Singapore GP review: Safety Car ruins the race! A boring race for Kimi

“The Safety Car is now redundant in F1” – a review of the race.

The day after a race can be a something of an anti climax. We have eagerly anticipated the race weekend, and then in a couple of hours or even less it’s all over. The drivers and key players all have their say immediately and both official and social media declare their summary opinion in a matter of hours. There may be the odd contentious issue that drags on to the next day, but of course the day after an F1 race is always a Monday  – back to work for most.

Yet today it seems worse than usual and I’m left wondering why. As I reflect on the Singapore 2012 race it leaves me with a palpable feeling of disappointment. Such a fabulous setting, a championship well poised and with the chasing drivers qualifying better than the title leader.

Kimi, never one to mince his words said, “It was boring race. You can be quite a bit faster and you cannot get past so it’s not very exciting for us or the people watching.”

I don’t think hearing Lotus issue a version of the now infamous Ferrari dictum, “Romain – Kimi is faster than you” adds to the excitement, but to say the race was boring from a spectator’s perspective is probably a little harsh.

Massa and Senna’s battle and subsequent collision was pretty spectacular and after me criticising F1 TV last week for missing too much exciting action, it was inevitable they would catch some on board live footage that had us jumping out of our seats in amazement.

Schmacher gave us another spectacular example of why insurance companies general lay the blame for crashes firmly on the driver at the rear of the shunt, and for a moment it looked as though Verne was striding over to remonstrate with the F1 veteran. All ended well with a man hug and an apology – well admission of a mistake – from Schumacher.

There were also a few extended close fought battles, although not really with the main protagonists. Webber, Hulkenburg and the 2 Sauber’s duked it out for several laps until Webber made a move that was eventually declared illegal and there was also a puncture and front wing destroyed in the 4 way melee.

Part of the disappointment may be that it’s never satisfactory when the leader retires from a race with mechanical issues and when both the cars on the front row of the grid retire it’s a double whammy. Such have times changed in F1 because in the 70’sand 80’s it was regular that a handful of cars made it to the end of a race, the majority frequently suffering mechanical problems.

Lewis response to his understandable disenchantment has been to tweet, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King. Amen!!” . I’m not sure Martin Luther King had gearbox failure in mind when he penned these ideals. Maybe, ‘I think the gear box mechanics are still a good guys’ may have sufficed.

Yet none of this really explains my frustration and so wondering whether it was just me, I’ve been searching social media to see if others agree.

A site I frequent to see the fans opinions a lot is The articles there are quite headline grabbing and brief, but the fans regularly get into extended discussions and debates that can be quite enlightening. The consensus there is the race was not great. They are running their usual “rate the race” poll and after 500 voters it is scoring 5.91 – this places it only at No. 32 in the last 50 races for which they have run such a vote

So having my non-plus attitude over the race vindicated by the F1Fanatic fraternity lets march on and nail why. Whilst we had mid field battles, the top 4 finished in the order they started (2 places higher due to Lewis’ and Madonado’s retirements). And there was little fight amongst these cars and this was predominantly down to the methodology and effect of the safety car

Jenson had tyres 4 laps newer than Vettel, both pitted under the safety car and so Jenson was denied the opportunity of running a longer stint and having tyres around 4-6 laps newer than Vettel at the end of the race. The safety car significantly reduced the chance of a battle for the lead.

Further, if nearly 20% of the race was lost due to the safety car, this affected tyre wear and it is most likely that Webber and Di Resta would have also caused Alonso significant problems and almost certainly 1 of would likely denied him a podium and the extra points that are highly significant towards the championship. The period of non-racing was extended by about 3-4 minutes because there is a new SC rule this year that allows the clark of the course – “when safe” – to allow lapped cars to unlap themselves and rejoin at the back of the line behind the SC.

The problem the safety car creates is twofold.

1)      It destroys the gap advantage built up by drivers as they are concertinaed together and

2)      It creates a lottery over pit stop strategy.

If like Webber you’ve made a stop just before the SC comes out, your rivals get to make a stop under the SC and not lose as much track position as Webber had done under the normal racing conditions. In other races it has favoured the teams planning fewer stops, giving them the extra few laps needed to make it to the end of the race.

I believe the Safety car is actually now redundant in F1.

The FIA state “It [the SC} will be used only if competitors or officials are in immediate physical danger but the circumstances are not such as to necessitate suspending the race.” (rule 40.3). Further, tells us “Since 2000 the FIA has entrusted the task of driving the safety car to Bernd Maylander, a former successful touring-car racer. He knows how to keep the pace during the safety period just high enough so that the Formula One cars’ tyres and brakes do not cool down too much.”

So the purpose of the safety car is to enforce drivers to travel at a controlled speed calculated by an expert – Bernd.

Yet we now have technology that can remotely control the drivers’ speed and their use of DRS device activation. There are pit lane speed limiters, DRS zones and furthermore the drivers are immediately given a slow delta times which they must not exceed over the opening phase of a Safety Car deployment.

(Upddate) The principle objection I’ve received since writing this is over the safety of the marshalls – which I agree is paramount. The objection goes as follows, “the marshalls benefit for around 90 seconds+ from a completely clear track when the cars are in the snake following the safety car”. This is true, but the marshalls pretty much always begin work under the waved yellows often before the safety car is called.

Then when the SC is called the cars are given a delta time to drive to which reduces speend and it can often take over a lap to then catch the saftey car. Add to this those cars who dive into the pits for tyres, they then come out and also are driving to a delta time. The marshalls are working under these conditions all the time often 2-3 laps (5-7 mins). It would interesting to watch next time we get a safety car, how much time during the whole period the cars are all in a line behinf the SC.

Again in 1993, we didn’t have the huge trucks with 15 foot square giant brightly shining arrows to protect the cone layers on the freeways, motorways/autobahns. It would be pretty easy to actually slow the cars only for the incident zone and direct them to a particular section of the circuit away from the area that needs debris removal/marshall work. The benefit from this would be the cars would run at full speed on the rest of the ciruit and would be less likeley to suffer incidents from cold tyres/breaks and possible overheating(Schumacher Singapore).

In 1993 this was not possible so a car was first used (*), but we are now in the 21st Century – Why not simply activate a speed limiter on all the cars during bad weather or on the particular zone of a race where there is an accident being cleared. This would preserve the status quo of drivers’ race and track positions and give not advantage to those who ‘luck in’ to a tyre change early when the Safety Car is deployed.

In Singapore this would have created closer racing for the lead in the closing stages and given Alonso a bigger run for his money to retain 3rd position – and maybe the championship would be a little closer today and we’d all feel a little better.

Many people have responded that the safety car brings excitement by mixing things up, and if they began watching F1 during the Schumacher/Ferrari era of dominance I can understand that. But we now have DRS, KERS and tyres that don’t last a billion miles like Ferrari’s Bridghestone’s. We have enough to aid the excitement of overtaking and we don’t need to destroy the integrity of a race by ‘mixing things up a bit’.

I know Bernd Maylander has done a great job for many years, but for the fans and the veracity of F1 racing – its time to hang up those leather racing gloves, hemet, boots and retire.

Note: (*)The first use of the Safety Car in Formula One was at the 1973 Canadian GP. However, the Safety Car took its place in front of the wrong driver, which placed part of the field incorrectly one lap down. It took several hours after the end of the race to straighten out who the winner actually was. (Lang, Mike (1982). Grand Prix! Vol 2. Haynes Publishing Group. p. 244)

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