Today they would never tell you to take care when heading out on the roads.

The Formula 1 world is bracing itself in anticipation of the unexpected when the travelling circus makes its next stop at Yeongam in Korea. The saga of the troubled construction of this new venue has been well documented. The latest setback came last week when newly published images appeared to show that a construction crane had toppled into the main grandstand.

After months of uncertainty, it now appears as though the Korean Grand Prix will go ahead, albeit in a facility that is not yet finished. The latest images seem to show that the circuit is finished, but the surroundings are far from perfect.

But as long as the circuit is there, a race can go ahead. The top layer of asphalt has only just gone down though, meaning that the F1 cars will have to cope with a very slippery circuit indeed next weekend. I can see it descending into farce, but it could be just the recipe for an exciting race weekend.

But what if there are still serious problems with the venue? It is unprecedented for F1 to head to a half-finished venue. You can think of Circuit de Catalunya, which held its first race in 1991 with its surroundings not looking in great nick — even though the circuit itself was perfectly usable.

The 1986 Hungarian Grand Prix also had a close shave. There are some incredible pictures of the warm-up races that clearly show the circuit still being worked on just weeks before the first Formula 1 grand prix was due to be held.

The problem is that the Korea International Circuit has not held anything in the way of proper racing yet. The circuit was “opened” on 4 September, with a demonstration run from Karun Chandhok in a Red Bull.

Clearly there was a lot of work still to be done. Multiple inspections have been cancelled. The FIA’s International Sporting Code (PDF), appendix O, article 3.4, states that a Formula 1 circuit must pass its final inspection at least 90 days before the race is due to go ahead. For other international events, the deadline is 60 days.

All of these deadlines have sailed past. An inspection due on 28 September was apparently cancelled by the FIA because there was nothing new to inspect.

Today, just ten days before F1 cars are due to go onto the track, the inspection is taking place. Now all indications are that the race will go ahead come what may. That seems to be because Bernie Ecclestone has decided it will do. To cancel the race now would be a disaster for everyone involved. It probably means cancelling next year’s race too, unless the FIA wants to overlook another of its rules.

I have no doubt that the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone know what they are doing. But surely all of those safety rules exist for a reason. Why have 90-day limits if, come crunch time, the money man decides a 10-day inspection will do the job?

What if something goes horribly wrong? I only ask because Bernie Ecclestone has gone on record during an interview with the BBC saying, “It’s quite dangerous what we’ve done, actually.”

It is true that this was Bernie Ecclestone’s way of giving the grand prix organisers the hurry-up in a public fashion. But to hear him describe “what we’ve done” as “dangerous” was surprising to me. It is a strong word that can be used against him and the FIA.

I know it says on the back of the ticket that motorsport is dangerous. But the FIA is supposed to ensure that dangers are eliminated wherever possible. It has apparently decided that this doesn’t matter in this instance. This is a precedent that surely shouldn’t be set.

The Hungarian Grand Prix lived up to its reputation for being a boring circuit in terms of overtaking, but always delivering action of some sort. Hungaroring may be dull as a spectacle, but there is never a shortage of talking points.

This year’s was provided by Michael Schumacher. His already infamous move to push Rubens Barrichello towards the pit wall while both were travelling at top speeds was one of the most vicious I have ever seen. I was yelling while it was happening.

I think I will forever vividly remember watching the onboard shot from Rubens Barrichello’s car live. I was cheering him on as he lined up to overtake Michael Schumacher. Then I was horrified when I realised what Schumacher was doing.

Not that it is much of a surprise. It is well known that Michael Schumacher is capable more than anyone else of pulling a dirty move out of his lowest drawer. His famous tainted legacy: Why does driver who is so good — a seven time World Champion no less — feel the need to pull off these extreme moves.

In a way, what he did to Barrichello in Hungary this year was worse than anything we have seen from him before. When he crashed into Damon Hill in 1994 it was to win the championship. When he crashed into Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 it was a last-ditch attempt to win the championship. When he parked his car at Rascasse in 2006 he was a championship contender. This? A futile fight for 10th position in a nothing year for him.

