IN MY final blog this week remembering the ghastly weekend at Imola in 1994 – it is time to look at the aftermath of the events and how the sport has moved on with radical and rapid improvements in medical facilities, safety and learning lessons from very dark and distressing times.
In the days after Imola, there was a lot of soul searching to be done by everyone who was involved in the weekend’s proceedings. Gerhard Berger, who was driving for Ferrari had to consider his future in the sport, especially after witnessing the death of his closest friend Ayrton Senna and countryman, Roland Ratzenberger. Others had sleepless nights but the show carried on and all the drivers who raced at Imola in 94 didn’t retire in its aftermath.
The FIA and especially its president, Max Mosley were inspirational in a time of real crisis. They made immediate changes to safety regulations in the sport, beginning from the Spanish Grand Prix, just two races after Imola and contiuning with this until well into 1995. Changes included the introduction of the ‘plank,’ to remove illegal skidblock wear which was the downfall to Michael Schumacher’s disqualification after winning at Spa that August. Driver cockpit sides were strengthened and made bigger and the FIA crash test came into force as a mandatory procedure, both in frontal and side impacts. A new pitlane speed limit was brought into force to reduce the chances of significant injury after the Michele Alboreto incident in the pits at Imola.
These changes were too late to save some from other nasty accidents. Austrian Karl Wendlinger fell into a deep coma after crashing at the Nouvelle Chicane during practice for the next race in Monaco. Wendlinger’s injuries were caused thanks to driver impact from the barriers. Pedro Lamy had a monumental shunt during private testing at Silverstone in which he was ejected from his Lotus Mugen Honda. Lamy survived but suffered serious leg injuries and multiple fractures. In Barcelona, the destroyed Simtek team had to deal with another cracked monocque when Andrea Montermini ran wide into the final corner and crashed heavily during practice, fracturing his heel and breaking his foot.
However driver injury has become far less in recent years. There have been close escapes, with Felipe Massa especially in 2009. Although there were two marshal fatalities due to flying debris at the beginning of the millennium, the most serious driver injury since 1994 was Olivier Panis breaking both of his legs after a suspension failure pitched him into the barriers during the 1997 Canadian Grand Prix. The FIA continue to set the standards in safety today. The deaths of Marco Simoncelli in MotoGP and Dan Wheldon in IndyCars last October highlight that motorsport is dangerous and always will be. However it is much safer than it ever has been.
In the wake of the Imola tragedies, the GPDA was reformed, having been disbanded in 1982. Three time world champion Niki Lauda initiated its return with Berger, Michael Schumacher and Christian Fittipaldi as directors. Membership isn’t compulsory but many of today’s drivers are part of the association. Temporary changes were made to many circuits including ridiculous but necessary tyre chicanes in Barcelona and the slowing down of cars for one year through the daunting Eau Rouge corner at Spa. A year later Formula One returned to Imola with permanent chicanes installed at Tamburello and Villeneuve corners to slow the cars down. Again, these measures were needed to slow the average speeds down but Imola lost its glory as a drivers circuit, often produced processional events and was axed from the F1 calendar at the end of 2006. Schumacher remained chairman of the GPDA for 11 years until his first retirement in 2006. Today’s chairman is experienced Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa with Massa and world champion Sebastian Vettel as directors.
The cause of Ayrton Senna’s fatal accident is unlikely to ever be found out. There have been many points of speculation including a terrible Channel 4 documentary in 2001 as part of the ‘Going Critical’ series where it was wrongly promoted the whole truth would be revealed. There was a high-profile trial into the case in Italy and Sir Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey were all acquitted of manslaughter in 1997. It would be wrong for me to speculate on what caused Senna’s accident although driver error was very very unlikely. For a car to crash at Tamburello, something would have to break or explode on the car, as Berger experienced at the same spot in the 1989 race. Roland Ratzenberger’s accident was caused by his front wing breaking as a result of it being weakened by impact with either an off-track moment or a high kerb. Ratzenberger’s car went straight on into the concrete wall with no steering or braking capability due to the loss of the front wing.
