‘Farcical FIA’ and ‘Steady Stewarding’

No anti Melbourne sentiment here

Unlike others in the media, I am not down on the trip that the Formula 1 fraternity  makes to begin the season in Australia. If Formula 1 wishes to claim it is the only truly global sport – as claimed by team principals in the FIA press conference – then the journey time from Europe, time zone acclimatisation required and having to visit somewhere with a strong currency making hotels and wine expensive in Melbourne is par for the course.
Super Typhoon Ma on 2004

However, the fiasco that was qualifying today has raised a number of questions that must be addressed by those with responsibility. This is the 3rd occasion F1 has postponed qualifying to the race day, the other 2 being both in Suzuka Japan in 2004 and 2010.

The fact that everyone must wait until tomorrow for qualifying to be concluded is no big deal because this is just F1 and no world calamity has occurred.

Was this avoidable?

Of course nobody wants to see drivers recklessly placed in situations where they are put at an unacceptable and avoidable risk; and of course we can accept that human beings make mistakes and this includes F1 stewards making bad calls.

Yet the key to all this is the word avoidable. Is it not the case that the F1 debacle in Melbourne today was completely avoidable? Most pertinently, would this have been the case had the FIA applied some pre-emptive forethought and its officers taken proper precautions based under their own regulations?

Firstly, credit where credit is due. It appears the F1 stewards are making an effort this year to be more visible to the fans in terms of explaining their decisions. I understand from those who are closer to the situation than I am that this is not un-connected to the global media fallout following the ‘Vettel yellow flag’ debacle following the last race of 2012.

A new openness

Charlie Whiting gave an interview and briefly explained the final decision made today, whilst carefully making it clear that he was not responsible for making it.

untitledThe stewards are the ultimate decision makers in this case but we asked them to come and have a chat based on the fact that there was more heavy rain imminent and the light was fading – err… they decided the best thing was to abandon the session today and put everybody out of their misery really and then schedule it for 11 o’ clock in the morning – which seemed like the sort of err… best time when we look at the time table”.

When asked, “Were all the teams happy with this decision?” he replied with a shrug, “I’ve not heard complaints – so I’ll take that as err… yes”.

However, Charlie is clearly not in touch with reality as Ross Brawn for one is not happy about the way matters were handled. SKY News reports he told them he felt Nico or Lewis were likely to have challenged for pole position had the qualifying been run to schedule.

This was no hurricane

No one contests that by the time the final decision had been made it had become unavoidable and inevitable. It was the delays to Q1 and Q2 that have been criticised and denied the qualifying event the proper opportunity to be concluded.

Safety Car track inspection lap 2010 Japan Saturday

The response from F1 fans has been that thousands if not tens of thousands of them on various internet platforms have complained about not being able to see their driving heroes challenged by having to drive in the rain.

One defence offered has been that a similar decision to abandon qualifying due to appalling weather has occurred previously and Japan 2010 is cited. Yet, it is important to make clear that the conditions at the scheduled start of Q1 today was in no way at all comparable to those faced in Japan. A typhoon had rolled in and made any thoughts of starting qualifying impossible.

Drivers’ robbed of opportunity

A philosophic Nico Rosberg had this to say, “It’s such a pity, such a pity that the qualifying was stopped because in those conditions I was feeling really good and the car was going really well.” These are hardly the words of one in fear of his life.

McLaren driver Jenson Button appears to suggest the delays and failure to conclude the session were wrong. “When the FIA do something good in terms of safety – we’re happy, when they do something wrong because it’s [perceived] too wet we’re unhappy”. He conceded that after the delays, the decision was inevitable.

Not only were Mercedes denied an opportunity in conditions that their car and driver were well suited to, but these kind of conditions have traditionally thrown up opportunities for those usually way down the grid.

Jean-Éric_VergneI’m sure James will cover this in his ‘on track’ review but JEV was most impressive today in the wet conditions. Let’s not forget that triple F1 WDC – Mr. Vettel came out of the pack and grabbed the attention of the F1 world given the inclement conditions in Japan ’07 and Italy ’08.

Give a dog a bad name

The problem for the stewards is best explained in the phrase, ‘give a dog a bad name’. Race weekend management has been consistently in the headlines over the past 12 months with a range of issues hitting the headlines.

Three times in 2012, the actual order of the grid was only confirmed several hours after the qualifying session was complete due to stewards’ investigations. These were for fuel matters in Barcelona and Abu Dhabi and in Japan as deliberations over Alonso and Vettel’s on track manners were mulled upon.

Then there was the deployment of the 2nd safety car in Singapore which many argue was not necessary. The result being that almost 20% of the race was under non-racing conditions, a decision many felt was too conservative.

We are hearing reports today that rat’s have eaten the cabling the race stewards rely upon to communicate from their multi million dollar race control to the cars. DRS usage, red, blue and yellow flag information and Safety Car delta times cannot be provided now for the weekend with the effect that the drives’ are on ‘trust’ with the use of their DRS systems. Whether it is indeed rats or another reason this is simply not acceptable.

