Whilst the new Formula One season has been lauded by the fans with record numbers attending the last two races, the all new FIA has been persistently under fire this season from all quarters. After the first quarter of the F1 calendar the new car design regulations were heavily criticised by certain teams and drivers though given those teams have improved their car performance this issue has recently taken a back seat.
Criticism over ‘consistency’ by F1 stewards and the Race Director over penalties is now the hot topic, which saw F1 grandee Sebastian Vettel storm out of a mandated drivers’ briefing on the evening after qualifying at the 2022 Austrian GP.
Vettel was issued with a suspended fine of 25,000 euros.
Carlos Sainz who had been a leading voice early in the season over the long term health issues of the drivers who were suffering back issues from the new car design causing bouncing, has entered the fray again calling the FIA to account over another safety matter.
Towards the end of the Austrian GP Sainz car engine exploded spectacularly and the Spaniard retired his car up as service road at turn 4. Given the topography of the Styrian circuit this saw him roll up a severe hill and try to bring his car to a stop.
Yet because the cars have no handbrake as the flames engulfed Sainz’s Ferrari the car began to roll back down the hill towards the circuit.
A fairly heft Marshall was seen behind the barrier stumbling along with a fire extinguisher but we waited for several seconds before entering the circuit.
Sainz was standing in the Ferrari cockpit amidst the flames with his foot on the brake then the Marshall realised he needed to find a ‘chock’ for the wheels. The Ferrari bonfire intensified significantly as the chock failed to do its job and eventually Sainz just jumped out of the car which then rolled into the barrier preventing its slide back to the live circuit.
Speaking to the media later, Carlos commented, “It was not an ideal and an uneasy situation for sure because I saw in my mirrors that the car was catching fire, but at the same time I was pressing the brake.”
“As soon as I tried to jump out, I saw that the car was rolling backwards and I didn’t want to leave the car completely free, out of control, rolling backwards while jumping out. I was calling the marshals to come and help me to put something on the tyres to stop the car rolling down. But I think the whole process was a bit slow.”
Whether Sainz was concerned if the car rolled towards the circuit that race control woulda red flag which would disadvantage his team mate at the time leading the race, we don’t know.
Carlos went on to explain, “At some point there was so much fire that I had to really get a move on and jump out independently. I think it was just at the time that the first marshal arrived and stopped the car.”
Ferrari’s Spanish driver has issued a call to the FIA to look at their procedures in such circumstances stating, “definitely something we need to look at, to consider. What we could have done a bit faster because it was not the easiest situation to be in.”
Part of the problem is Formula One despite being a muilti billion dollar global sport is run by amateurs. All the Marshall’s are volunteers and their roots are in national club racing events.
The non-driver stewards are often ‘grace and favour’ appointments for delegates who support the current FIA leadership, yet have no racing experience. Further they may only adjudicate on a couple of F1 races a season, so consistency is none existent from race to race.
The Marshall’s are only allowed to enter the track when given instructions from race control, which is why in Austria the hefty bloke paused for several seconds until given the all clear.
Presumably the delay is because the FIA don’t want their volunteer Marshalls being put at risk and despite Martin Brundle commenting at the time “the car is in a danger zone.” – It wasn’t
Sainz’s Ferrari was beyond the gravel trap up against the barrier, so the Marshall should have had the freedom to decide not to pause and wait for permission, but to enter the circuit and deal with the burning Ferrari.
In hindsight Carlos could have just put some lock on the steering wheel to ensure it rolled into the barrier, but when engulfed by flames his indecision was fair enough.
Usually to park a car on the access road is a good idea. It makes it easier for the Marshalls to remove the car. Yet at the Styrian circuit the elevated access roads are in fact problematic as we saw.
It could be part of the driver briefings should be to include where to place their cars around the circuit in case of emergency.
Clearly parking his car just off the circuit on flat ground despite causing the inevitable safety car would have served Sainz better than running it far from the track and up a hill.
The time from Sainz first stopping and the fire extinguisher been initiated was about 30 seconds. Further, the fire extinguisher had to be carried by hefty Marshall at a trot from his post a 15 second amble away.
Of course the circuit cannot be marshalled every 50 metres, but the ‘safe’ zones where drivers a re likely to choose to abandon their cars, could be better facilitated.
The drivers could be better briefed and the Marshalls allowed to do their jobs without waiting for someone watching a screen a mile away to give them the go ahead.