The legacy of both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger’s accidents and the entire weekend at Imola is that Formula One has taken onboard what happened and has done all it has to make sure that these kinds of tragedies are prevented in future. Death in F1 has happened before and it will at some stage, probably happen again. However so many precautions have now been taken and that is thanks to the hard work of the drivers and the FIA. Everyone wants to race in a safe environment and to a large extent, this has been achieved since that terrible weekend in April/May 1994.
Neither Senna nor Ratzenberger will be forgotten by the Formula One fraternity. The experience of these hellish events has made Formula One a safer environment today.
REFLECTING on Nico Rosberg’s crazy and unecessary swerves on his rivals in Bahrain, I wanted to share my opinion on the state of defensive driving in Formula One and how lucky there hasn’t been any serious accidents because of this for a while.
There was a time in Grand Prix racing where turning into your rival early or deliberate attempts to take a competitor out of the race seemed to be okay. Ask Michael Schumacher, who did it at Jerez in the 1997 title decider and received a very leninent penalty for the crime. Then we had the debate about weaving excessively to keep track position in defence. Damon Hill did this in Canada 1998, which upset Schumacher greatly afterwards. The boundaries continue to be pushed in the element to be totally successful.
Driving etiquette in Formula One needs to be looked at because the standards in defending a position seem to be getting worse. Any driver doesn’t want to get into a position like Jarno Trulli used to; ‘There’s a green arrow, pass me on the inside.’ However, today’s drivers need to respect their competitors more and know when track position is gone.
Rosberg’s moves on Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in Sakhir were dangerous and he didn’t get penalised. Luckily no contact was made in either incident but they were lucky escapes. In the first incident with Hamilton on lap 10, Rosberg dived inside the McLaren as Hamilton was exiting the pits from his first pitstop. As Hamilton got into the slipstream, the Mercedes driver went to defend the inside and started to move across the road. As the Brit dived out from underneath the rear wing, Rosberg squeezed him completely off the track. Lewis had to take to the concrete asphalt to avoid Rosberg’s late direction movement and actually got infront. He might have exceeded track limits but it was either that or have an accident. I would have given Rosberg the benefit of the doubt, maybe give him a reprimand for this as he isn’t a regular offender in Formula One.
The second moment with Alonso was even more dangerous, as the Spaniard had to get out of the throttle to avoid being launched over the Mercedes car. The extra speed used thanks probably to some KERS use from the Spaniard looked frightening. Rosberg continued to move from the traditional racing line and although his direction change wasn’t quite as brutal as it was with Hamilton, he didn’t give Alonso an option and sensibly, the double champion took a safe choice and backed out of the attempted overtake on lap 25. On this occasion, I would have added some time onto Rosberg’s finishing position, maybe 5-10 seconds as there seemed to be more of a thoughtful decision in what he was doing rather than a sudden movement or rush of blood. It was risky and very severe, uncalled for actually.
No-one wants a repeat of Mark Webber’s terriyfing accident in Valencia 2010. The race stewards in Bahrain had their chance to send out a message of no nonsense and this they failed to do. Rosberg’s manoevures were not the worst ever seen in Grand Prix racing but it deserved a time penalty even if that just dropped him behind the two drivers affected in the final classifcation. He could count himself lucky to have not been sanctioned for the incidents.
On his team radio during the race, Alonso said; “He pushed me off the track. You have to leave a space, all the time you have to leave a space.” Later that evening, he posted on his Twitter page when finding out Rosberg would not be punished,“I think you are going to have fun in future races! You can defend position as you want and you can overtake outside the track! Enjoy! ;)))” It is very true but I find his reaction to this hilarious. Pot, kettle, black spring to mind Fernando. Weren’t you the driver who squeezed Sebastian Vettel onto the grass during the Italian Grand Prix last season? Vettel criticised the move and rightly so, he was brave to make it stick too.
The FIA Sporting Regulations say this under Article 20.4;
“Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.”
Sounds like Rosberg was guilty then but no action was taken. The defending ruling changed at the start of the season where a competitor will be penalised if they moved across the road more than once in an overtaking scenario. This ruling was brought in after the feisty scrap between Schumacher and Hamilton at Monza last year. Is it a ruling or just a guiding? After last Sunday’s incidents, you can’t help but agree to some form with Fernando Alonso.
