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.