By now everyone knows that 2010 has not been the comeback Michael Schumacher was hoping for. In his recent interviews he has stated that he is only interested in winning championships. Scrapping away in the midfield is not interesting to him. He doesn’t like racing; he is only interested in winning.

I have always felt that his wheel-to-wheel abilities are actually quite poor. Schumacher’s speed cannot be in doubt — when he is out in front. But when he is on the back foot, he switches into panic mode. All of his most notorious moves have been snap decisions that he has made in a moment when he has suddenly been put under pressure. He is a quick driver. Unfortunately this means he often makes a move before he has engaged his brain.

This is what we have seen this year. Not just in Hungary, but also in Canada. He noticeably struggled in Montreal. He had a scrappy race and made a few panic moves, including a chop across Felipe Massa.

Unfortunately, an uncompetitive Michael Schumacher is no less ruthless. If anything, he is worse when he is on the back foot. Is it really the done thing to desperately try to push someone into the pit wall for the sake of one point?

One perspective is that this is good, hard racing. I also liked the viewpoint put forward by Axis of Oversteer — that this is the manifestation of genuine bad blood between two drivers. Schumacher and Barrichello have a lot of history, and it’s easy to imagine that this was all in the minds of both drivers.

But full credit to Rubens Barrichello for completing the move. He showed great bravery on the track, and immense integrity off the track. Barrichello’s behaviour after the race was exemplary. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher complained that Barrichello is a whiner.

It is said that at Spa in 1998, Michael Schumacher stormed up to David Coulthard and accused him of “trying to fucking kill me”. I think Barrichello had cause to do a lot more than merely “whine”.

Michael Schumacher knows that in order to be successful you have to be ruthless, and at times aggressive. He is by no means the only aggressive driver on the grid. Mark Webber stands out. In fact, Webber was involved in quite a similar incident at Fuji in 2008 with Felipe Massa. But in this instance, Webber’s move across the track was made much earlier, much more gradually, and he did not push Massa nearly as far.

As such, Webber is respected as an aggressive driver, but also one who speaks about on-track safety with authority. As major player in the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, Mark Webber has made it his business to care about safety. This is the beauty of Mark Webber — he pushes it, but he knows exactly where the limit is, then stops. The problem Schumacher has is that he doesn’t know where the line is drawn.

Michael Schumacher is a hugely successful driver that many look up to as a role model. I would hate to think that he finds these sorts of dangerous manoeuvres acceptable. I am surprised that he did not receive a disqualification. He should also have received at least a one race ban. I bet if, say, Vitaly Petrov tried the same thing, he’d be sitting out the next few races.

The next race is in Belgium — where Schumacher’s fans turn out in force. The race after that is Monza, where the fans have quite a few fond memories of Schumacher as well. I would hate to think it is the case, but you would almost think the powers-that-be had one eye on the purse strings and the PR value of having Schumacher continuing racing — even though he is a known danger.

I suppose it is inevitable, but I dislike the blame game that has gone on since the horrendous crash between Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen during the European Grand Prix last week. The most important thing after an incident like that is to take stock. I was in awe of the extremely high safety standards demonstrated during that crash, but lessons need to be learned. Fingers don’t need to be pointed.

For me, it was a racing incident, in which both drivers could share a portion of the blame. Heikki Kovalainen probably tried to defend more than was really justified against a hugely superior car. Meanwhile, Mark Webber tried to catch a bit more slipstream than was necessary. Both made a mistake, and the result was that both were punished. That’s racing.

But BBC pundit and Red Bull Racing “Ambassador” David Coulthard was among the first to start pointing fingers, during his post-race analysis on the BBC. The comments about “A-class” and “B-class” teams that were being bandied about on the BBC were rather crass in my view.