The decision was made and at the end of the day, all the drivers have pushed the regulations of driving etiquette to the brink on occasion. Schumacher has done it all throughout his career, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton have both made questionable track movements in the past in an attempt to defend their position and even the world champion isn’t perfect. Vettel has shown his ruthlessness at times. Remember giving Jenson Button minimal space at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix last season. These examples show I’m not singling out Nico Rosberg but I reckon that a precedent has to be set, starting from the annual drivers meeting before practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 11. I worry that in the top line of motorsport, we have got to a point where the standard of defensive driving is getting to a very dangerous stage. Make it hard and competitive of course but fair and responsible too.
THE sport’s governing body the FIA confirmed in the early hours of the morning that next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix on the Sakhir circuit will take place as scheduled. FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone met the team principals from all 12 Formula One teams in Shanghai this morning where the Chinese Grand Prix takes place this weekend. No concerns were raised from the meeting and all agreed that the race should take place. The FIA insisted that assurances had been made about general security following regular disputes in the country over the past year during the Arab Uprisings. It is these protests that led to the cancellation of the 2011 race.
These are the key points in the statement released to the world by the sport’s governing body from the FIA website;
“The FIA is the governing body of motor sport and therefore of Formula One. As such, it sets the season’s calendars following the proposal of the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH) in accordance with the local national authorities in all matters relating to safety. Within that context, the FIA ensures that any event forming part of an FIA World Championship is organised in compliance with the FIA Statutes and the relevant Sporting and Technical Regulations and that the safety of the public, officials, drivers and teams is secured at all times during an event. The FIA must make rational decisions based on the information provided to us by the Bahraini authorities and by the Commercial Rights Holder. In addition we have endeavoured to assess the ongoing situation in Bahrain. Based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula One World Championship event in Bahrain. Therefore, the FIA confirms that the 2012 Gulf Air F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain will go ahead as scheduled.”
The drivers haven’t said much in recent weeks, but some have expressed their views over the weekend in China. In his official column he does with BBC Formula One, Red Bull’s Mark Webber said; “If we have a choice…I want to race, and I would like to go there and do that. But you cannot ignore the fact there are a lot of good people in our sport and all of them have in the back of their minds that we want it to go down smoothly and we don’t want to be involved with the situation that’s out there.”
Earlier in the week, Sir Jackie Stewart had insisted the sport should visit the Gulf State, which before last year had held an annual event since 2004. 1996 world champion and Sky Sports F1 pundit Damon Hill disagreed, raising severe safety concerns over the region. Since the protests began on the government last year, upto 50 protestors have died and although not on the scale of the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and more recently Syria, the trouble has not left the Manama region.
Bernie Ecclestone has been under severe pressure all week from media outlets and this afternoon, he sat down for an exclusive interview with BBC F1 anchor Jake Humphrey. Ecclestone insisted that he was confident there would be no trouble at the event next week. The interview can be seen below;
The decision has been made and it will have driven various opinion from many sources. However the race does go ahead now and let’s hope it proceeds without any serious implications for the sport, the drivers, spectators going to Sakhir and of course the Bahrani people.
MICHAEL Schumacher went quickest in the second practice session on a quiet opening day for track action in China. The German followed up a second fastest slot in the first session which was led by Lewis Hamilton. It was a day where racing on the Shanghai International Circuit was at a premium, as matters off the track dominated the headlines. This was because the FIA released a statement in the early hours of the morning to confirm the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead as scheduled next week (see later story tonight for further details).
The first session was punctuated by mixed conditions, with smog and drizzle meaning there was a lack of clear indication in who looks the fastest pacesetters in China. Only in the last ten minutes did meaningful times get set; Hamilton leading the way ahead of Nico Rosberg, Schumacher and the star of Malaysia, Sergio Perez. Hamilton’s fastest lap was a full second quicker than anyone else but he does carry a grid penalty for changing a gearbox between Malaysia and this weekend. McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh confirmed to BBC Radio 5 Live this morning that Lewis was using the cracked gearbox today and the change will happen overnight. Test drivers Jules Bianchi, Valeri Bottas and Giedo Van der Garde got minor running in for their teams as Paul di Resta, Bruno Senna and Heikki Kovalainen sat out FP1 respectively.
