Our duty to make F1 as safe as possible
As the president of the FIA Drivers’ Commission, I feel a great responsibility to ensure we take the correct action in the coming weeks to prevent this from happening again. We will be working closely with Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s safety delegate, to look at all the procedures and reconsider everything.
This is no time for knee-jerk reactions. We must consider every angle, engage the correct expertise, then take decisive action. Bianchi’s accident could have had even worse consequences because if his car had hit the other side of the tractor, where several marshals were working to remove Adrian Sutil’s car, they could also have been seriously injured. Marshals play a vital role in on-track safety, and it’s important that we consider their wellbeing as we try to learn from this terrible accident. My personal opinions are driven by my experience of racing in the USA, where if anything was dropped on the track – or if there was anything on the track other than racing cars – the Safety Car would be deployed immediately. Only then, with cars circulating at a much-reduced (and carefully controlled) speed, would rescue teams and marshals be released to work on the track. It’s in the culture of racing drivers to seek any advantage they can nd, and under local yellow ags, most don’t slow down enough. It’s in our nature.
I also think we should nominate three or four senior drivers, with Charlie’s agreement, to report on track conditions as the weather changes and have input into whether the Safety Car comes out. It’s very hard to see from the control tower whether cars are aquaplaning. And the drivers have said that the current specication of wet tyre has quite a narrow operating window, so to be competitive they have to switch to the intermediate tyre as soon as possible. That tyre disperses less water, increasing the risk of aquaplaning. Unless you’re sitting inside the cockpit of an F1 car, you cannot accurately judge how much water is on the track surface and how efficiently the tyres disperse it. You certainly can’t do it while watching television at home.
The Safety Car is also good for spectators, because it brings the cars back together again and can make the race more exciting – although obviously the guy in the lead won’t think this way! But if the Safety Car is going to be used more often, it’s important that the marshals are trained properly so they can work quickly to resolve any issues that bring it out. If a race is neutralised by a Safety Car for a long period, this is boring for the fans. It can also mean the race nishes later, which is also risky with events that start in the afternoon when there is not much daylight left. Marshals have much better training now than they used to – I was behind Tom Pryce at Kyalami in 1977 when he hit a marshal who was crossing the track, and it was horrible. I think marshals will be able to work more quickly and effectively if they know they are safer. This is in all our interests.
I wonder, too, if we should have another look at pitlane safety. Having six guys on each side of the car, just so a wheel can be changed in two seconds, is a big risk in a crowded environment. Is this another accident waiting to happen?
“Motor racing is much safer now, but what happened to Jules demonstrates that the risks have not all been eliminated”