Given that he is paid by Red Bull, David Coulthard’s comments perhaps shouldn’t have been surprising. For him, Heikki Kovalainen should have stepped aside, rolled out the red carpet, and allowed the Red Bull car to pass without a fight.

In fairness, it is not just his link to Red Bull that might have made him say this. David Coulthard has a history of suggesting that the “slower” car, should move over for the “faster” car. I have never forgotten his whining following the 2001 Monaco Grand Prix, when he was unable to overtake Enrique Bernoldi whom he was racing for position. You still hear him moan about it from time to time.

The idea that, when cars are racing for position, the car behind needs to overtake the car in front, has always appeared to evade Coulthard’s grasp. Formula 1 should award the drivers with the most skill, not just the engineers who can design and build the fastest cars. Overtaking is exciting because it is a skill, and if drivers of “slower” cars were to just stand aside, viewers would soon flock to another sport.

Yesterday David Coulthard went further still, blaming the crash on the slower speed of Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus car. As Keith Collantine points out, the difference in speed is hardly alarming. Certainly, by historical standards, the pace of the new teams is actually very quick.

There has been a lot of talk about the reintroduction of the 107% rule, coming next season. Had the rule been in place for this season, the new teams would only have been caught out a handful of times. But in the mid 1990s it was a fairly regular occurrence for a Forti, Minardi or a Tyrrell to fail to qualify. Before then, to have cars that were several seconds off the pace was frankly the norm.

The only reason a car 2.5 seconds off the pace is considered “too slow” these days is because the standards in F1 have greatly increased over the past five or ten years. Of course there is a reason why chronically slow cars should not be allowed to race. But when we are talking about teams that are on the margin of 107%, the issue seems overblown. It’s not as if the Hispania cars are performing like the Mastercard Lola.

I get the feeling that David Coulthard thinks only “fast” cars and “fast” drivers should be allowed in F1. Of course, Formula 1 is an elite sport. But every single one of the cars on the grid this year is an elite car. The new teams (the first real new teams since 2002) have done an incredible job to be so close to the pace so quickly. Hispania is an elite team, as are Virgin and Lotus.

Of course, David Coulthard had the advantage of always racing for “fast” teams in F1. His F1 career began at Williams when the team was reaching the height of its mid-1990s dominance. When he moved to McLaren, they were never terribly far off the pace. Even when he raced for Red Bull, they weren’t exactly backmarkers.

Maybe if he had done a stint with a smaller, less well-resourced team, he would have a bit more sympathy for the tailenders that are every bit as important to F1 as the front runners.

Up until yesterday, it had been a good year for F1. The spotlight has been on the racetrack rather than the stewards’ room. It had even reached the stage where some people — including me — were asking if the stewards were being too lenient. Overall, it seems as though the reign of Jean Todt is much less of a nanny state.

Unfortunately, yesterday in Monaco that changed — and for a typical reason. The rules were simply badly-worded and too ambiguous. And that left plenty of room for two interpretations of the situation.

It is not often you will find me on the side of Michael Schumacher — especially since, the longer he continues being average, the more I can say “I told you so“. But I sympathise with him and the Mercedes team in this instance.

What is the new rule for?

The confusion arises from the introduction of a “Safety Car line” for the first time this year. This means that drivers can start overtaking more or less as soon as the Safety Car peels in, rather than having to wait until passing the start line.

I think this has been a slightly under-advertised rule change. I first learnt about it during the Chinese Grand Prix when cars were passing each other into the final corner of the lap during a race restart. So the explanation for the introduction of the Safety Car line is unclear to me.

I assume the idea is just to get the race back under way again as quickly as possible. In that case the idea gets my approval, even though I liked the idea that there was skill involved in timing your restart perfectly for the start / finish line. I remember particularly Fernando Alonso really showing up Jenson Button at a restart during the 2006 Australian Grand Prix — still one of my favourite Alonso moments.

What a good idea, too, it would have been if this rule had been brought in as a result of last year’s Australian Grand Prix finishing behind the Safety Car. Allowing the drivers to race towards the finish line, rather than form an orderly queue towards it, would be a good way of maintaining the excitement of a motor race until the end, rather than allowing it to fizzle out like Australia 2009.