A dry second session promoted more decisive running. The cooler track conditions mean that it will be a gamble to guess how the Pirelli tyres will handle in what is likely to be a warmer race circuit come Sunday afternoon. There was more action in FP2, as drivers attempted to make up for the lack of running in FP1. di Resta spun on the pit straight and Timo Glock had a late off into the barriers at the first corner, minus his Marussia Cosworth’s nosecone. A late effort from Schumacher was enough to deny Hamilton a clean sweep of the fastest times. World champion Sebastian Vettel was an encouraging third and Mark Webber backed up a radical Red Bull improvement with fourth. Championship leader Fernando Alonso had a quiet day and was a meagre tenth fastest in FP2, as Ferrari were brought back to reality after their shock Sepang success. Lotus also had a bad day, Kimi Raikkonen propped up the timesheets in FP1 after technical problems intervened.
On a day when politics ruled the sport again, Mercedes and McLaren again looked fast out of the blocks but little has been given away ahead of qualifying tomorrow morning at 7am UK time.
CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES
|1||LEWIS HAMILTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||7||1.37.106|
|2||NICO ROSBERG||MERCEDES GP||14||1.38.116|
|3||MICHAEL SCHUMACHER||MERCEDES GP||14||1.38.316|
|4||SERGIO PEREZ||SAUBER FERRARI||13||1.38.584|
|5||KAMUI KOBAYASHI||SAUBER FERRARI||12||1.38.911|
|6||MARK WEBBER||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||15||1.38.977|
|7||SEBASTIAN VETTEL||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||12||1.39.198|
|8||JENSON BUTTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||6||1.39.199|
|9||DANIEL RICCIARDO||STR FERRARI||16||1.39.748|
|10||JEAN-ERIC VERGNE||STR FERRARI||14||1.39.768|
|13||VALTERI BOTTAS||WILLIAMS RENAULT||8||1.40.298|
|14||NICO HULKENBERG||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||13||1.40.328|
|15||PASTOR MALDONADO||WILLIAMS RENAULT||12||1.40.540|
|16||HEIKKI KOVALAINEN||CATERHAM RENAULT||14||1.41.071|
|17||ROMAIN GROSJEAN||LOTUS RENAULT||14||1.41.204|
|18||TIMO GLOCK||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||14||1.42.330|
|19||GIEDO VAN DER GARDE||CATERHAM RENAULT||11||1.42.521|
|20||JULES BIANCHI||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||8||1.44.118|
|21||PEDRO DE LA ROSA||HRT COSWORTH||10||1.44.227|
|22||CHARLES PIC||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||15||1.44.500|
|23||NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN||HRT COSWORTH||12||1.47.264|
|24||KIMI RAIKKONEN||LOTUS RENAULT||11||1.50.465|
CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES
|1||MICHAEL SCHUMACHER||MERCEDES GP||32||1.35.973|
|2||LEWIS HAMILTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||29||1.36.145|
|3||SEBASTIAN VETTEL||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||27||1.36.160|
|4||MARK WEBBER||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||24||1.36.433|
|5||NICO ROSBERG||MERCEDES GP||31||1.36.617|
|6||JENSON BUTTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||28||1.36.711|
|7||KAMUI KOBAYASHI||SAUBER FERRARI||28||1.36.956|
|8||PAUL DI RESTA||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||31||1.36.966|
|9||NICO HULKENBERG||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||31||1.37.191|
|11||SERGIO PEREZ||SAUBER FERRARI||22||1.37.417|
|12||DANIEL RICCIARDO||STR FERRARI||33||1.37.616|
|13||KIMI RAIKKONEN||LOTUS RENAULT||30||1.37.836|
|14||JEAN-ERIC VERGNE||STR FERRARI||32||1.37.930|
|15||ROMAIN GROSJEAN||LOTUS RENAULT||26||1.37.972|
|16||PASTOR MALDONADO||WILLIAMS RENAULT||35||1.38.176|
|18||BRUNO SENNA||WILLIAMS RENAULT||37||1.38.783|
|19||HEIKKI KOVALAINEN||CATERHAM RENAULT||36||1.38.990|
|20||VITALY PETROV||CATERHAM RENAULT||20||1.39.346|
|21||TIMO GLOCK||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||15||1.39.651|
|22||PEDRO DE LA ROSA||HRT COSWORTH||25||1.40.343|
|23||CHARLES PIC||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||30||1.40.753|
|24||NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN||HRT COSWORTH||26||1.41.125|
IT HAS been a frantic start to the Formula One season of 2012 and whilst the teams, mechanics and the fans have a brief break from racing, a real concern is threatening to bubble over the surface and explode over the Grand Prix scene.
