Dealing with consequence, ignoring the cause

Yesterday, the FIA released the following statement:

Following a pit lane incident at last weekend’s German Grand Prix, the FIA has decided to take steps to increase F1 safety and is to institute an immediate ban on anyone other than event marshals and team personnel being present in pit lane during races and grand prix qualifying sessions. Access for approved media will be confined to the pit wall.

Last weekend’s incident at the Nürburgring occurred when, following a pit stop, a wheel became detached from the Red Bull Racing car of Mark Webber as he made his way towards the pit lane exit. The loose wheel struck a television cameraman who was hospitalised as a result. He is expected to make a full recovery.

In order to reduce the risk of similar accidents in the future, the FIA, on the initiative of its President, Jean Todt, will be seeking to make changes to the Formula One Sporting Regulations. In order to effect this, the FIA today informed teams that the approval of the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) will immediately be sought for two changes to the Sporting Regulations. Both of these changes have already been approved for 2014. However, for safety reasons, the WMSC will be asked to approve their immediate implementation. The changes are:

1) Article 23.11*, which will now require all team personnel working on a car during a pit stop to wear head protection.

2) Article 30.12**, which will provide for a reduction of the pit lane speed limit during races from 100km/h to 80km/h (with the exception of Melbourne, Monaco and Singapore, where due to track configuration the limit remains at 60km/h).

Finally, in relation to the incident at the German Grand Prix, the FIA is expecting a written report from Red Bull Racing tomorrow. This will also be shared with the other teams in order to help improve pit lane safety.

* 23.11 Team personnel are only allowed in the pit lane immediately before they are required to work on a car and must withdraw as soon as the work is complete. All team personnel carrying out any work on a car during a race pit stop must be wearing head protection.

** 30.12 A speed limit of 80km/h will be imposed in the pit lane during the whole Event. However, this limit may be amended by the stewards following a recommendation from the FIA F1 safety delegate. Any team whose driver exceeds the limit during any practice session will be fined €100 for each km/h above the limit, up to a maximum of €1000. However, in accordance with Article 18.1 the stewards may inflict an additional penalty if they suspect a driver was speeding in order to gain any sort of advantage. During the race the stewards may impose either of the penalties under Article 16.3a) or b) on any driver who exceeds the limit.

Marvelous, you might say. Bravo. Firm immediate action.

But it’s not. And it completely misses the point.

The FIA says it will impose an “immediate ban on anyone other than event marshals and team personnel being present in pit lane during races and grand prix qualifying sessions. Access for approved media will be confined to the pit wall.”

A bold step you might say. But then what if I told you that is precisely the arrangement that currently exists?

Nobody, not FIA media (written), not FOM media (TV and radio), are allowed in the pitlane during qualifying or the race. There is a red “PIT LANE” line over which no member of the media is allowed to pass during those sessions. Do so, and your pass is taken away. No arguments.

The only media which is allowed into the pitlane is a select group of photographers granted a special tabard. Their access is limited to the pit wall.

So what, exactly, has changed?

Well, the only thing that has really changed from this perspective is that the FOM RF cameramen will now be limited to the pitwall and will not be roaming in the pits themselves. But this decision had already been announced by Bernie Ecclestone in the immediate aftermath of Paul Allen’s injury at the weekend. It was a smart move in the short term, made without fuss and fanfare.

The FIA release is quite the opposite. It screams of wanting to be seen to be doing something, whilst in reality doing very little.

So we have a preposterous announcement that the FIA will ban everyone who, before the statement, didn’t have pit access in qualifying and the races anyway, from being in the pitlane during qualifying and the races. This is with the exception however of those who have special permission to be on the pitwall who will still have special permission to be on the pitwall. So nothing has changed.

The other changes noted, were due to be brought into effect in 2014 anyway and have simply now been rushed through. Helmets for everyone working on the car, and a reduction in pitlane speed.

But again, I question how either of these changes would have impacted the accident that befell Paul on Sunday. The fact is, they wouldn’t.

Team pit helmets wouldn’t have helped Paul. I’d question how much they’d even help the pitcrews themselves, given that most appear to be about as strong as a kid’s Iron Man dress up mask. A tyre, with wheel rim, bouncing into your head at speed… those flimsy helmets aren’t going to stop your face from getting smashed in or your neck from snapping like a twiglet.

And reducing pitlane speed limits isn’t going to help either. The power of the engine is the same, the torque is the same, the rear wheels are still going to spin at the same speed when a car is released from a stop. What reducing pit speed limits will do, however, is increase the pit delta, thus meaning that teams will be even more determined to secure a lightning fast pitstop. So, if anything, it could prove to be a counter productive measure.

The simple fact is that, once again, the FIA is dealing with consequences rather than causes. We’ve seen it all year in the woeful stewarding of the junior categories GP2 and GP3, where the FIA stewards have not looked at the causes of accidents but merely what the consequence was. And now it is seeping up to F1.

What caused Paul Allen’s injuries at the weekend? What was the cause? That’s the question that needed addressing.

The cause was a non-secured wheel that became disconnected from the car and bounced free down the pitlane. But nothing, and I mean nothing, in the FIA’s statement deals with this.

The best suggestion I’ve seen thus far was to reintroduce clips in the wheel nuts, which we used to have in the days of refueling. These clips had to be secured before a car was allowed to leave the pits. Now, this type of change isn’t the making of a moment, but with the August break I’m fairly sure it could have been implemented in time for the second half of the season, starting at Spa.

Instead, however, the actual cause of the incident is not dealt with. The risk remains the same today as it was at the weekend. What’s to say the same thing won’t happen in Hungary? What’s to say that this time it won’t be a rear left and that it won’t bounce into the cameramen who are now on the pitwall… or that it won’t strike a member of a team, sitting with his back to the action on his prat perch?