It seems as though article 40.13 is specifically designed to prohibit this though. I would be interested to learn of the rationale for this. It seems to me that it would be a particularly good idea to use a device like the Safety Car line only on the final lap — not on every lap except the final lap!

The return of Formula None

I keep coming back to the concept of Formula None. This is the curious phenomenon whereby the powers-that-be in F1 decide to outlaw anything that comes dangerously close to becoming motor racing.

Michael Schumacher’s move on Fernando Alonso was an incredible piece of opportunistic driving. It brought an exciting twist to the final lap. Then again, it becomes less special when you realise that Alonso wasn’t even thinking that he would have to defend.

I do find it a shame that, in a race which saw no position changes whatsoever in the final 48 laps, the one successful overtaking manoeuvre has been deemed to be illegal — and for slightly unclear reasons.

Differing interpretations of article 40.13

The contentious rule, Article 40.13 of the Sporting Regulations, reads as follows:

If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

Looking at the wording of this rule, it is in fact little surprise that it has caused confusion, since it is so badly worded. For one thing, it talks about something that should happen before the end of the race if a particular state is true at the end of the race.

You may safely assume that a race will end under “Safety Car deployed” conditions if the Safety Car is on track for the final lap. But you nevertheless need time-travel skills from the top drawer in order to carry out the instructions in the sequence that the FIA regulations request.

I admit that is a pedantic point. The real issue is in the definition of “Safety Car deployed”. It is clear now that the rules say that Safety Car conditions effectively end when your car passes the Safety Car line on the lap in which the Safety Car enters the pits. For some reason — unexplained — this is seemingly different on the final lap.

We must now turn to whether — theoretically — the 79th lap of this 78 lap race would have seen the Safety Car continue on the track rather than peel into the pits. This is key to understanding whether or not the race finished under Safety Car conditions.

It seems to me as though a message on the timing screens declaring that the Safety Car will pit in this lap, that could seal the deal. However, this may just be a procedural message, notifying teams and television viewers that the Safety Car will pit, even though Safety Car conditions will not technically end.

Perhaps, then, the “Track clear” message will underline the idea that our theoretical 79th lap would run under green flag conditions, and not Safety Car conditions.

If after that there was a shred of doubt, turn your eyes to the marshal posts, where you see a marshal merrily waving a green flag, just next to a big green flashing light (which is operated by Race Control). Surely a green flag always, always, means “racing”.

To me, it is absurd to throw out green flags, and yet prohibit overtaking. Even from a safety point of view, it is contradictory to what drivers are surely always told. Green means you can race safely; yellows mean you must slow down and not overtake. Apparently now green means “cruise to the finish line and don’t overtake — but only if you’re on the last lap, otherwise you can race safely.”

Are the green flags just for show? Surely if the intention of article 40.13 is to prevent racing in the last few hundred yards of a race just after the Safety Car has pulled in to the pits, the flag should still be yellow.

Yellow flags waving for the Safety Car finish in Australia last year

Looking back to that last Safety Car finish in Australia last year, you can clearly see marshals holding out “SC” boards and waving yellow flags as Jenson Button cruises his way towards the finish line. So why has the procedure been confusingly changed this season?

The decision was far from clear-cut

In many senses then, Mercedes and Michael Schumacher has a pretty strong case for claiming that racing conditions — “green flag” conditions — had resumed.

It seems as though their interpretation of the rule was unique. Certainly, Fernando Alonso had been told by Ferrari not to race. Lewis Hamilton was so surprised at Schumacher’s move that he went on the radio to enquire about it.

According to Andrew Benson:

This interpretation was shared by all the team managers bar that of Mercedes – I understand that upon seeing Schumacher’s move every single one of them got in touch with race director Charlie Whiting to say it was not allowed.