Rats munching a cable

Then add to this we have a president of the motorsport Federation who claims it is actually not his job – to do the job – he was elected to perform. Regulate. Our friend Jean told the world this week that he wants unanimity from the teams to bring in any cost cutting measures.

The ‘bad name’ and range of appropriate adjectives that could be applied to our much esteemed regulatory organisation are many and cannot be published here.

Stewards dealt a tricky hand

Yet despite all this, the stewards deserve some sympathy and understanding when considering their conservative approach to starting and re-starting qualifying today. There were 2 conspiring factors beyond their control given the rain that was expected and indeed arrived.

Firstly, the race in Australia was pushed forward from its traditional start time by Ecclestone and FOM to facilitate a more palatable viewing time for those of us in Europe.

Whilst unusually considerate of Mr. E for the F1 fan base in ‘old F1 land’, this means the window to hold the Australian race and qualifying is small as the local start time is around 17:00 – with sunset at 19:43.

This has now been clearly demonstrated too fine a margin to play with when staging a global sporting event. Will it take the cancellation of a race in similar circumstances for Bernie et al to come to their senses?

Secondly there is the nature of the circuit. Albert Park like Singapore, Monaco and Valencia is a temporary ‘street’ circuit. The circuit has been traditionally given the wink and a nod in obtaining the ‘Class 1’ FIA circuit accreditation to hold an F1 event. Yet no modern F1 circuit built by a new host such as Austin would be allowed to deliver a facility in this state of repair.

Compliance for all

The key issues are poor drainage due to a lack of appropriate camber and a compromised surface on which the cars run with painted lines across the driving line that become slippery when wet. This poor circuit construction plays into the hands of the ‘health and safety F1 bearcats’ who protest that we mustn’t risk the harm or death of a driver needlessly when a rain cloud appears on the horizon.

Ayrton Senna Australia

For Aussie fans this is not just a problem for Albert Park but one that Monaco has been getting away with for decades. The latest example of the Principality’s sub standard circuit was Barrichello being taken out of a race due to a ‘loose manhole cover’. Absurd!

Street circuits should comply with the standards deemed acceptable by the FIA for Formula 1 racing, wherever the location.

The other option is to accept that the quality of finish to a street circuit is sub-standard to the rest but let the drivers demonstrate their skills regardless of the conditions. After all the accelerator can be released as well as applied.

The black hole

The biggest crime of all today was the stark omission discovered in the sporting regulations. As stated earlier, qualification being disrupted has occurred before so this is not a meteor from outer space event. There are a host of rules for forming a race grid should qualification not be possible at all.

However, the scenario of a partially completed qualification session has not been addressed and comes under the ‘catch all’ – the stewards will decide on such matters in the event this occurs.

The weather forecast for later is fortunately better and the session should be completed. Yet if this was not possible, consider the host of competing claims for how the grid should be formed. Ludicrous.

Conclusion: Avoidable

It is the abject lack of foresight and creativity of thought that may be the most damming accusation that can be made of the F1 regulators and weekend on track event managers. Avoidable.

Watching scores of Marshal’s in bulky waterproofs with their brushes attempting to ready a circuit for qualifying – whilst humorous – is pitiful in a cutting edge technology driven sport and again avoidable.Albert Park - Water Sweeping 2013 Formula 1 Qualifying

A formula 1 car clears 60 litres of water per second when shod with full wet tyres. Surely there is a case for issuing teams with an extra set of wet tyres for occasions when circuits require drying. All the cars should then be sent out to drive a required number of laps at a controlled speed to clear the hundreds of thousands of litres of water.

Insisting existing historic circuits, whether street or specialised tracks, are meeting the same regulatory specifications with which the new race venues must comply is not just sensible but equitable, fair and just. This would ensure the driver’s are not placed in avoidable danger yet sessions are not unnecessarily cancelled.

Further, having the foresight to regulate for such circumstances encountered today is surely not too much to expect and indeed once more is avoidable. Such a black hole in the sporting regulations does nothing to allay the impression that the FIA and it’s officers are a bunch of amateur grace and favour ‘Charlies’ (pardon the pun) – interested more in attending swish parties and drinking champagne in concorde with the rich and famous in ‘Gay Paris’.

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18 responses to “‘Farcical FIA’ and ‘Steady Stewarding’

  1. for me, the key phrase is ” After all the accelerator can be released as well as applied.” get out there, do the lap you’re comfortable with, done deal. even if you did a 4 minute lap, there’s probably someone else doing a 5 minute lap…

  2. It was frustrating watching “qualifying” last night (night in America). It’s good to know that I’m not the only one considering it a fiasco. I just couldn’t understand why the drivers weren’t allowed to go out after the first 10 minutes delay, Formula 1 used to race in worse conditions, at that time it wasn’t even raining anymore.

    • And if Charlie isn’t responsible for what his job title says he is responsible then he should leave and the FIA find somebody who actually can do the job.

    • Ouch. I recorded it and got 20 minutes of racing followed by 2 hours of commercials. If I’d stayed up (I almost did) I’d be beyond frustrated. Personally, I think the stewards stuffed it, but I think they were led astray by forecast information that pretends to be more accurate than it really is. I remember seeing screenshots on SPEED last year that said rain arriving in x minutes turn 10 first, such and such intensity. The smaller the area, the less reliable the forecast is. It’s easy to forget when you are being given such precise sounding information from experts.

