In his post race video blog, Nico Rosberg identifies the randomness of the safety car as costing him the win in the Hungarian GP (Though why he is levitating at 90 degrees to the horizontal is anyone’s guess).
In the mean time Lewis was thanking ‘the Lord’ on the podium as Martin Brundle dodged asking the tough questions.. Brundle was inundated with queries from F1 writers and TV presenters alike on Twitter as to why he failed to ask Hamilton about his failure to obey team orders.
Anyway, that’s a tale is for another day.
So far this year, the safety car has been deployed at a time giving the leading car the opportunity to pit before catching the safety car. This nullifies the opportunity of the lead car being jumped due to the opportunity of others further back to pit and gain an advantage.
In Hungary, this was not the case. The safety car light was displayed on circuit boards and on the drivers’ dashboards just as Vettel, who was in third place (behind Rosberg and Bottas), passed the pit entry.
On lap seven, Rookie Caterham driver Ecricsson, demonstrated the reason why he may be in Formula 1 for only a brief period. He floored the throttle exiting turn three with the resulting heavy hit on the tyre barrier spreading shards of carbon fibre across the concrete run off apron and a portion of the circuit.
At the time of Ericsson’s demise, he was 54 seconds behind Rosberg, or put it another way, Rosberg was around 48-50 seconds from catching him. This places the race leader about 13-15 seconds from completing the lap, yet by the time he crossed the start finish line, the safety car was appearing from the pit lane.
The timing of Charlie Whiting’s decision to deploy the safety car meant the pack was shuffled. Rosberg with a 9 second lead was in fact least affected amongst the front runners by having to pit a lap later than those behind Vettel who all had the opportunity – deprived of the first three – to dive into the pits a lap earlier than the leaders.
Ricciardo, previously 6th, came out ahead of the rest and behind him was Jenson Button (previously 5th). However, the McLaren weather radar system must have been sourced from a Christmas cracker as the team made the ill fated decision to send Button out on another set of intermediate wet tyres.
It did not rain again.
Massa faired well as his 8th position became third, and Nico Rosberg found himself behind the leading Williams in 4th.
Vettel who prior to the SC was 3rd, fell to 7th and second place man Valtteri Bottas was now way out in 11th. Neither driver recovered from the disadvantage the safety car dealt them in terms of the track position which resulted following their inability to pit at the same time as those behind them.
The snake which eventually followed the safety car for 6 laps, was in the following order.Ricciardo Button Massa Rosberg Magnussen (up from 19th and didn’t pit) JEV Vettel Alonso Hulkenberg Perez
The safety car meant Bottas and Vettel, previously 2nd and 3rd, finished the race in 7th and 8th. Rosberg faired somewhat better due to his 9 seconds lead prior to Ericsson’s off.
This brings us to a crucial issue for Formula 1 going forward, particularly with the spectacle of post safety car standing restarts. Should the decision to deploy the safety car take into consideration the integrity of the racing thus far?
Let’s remember, the safety car was introduced to improve safety during a Formula 1 race, not to ‘spice up the show’. At the time of its introduction, ‘hard core’ F1 fans objected to the arbitrary interference with race order. Though through several iterations of rule changes and the mantra of safety, the modern PC F1 fan accepts the deployment of the safety car without question.
“Simples… its for safety…. innit?”
Clearly, driver and marshal safety must be paramount, however, as was evident in the previous race in Germany, there are other tools at the disposal of the race director to ensure the safety of all concerned.
Double waved yellows in all levels of motorsport, indicates to the drivers that a very serious incident has taken place on track and that they should “slow down and be prepared to stop”.
At the 2014 Hungarian GP, Marcus Ericsson’s car had been concertinaed and the driver was still in the car. Carbon fibre debris was scattered, and the scene of the crash at first sight looked grim.
The safety car was deployed within 10 seconds of Charlie seeing the incident on the monitors.
Yet had double waved yellows been the tool of preference for the race controller, and the drivers obeyed the letter of the law, the safety car could have and should have been delayed without compromising safety. This would have preserved the integrity of the race thus far.
To ensure the integrity of the race, the Ericsson incident in Hungary would have meant delaying the decision to deploy Bernd Mylander by around 38 seconds, under double yellows, and the race leader would have been able to pit and come out in the lead behind the safety car.
38 seconds was the time difference between Magnussen and the race leader, and because the McLaren driver chose not to stop following the safety car deployment, he was the first car ahead of Rosberg following the pit stops shuffle enforced by Ericsson’s shunt.