But the teams appear to sympathise with the Mercedes team’s point regarding green flags, with Jonathan Legard reporting that Mercedes have “support from other teams” on this issue, and that the procedure may be reviewed.

Some have tried to suggest that the rule is clear. In fact, it is not clear at all, particularly when the procedure — to throw out false green flags — is so confusing.

The fact that it took the stewards approximately two and a half hours to announce their decision denotes that the decision was far from clear-cut. It seems as though there has been a major cock-up in the FIA’s implementation of this new Safety Car system. As they might say in the areas surrounding Jean Todt’s office in Place de la Concorde, plus ça change…


(Image nicked from Alexj2002 at Digital Spy and the short guy in the white shirt.)

I am a bit late to the party here, but I want to cover this issue — and a couple of others — briefly now. I am afraid once again real life has conspired against me, and if I don’t push these out quickly before I know it the Spanish Grand Prix will have been and gone.

After all, three races have been since I last wrote about F1. Unbelievable, I know. And I have promised loyal readers and commenters from the old vee8 days, EGC and Can, that I will write about recent events, so I really should. Thanks, by the way, for your continued loyalty!


It has been widely noted that the stewards appear to be more lenient this season. This seems to be an initiative of Jean Todt’s, and many are putting it down to the presence of former drivers in the stewards’ room — an innovation for this season.

I must say that I feel that this new approach is much preferable to the old regime, where often normal racing incidents would bizarrely be punished. The worst points came in 2008, when I feared that Formula 1 was becoming Formula None, where racing is illegal.

However, there is a balance to be struck. There are two incidents in particular that perhaps deserved punishment, both involving Lewis Hamilton.

The first was his weaving down the straight at Malaysia, trying to break Vitaly Petrov’s tow. First of all, full marks must be given to Petrov for managing to get Hamilton rattled enough for him to do this. When I watched it at first I thought it was extraordinary, but also exciting to watch.

For me, this is the sort of racing that is okay. In way, it’s how racing should be — right on the edge, a bit risky, pushing the envelope. Weaving along the straight is okay in my view… Then again, I’m not a driver. :-)

It would be a very different matter to weave in the braking zone. But Hamilton stuck to his line once he started braking, making it tough but clean racing in my book.

I think it was right for Hamilton to be given a warning. It should not have gone un-noted, but any larger punishment than that would have been too harsh.

What should have been punished, however, was Hamilton’s antics down the pitlane in China. I am thinking in particular about his decision to race Sebastian Vettel towards the pitlane exit.

Too much focus was placed on the timing of McLaren’s lollipop man. I think what the lollipop man did is irrelevant in this instance. I understand that Hamilton is a racer, but once both drivers had reached the speed limit, Vettel was clearly ahead. In this case, Hamilton should have deferred, and lined up behind him in the ‘racing’ lane of the pitlane. After all, Vettel was only ever going to end up ahead anyway, as he could switch off his limiter first.

The pitlane is not a place for racing, and safety must come first. I was therefore surprised to see that, yet again, this sort of behaviour has been let off with little more than a wrap across the knuckles. It reminded me a lot of Felipe Massa being let off for something very similar at the 2008 European Grand Prix. I find it bizarre that something potentially so dangerous is seemingly not taken so seriously by the FIA.

It was also worrying that the stewards decided only to investigate the incident after the race was finished. I think incidents should be looked into as soon as possible, with penalties being applied after the race only in exceptional circumstances.

It is worth looking also at the way drivers enter the pitlane as well as exiting it. Once again, Lewis Hamilton fell foul here, when he decided to effectively drive the wrong way across the race track to enter the pitlane after he had passed the actual entrance. It’s the sort of thing you do on a video game — should it really be allowed in real life?

There has been a lot of talk also about Fernando Alonso pushing his way past Felipe Massa on the way into the pitlane. Very feisty stuff, and very marginal. You might say it ought to be banned, but it was very exciting to watch, and possibly a pivotal moment in the drivers’ relationship within Ferrari.

But then, what are the white lines for?…