The RACER Mailbag, October 12

The RACER Mailbag, October 12

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, October 12

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Q: Formula 1 has proven once again that it has no idea how to deal with wet race conditions. In my day the Clerk of the Course would declare that a race would officially be a wet event, mandating that all participants start on rain tires (this, of course, being before the advent of intermediates). No fuss. No muss.

Now, teams are given free rein to start on whatever tires they desire, leading them to make decisions that are sketchy at best for conditions in the early laps. The argument is that starting on inters makes the most strategic sense because drivers will be pitting for them after only a lap or two anyway. Perhaps, but not if the race is stopped due to costly, potentially life-threatening, carnage caused by running inappropriate tires.

Here’s an idea: Race control declares the race wet, thereby mandating all competitors start the race of full wets, keeping them on until such time that RC determines conditions to be safe to switch to intermediates. This would be no different from the officials determining if and when to enable DRS (see Singapore). This would eliminate teams making a mad dash to the pits to change tires after a lap or two.

The race would also commence with the field circulating behind the safety car for a few laps to pump away the heaviest water and dissipate spray.

This proposal certainly can’t be any worse than the fiascos we’ve seen in recent times.

Your thoughts?

John A. Koniak, Staunton, IL

CHRIS MEDLAND: The thing is John, half of that is still in the protocol. race control can declare a race start wet enough that full wet tires must be used by all teams — exactly as they did to restart the race at Suzuka behind the safety car. They just didn’t deem it wet enough to make that call on the grid, and it was actually the rain getting heavier just before the race start that triggered the issues.

It’s a fine line, because while I agree that you can save the teams from themselves a little, they’re also meant to be the best in the world and balancing the risk-reward. Go quickly but crash and you don’t score any points… Remove the ability for someone to make a smart call and be a hero (see Vettel and Latifi in Suzuka once we got going again) and the racing can get a bit stale.

That said, it’s not a bad idea to state teams can’t switch from the full wet until race control deems it safe enough in certain scenarios. RC should at least have the power to make that call.

I think the big error on Sunday was not aborting the original start and running an extra formation lap or two to understand how bad conditions were. In the end, even if they did follow your suggestion they’d have ended up saying “the spray and visibility is too bad” and red flagging it anyway.

Starting races earlier would certainly help, too. Give them a bigger window to be run in. There are enough TV channels to switch to back-ups or other platforms when there are huge delays, but starting a race 3.5 hours before sunset and being surprised that rain then meant it was gloomy and put everyone under pressure to try and get something going before it gets too dark is counterproductive to me.

They’ll figure it out eventually. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images

Q: So once again a failure of F1’s safety system caused an incredibly dangerous situation to occur in Japan whereby Pierre Gasly drove quickly and closely past a recovery vehicle during the first safety car period.  Questions I think are worth asking are the following:

Was race control in direct communications with the safety crew performing the recovery so they could be appraised of their progress?

Was race control being apprised of the progress through communications with the responsible marshal stand as a backup so they could be sure of what equipment was deployed and where it was?

If race control had this information, was it being passed on to drivers either directly or to the teams so the drivers knew what equipment was deployed to the track surface?

Do the safety and medical vehicles have GPS locators so their locations can be seen on the moving map by race control and/or the teams themselves?

Do other vehicles like the flatbeds and tractors have GPS locators that can be seen on the moving maps?

Do drivers/teams receive a safety briefing prior to the event giving them insight on where there might be safety vehicles deployed besides the safety and medical car from the pits or other locations such as flatbeds or tractors where large cranes cannot be used to pick up and move vehicles?

Finally, the million dollar question. Will F1 come off their flimsy plywood soapbox where they insist they are the pinnacle of motorsport long enough to visit and learn from a racing series that does all the above? Will they decide its finally time to write a series of regulations that puts safety above the show and implement a complete safety system that protects the drivers, track workers, and fans, even if it is perceived as a detriment to their precious “pinnacle?” There isn’t a Senna or Lauda figure around to spearhead this from the driver’s side.

Appreciate your insight. Keep up the good work.

Eric Lawrence

CM: Eric, I put these questions to the FIA who confirmed: “The recovery crews are always in contact with race control — there are coordinators in charge of the different areas of the track who report back to the Clerk of the Course, who reports to the race director.”

So it goes through a process, because otherwise there would be too many voices speaking at once. And information such as a vehicle on track is usually relayed to teams for them to inform drivers.

There aren’t any GPS locators on the recovery vehicles, but there are on the safety car and medical car, as these can actually trigger the timing loops. Where safety and recovery vehicles are located and might be used is the sort of information that is gathered by teams on track walks to help them be aware of incidents that might lead to Safety cars versus yellow flags etc. They will see where the escape roads are and the recovery locations are marked on the trackside barriers with painted sections. The FIA says they are also reminded of these safety elements every weekend during the drivers’ briefing.

As worrying as Sunday’s situation was, however, I’d suggest F1’s safety record is excellent. There are obvious areas that need improving — particularly when it comes to the standard of marshaling at some newer venues given you can’t realistically have the same set of track workers at every venue around the world (there are hundreds and hundreds) — but for the number of races that take place and scale of some accidents, I don’t think you can say safety isn’t taken seriously. 

Yes it can always be better, and I’m sure there are things F1 could learn from IndyCar (it does look — SAFER barriers have become more widely used in F1 on newer tracks), but I think the main thing it needs to do is make decisions more quickly. It feels like it has developed a tendency to take too long to throw a red flag or call on the safety car when it’s obvious one will be needed. 

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