As it turned out, Ericsson was unhurt, as has been the case with the majority of drivers in similar incidents for many years, due to the fabulous safety of the modern monocoque design.
The recent furore over whether the safety car none deployment in Germany over Sutil’s stranded car (way off the racing line as anyone who has even driven a kart would know), should be a cause for concern. The huge number of views expressed by F1 fans on social media, appeared favour the view that the safety car should be deployed – if there is any shred of doubt over safety.
However, absolute safety in motorsport is impossible,
Failure to challenge the use and protocols which deploy the safety car, will definitely lead to a creeping use of a device which interferes with proper racing. What is required is a proper risk management based approach to balance safety and interfering with the integrity of the race.
Double waved yellows are a powerful tool at the disposal of the race director to prevent the interference with the race order, until the appropriate time arrives to deploy the safety car.
Drivers must be forced to respect the double waved yellows, as Hamilton confessed he failed to in Germany. “You come around that corner at serious speed and then there are marshals not far from where you are driving. It felt like the closest thing I have seen for a long, long time.’
If drivers refuse to obey or push the limits as to what exactly double waved yellows mean, then it is easy enough to provide them with a delta time/speed for the sector affected by a serious crash. This speed limit could be equivalent that imposed in the pit lane where scores of mechanics are regularly exposed to passing cars. Breach of this should result in severe penalties for drivers endangering lives.
The focus thus far has been on double waved yellows, because this is a current tool at the disposal of the race controller. Of course, Charlie has the technology available at is disposal to flash an instant message to each car, stating the sector affected by an accident and instructing the drivers to reduce speed to pit lane speed limits.
Formula 1 teams want to go racing, understandably, though the wisdom of allowing cars to fit slick tyres in Hungary last weekend to be driven slowly behind the safety car on a wet and cool track where the pressures and tyre temperatures were way outside their operating window – is at least questionable.
Romain Grosjean discovered this to his cost during the race in Hungary, when trying to warm his tyres behind the safety car, he stuck it in the barrier.
Formula 1 fans have been highly vociferous this year over current and proposed regulations which may manufacture the results of races and even where the eventual drivers’ championship may fall.
Most opposed has been Ecclestone’s decision to award double points in the final race of the season.
Yet the safety car has been manufacturing race results for years, based upon the timing of race control’s decision on when it should be deployed.
Of course the safety car spices up ‘the show’, but if we the fans endorse such a random shuffle of the deck, when technology and simple protocols offer other solutions, then we have lost the moral high ground and when when Ecclestone and Flavio dream up silly ideas which affect racing integrity, our opposition will lack credibility.
The effect of SC periods at times is akin to throwing a ‘multiball’ period into Association Football.
The problem with the safety car is in Hungary was clear. Drivers are given a delta time to which they must drive when the safety car is first deployed. This is a reduced lap time from race pace, designed for safety and to slow the cars down.
However, if a driver pits before catching the safety car, his delta time for the next lap includes the pit stop. Of course having been stationary for a few seconds and trundling through the pits at 80kmh, this then allows driver to blast out of the pits and drive far more quickly in sector 1 because his delta time includes the stationary time in the pit lane.
This is both dangerous, and delivers an advantage to those pitting during the first lap of a safety car, over those who choose, or are forced not to do so. So for the lucky ones, the result is a the best part of a ‘free pit stop’.
Given the technology in Formula 1, this is a complete farce.
Unless we regain control of safety car regulations, we may see similar results to that of the recent IndyCar race – no. 2 – in Toronto, where the victory was taken by a driver who gambled on a safety car incident whilst the track was still green and there was no evidence there would be a full course yellow.
Mike Conway won a race described by certain North American racing media outlets as “The Toronto lottery”. The race in fact ran under the safety car for longer than it did under green track conditions.
The danger for F1 is…. that as in IndyCar, the safety car becomes a creeping menace. This may be great for TV companies who wish to take and advertisement break, and should they offer Ecclestone more cash to facilitate this – then inevitably, more safety car periods will ensue.
Remember, the proposed standing restarts following the safety car in 2015 will be at the discretion of race control, and is that what we want?
F1 fans need to think long and hard over this before throwing their arms in the air and complaining about the proposed manufactured racing and scoring regulations. Double points and other ideas designed to improve “the show”, are no worse than the randomness and manufactured results created by the lack of proper current safety car protocols.
Yet, the safety car ‘spicing up the show’….. has been going unchallenged for many a year.