      • Webber has it right on this. He says the weather in Melbourne can change in minutes and so you pick the tyres for what you can see at that moment.

        Second guessing the weather was a silly mistake IMHO.

  3. It is somewhat ironic that in his attempt to make the race more viewable for people in Europe, Bernie has left us with the choice between either watching qualifying live and having to catch up with the race later, or watching the race without knowing who qualified where, or only getting about 4 hours sleep tonight…

  4. sitting around for over 3 hours in the wind and the rain waiting for the show pissed us all off. If the cars were going round we wouldn’t care about being cold wet and hungry, but this is typical Melbourne weather.

    On another note, Albert park is a temporary circuit. Apparently we are going to lose it after 2015. No point doing it up then is there. So let the rats eat the cabling let the rain fall and the power close out. Put F1 back into the age before lights blink on the steering wheel and flags turned into lights. When we had real racing no matter what the weather and we were happy being cold wet and hungry because F1 was brilliant. The pinnacle of motor sport…………….

  5. At the risk of being branded ‘revolutionary’, kindly consider this:
    The qualifying and race times are in the late afternoon to please the European market – OK. This site clearly predicted rain for Saturday two days earlier… Ipso facto (or abracadabra…) as the events cannot be easily delayed why not be prepared to hold them earlier in the day…?
    All you have to do is record them and broadcast the full events (not highlights) at the expected time… Just don’t watch any News bulletins beforehand… I know everybody is strung out on it being ‘live’ but what would you rather have:
    1 – the entire event, broadcast at the expected time, but not technically ‘live’ – or…
    2 – Nothing…?
    Surely it’s a no-brainer… and it would allow the broadcasters to insert commercials at less inconvenient times.
    The teams are bound to complain but surely if they are given 24 hours notice they could comply – and should be prepared to do so in order to avoid this sort of nonsense which, like ‘leaves on the rails’ catches out British Rail every year. If the forecasts are for rain, Be Professional – and Be Prepared.
    This lack of professionalism in a so-called cutting-edge venture isn’t embarrassing, it’s shameful. But Whiting isn’t responsible, and neither is Todt, nor Bernie, so… who the heck is…!? Nobody.
    [I’m quite enjoying myself this week – come back J(oJ) whenever you feel like it…]

    • HeyBJF

      You’ve been doing a great job this week. I’m ill (temporary but pretty bad) so less able to stir/facilitate debate.

      Live is King I’m afraid. SM is very instantaneous. I just read an article that says twitter to launch 6 sec video facility – akin to live chat when run under a #domain.

      Just like when I’m at testing, people would ‘out’ the F1 news/action via SM.

      • TJ – whilst I agree that Live is important, and Social Media works quickly, if you want to wait until you are able to watch something (like BJF says), then it’s not too hard to make that a reality.

        Here in N America (Eastern TImezone) most of the Asia Pacific races are at times when we can’t watch them live so I record them and watch at a reasonable time. I am an avid reader of many F1 sites, twitter feeds etc from the moment I get up. But on raceday I just have to turn them all off until I’ve watched the “as live” recording. That unfortunately means no live timing, but such is life. Now if there was a way to run a recording of all that synched to my TV, THAT would be useful…

        • Indeed and when you’re used to that – it is the norm. For those used to live coverage for as long as they can remember – it’s not the same – I know many people using internet feeds when BBC not live….

    • Thanks for the comments. I do realise that live is LIVE and everything else isn’t… and normally that works. My main point was that: when an event is delayed it cannot be broadcast live later unless the broadcasters are able to alter their schedules – which in most of the world will only happen for a Cup Final…
      – By bringing the event forward (if rain is forecast only for the afternoon) the recording can be shown at the correct time… which is surely better than watching nothing…
      – Of course this sort of problem is rare but, when it happens, it seems everyone rushes about like headless chickens, and starts searching the rule book – and rpaco knows better than most how difficult that can be… 😉
      – Judge – hope you’re feeling better soon.

      • Thanks BJF – still pretty bad – sure I’ll live – and if not, I won’t care I guess (weak grin). win win

        Some great ideas here but it appears we return to the ‘window’ being too small.

        What about cars moving the water idea, when a track is wet, but just needs prep to get under way – is this not a solution. Send all the cars out early and make them clear the water?

        This would have meant in Melbourne Q1 would have started on time and then the rest of the sessions had a great chance of being completed.

        • That’s fine by me… my ideas are no more than just ideas… Any solution in a storm… so to speak…
          – – But ‘The Window’ is not really carved in stone either… Just the people with the mallets & chisels are short-sighted, narrow-minded, blinkered… or blind…! And, as my mother used to say: ‘There are none so blind as those who don’t want to see’…
          – – Keep taking the medicine – or more whiskey in your water…

  6. If they abandon an event. Knowing Bernie. He will probably charge the.grand prix for having the event cancelled. Just the man he is sadly

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