Formula One at times is its own worst enemy particularly when it fails to learn the lessons of history. Back in 2014 race control failed to deploy a safety car following Adrian Sutil putting his Sauber into the wall. The incident was dealt with under double waved yellow flags and a tractor crane sent out in the extremely wet conditions.
The rest of the tale is one of Formula One’s most tragic days. Jules Bianchi lost control of his Marrusia hitting the tractor which ultimately claimed his life.
In similar circumstances at another rain soaked Suzuka circuit, Carlos Sainz crashed out on lap one of the 2022 Japanese GP. This time race control deployed the safety car but Pierre Gasly had pitted for a new nose cone falling around half a lap behind the safety car and the train of F1 cars following behind.
F1 safety car rules counter productive
In Formula One the rules allow drivers who are significantly behind the safety car to catch up at a reduced speed but the driver can still drive flat out through sections of the circuit.
The driver is given a delta time to drive to, but by pitting for tyres or repairs, the driver banks more time and often returns to the circuit at full speed.
This is exactly what happened to Pierre Gasly this year in Japan. By time he reached turn 12 where Sainz’s stricken car was being recovered by a tractor, his time delta still allowed him to travel at full speed as he passed the incident.
Gasly and other drivers were upset with the FIA following the incident that the tractor crane had been deployed in such conditions while the track was live with Formula One cars.
FIA investigate Japanese safety car incident
The FIA responded by promising an investigation which was completed in less than two weeks with the results published during the US GP weekend.
The result was the removal of race director Eduardo Freitas from any further duties this season and a promise for a more detailed review of how tractor cranes will be used in the future in wet conditions.
Yet the FIA also heavily criticised Perre Gasly who had passed the tractor at speeds “in excess of 250kph”, describing the French driver as having driven “in a reckless manner”
Gasly was asked by the media in Austin how he felt about the FIA’s remarks over his driving in Japan. The Frenchman shrugged off the use of the term “reckless”.
Gasly responds to FIA criticism
“I was most interested by what they will put in place for the future,” said Gasly. “That’s what I discussed with Mohammed after the race in Suzuka, that whatever happened there happened.
“And most important is just moving forward, that we make sure everybody is safe, whether it’s in F1 or in the lower categories.
“And that’s what they are they are working on. I think what they put in place is clearly good steps forward. I know we’re going to discuss it at the drivers’ briefing, and anything more we could do will be welcome.
“But I’m glad to see they worked on this matter very quickly, and came up with solutions already the race straight after that happened.”
Officials claim procedures were ‘normal’
The Japanese GP was eventually red flagged on lap 2 and Gasly stormed into race control demanding explanations as to why the tractor had been dangerously deployed.
Gasly was enraged when he left the FIA officials having been told the procedure was entirely normal.
The FIA investigation did state the process had been followed correctly but remarked given the conditions race control should have waited before deploying the crane.
Gasly continues explaining the sum total of his conversation with Freitas.
“His side of the story, my side of the story, as I’ve said, it doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong.
“At the end of the day, we are risking our life, and again we just want to be as safe as possible. There are always going to be risks driving these cars in these conditions at such speeds, but as long as we can minimise the risk.
“Tracks are homologated without cranes and tractors on track. They are safe in these conditions. The moment you put external stuff on it, then it’s a very different story.
“I think they understood, and it was clear on both sides. And I’m pleased with the solutions they are putting in place.”
FIA need to introduce “slow zones”
However, following the Bianchi incident TJ13 questioned why Formula One didn’t employ a similar system for “crash zones” as is operated by the WEC. Bizarrely Freitas experience as a race director comes primarily from that series.
In WEC following a crash race control immediately sets the zone where the incident is as a “slow zone”. Whether cars have caught the safety car or not, they are required to travel at around pit lane speed as they pass the incident in the “slow zone”.
F1 has the technology in place to implement this procedure and needs to seriously consider its implementation to prevent drivers’ like Gasly hurtling past an on track incident because his safety car time delta is positive and so he can.
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