After the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on April 15, the sport is due to make a scheduled return to Bahrain. The race was cancelled last year as the season opener due to the Arab Uprisings. It was rescheduled two months later, then cancelled for good last year, as the teams couldn’t be certain about the safety within the country. This time around, it seems like there is support for the race to go ahead, but pressure is building on whether the sport should stay away.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, a prime mover in F1 not going last season sees no reason why the event shouldn’t run on the Sakhir track in 2012. He told JAonF1 last week; “F1 is a sport at the end of the day and we’ve always enjoyed racing in Bahrain, its on the calendar and the FIA and promoters deem it right to hold a race in Bahrain so we will be happy to be there and race.”
Despite Horner’s belief that there will be race held on April 22, protests in the region continue even a year on after the first signs of political unrest. Yesterday, Al-Jazeera reported of more protests in two towns near the circuit, which involved demonstrators being arrested and the police spraying tear gas. The protestors are also believed to be using Twitter as a useful source to get their message across. The hashtag #bloodyf1 is being used to show their displeasure. Although the trouble is nowhere near as bad as it has been in Tunisia, Egypt and most especially of late, Syria – the concern of many has to be highlighted.
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is adamant that the race will go ahead, no matter what. He recently told the Press Association; “Of course the race is going to happen. No worries at all. These people were brave enough to start an event in that part of the world (2004) and that’s it. We’ll be there as long as they want us.”
Ecclestone might want the race to go ahead and the Bahrain Royal Family, prime movers in getting the region onto the calendar in 2004 might want the spectacle to run too. However, the Bahrain people still seem restless and the risks are inevitably going to be very high for spectators, the worldwide media, volunteering marshals and of course, the drivers. Is this a risk too far?
The fans seem split on opinion. Amy Jones posted on her Twitter last night; “We should axe Bahrain. While you’re at it Bernie, axe Valencia please. Thanks.
#F1. On the Planet F1 forum, sandman1347 said; “Bernie needs to realize that this partnership isn’t worth the hassle or risk. Who cares that they are willing to pay the fee to have a race there? There are at least 5 other countries who would love to have a race. Ultimately, Bernie would be wise not to enter into business arrangements with despots who torture and execute their own populace. Make a deal with someone else Bernie. Bahrain is a bad partner.” Valen on a separate forum topic disagrees; “Don’t get me wrong, I think the situation in Bahrain is terrible, but most countries in the world are having upheavel, genocide and civil war issues. Part of world politics I am afraid.”
Ultimately, the drivers and the teams should be allowed to make the final decision. It surprises me that none of the drivers, especially those who you would traditionally look to in a situation like this in Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber haven’t given their opinion yet.
For now, the Bahrain Grand Prix is expected to take place as scheduled on April 22. For me, all Bernie Ecclestone has cared about for so long is money and that has made him so successful. Formula One needs to avoid an shameful set of headlines and the worst case scenarios cannot be imagined. If the race goes ahead, I so hope there won’t be any trouble, but I can’t say that response is full of confidence. The Asian market might have the money as Europe drowns in a tidalwave of economic debt, but there are plenty of other countries who don’t have such unrest and want to stage an event. At the end of the day, commonsense needs to prevail and a decision has to be taken very quickly – safety and security is more important than an extra event.