The pitlane is a dangerous place. It always has been. Those who work within it accept those risks. Paul accepted those risks. Everyone does. Paul, I’m sure, will be bloody frustrated when he gets back to work that he’ll be limited to filming from the pitwall. I’ve worked with the FOM boys for a decent amount of time now. They’re great lads. Hard working. Brave. No bullshit. They’re proper blokes. They love their job and they accept that it’s dangerous. We all do.

But what is even more dangerous, is to pretend that what the FIA announced yesterday would have prevented what happened. The causes have not been dealt with. The changes made will, in my opinion, do very little to actually improve safety.

Look at the wording of the release again. “In order to reduce the risk of similar accidents in the future, the FIA, on the initiative of its President, Jean Todt, will be seeking to make changes to the Formula One Sporting Regulations.”

After years of silence, suddenly within the space of two weeks we have two releases from the FIA, both on the issue of safety, both lauding the initiatives and swift action of the President.

A President seeking re-election. A President who wants to appear to be strong and decisive.

Appearances can be deceiving.

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37 thoughts on “Dealing with consequence, ignoring the cause

  1. With all the sensors etc in the wheel section would it not be possible to fit a sensor (or two) in the wheel hub that doesn’t turn on (or off) the pit release light (or some light on the steering wheel) until all sensors are depressed/activated?

  2. I imagine the helmet rule is not so much about stopping a tire from hitting you in the face as it is for stopping your head from smacking the ground when knocked over by a rapidly traveling object. It’s not a bad one to have, especially since you get integral eye protection in a full-face helmet.

    • I agree with you. Hitting the pavement with your head is never good.

      I doubt hearing is impacted by wearing a helmet in that environment. You can’t yell over an F1 engine. “Hey, look out”. The peripheral vision concern is fair, but when you are focused on changing a tire in 2 seconds or filming a 2.5 second stop, you probably have tunnel vision.

  3. How would having a clip in the wheel nut stop this from happening sense the car left before the mechanic wasn’t done working on the car and wouldn’t have put the clip in yet?

      • Agree that a sensor in the wheel would fix that. I was just point out that Will was talking about all of these changes that wouldn’t have effected what happened then his “best suggestion” is a change that wouldn’t have effected what happened. Just pot calling the kettle black.

  4. “Nobody, not FIA media (written), not FOM media (TV and radio), are allowed in the pitlane during qualifying or the race. There is a red “PIT LANE” line over which no member of the media is allowed to pass during those sessions. Do so, and your pass is taken away. No arguments.”

    Could you clarify if Paul was behind the red line when he got hit by the wheel? ’cause he looked like he was in the pitlane.

    • FOM cameramen, employed by FOM as opposed to independent TV crews accredited by FOM, are not party to the same rules. They had free range of using pitlane. Now they will be limited to pitwall.

  5. In regards to helmets, while no helmet can protect you from all risk of head injury, they can protect in many cases. I have had two motorcycle accidents, and in one case the helmet saved my life, and in the other it protected me from serious injury. If my attitude had been not to wear a helmet because it can not protect me from all situations, then I would be dead right now. The same applies for all safety gear such as fire suits, gloves, boots, HANS device, whatever.

  6. Absolutely right: “It screams of wanting to be seen to be doing something, whilst in reality doing very little. “ Peter Riva 1-575-535-4646 Las Palomas 28 Alope Way, Gila, NM 88038 Mail: PO Box 87, Gila, NM 88038

    Please consider the environment when deciding to print this email.

    ========================================

  7. The most effective thing they could have done to assure no wheels go bouncing off cars after a pit stop, would be to mandate a 10 second minimum stop time. That would give teams enough time to double and triple check everything and to even improve the safety of the car (if it happens to have minor damage), without losing a competitive advantage to other teams that might want to cut corners (as they do currently).

  8. Will 23.11 prevent a crewman from pulling back his team’s air hoses when the team in the pit box before it is releasing its car? If so, is safety being reduced?

  9. What about a e300,000 fine instead of e30,000? Or perhaps constructor’s points penalties? e30,000 barely covers the cost of the wheel that hit Mr. Allen…

    Hit these teams hard in the pockets or on the championship table, then maybe they’ll pay a little better attention to what they’re doing in the pits…

    • agree w/ you 100%. the teams themselves will find excellent means to ensure no further unsafe releases if the penalty for an unsafe release is a significant deterrent. 30,000euro is not, but 300,000 or perhaps a million, plus loss of WCC points, plus official reprimand that might make it all the easier to call RBR to task and hold them accountable for civil liability in Germany… now that would be a deterrent…

  10. The simplest solution to this is to simply have a minimum stationary time for the cars of say 4 seconds. That’s short enough for teams to have to perform but long enough for them to ensure all wheels are fitted properly. If there’s a problem then the stop is usually longer than that anyway so a problem stop would still be punished

    • It’s the problem stops that get released unsafely, though, isn’t it? I think that if we can’t implement a wheel nut sensor system (no drive until sensors are all green), then we just accept a level of risk in the pits and leave it to the crews to sharpen their procedures.

    • Doing so eliminates the pit lane team competitive aspect. It is part of racing… Just as accidents on the track are part of racing.

  11. The team shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it the way Red Bull was.
    The lollipop / red light man would be way more careful if there was some grid penalty to the team that let a wheel go loose. The 30K fine is ridiculous, specially in the case of a rich team like Red Bull

  12. a loose wheel is just one of many potential disasters waiting to happen. but I agree on a sensor to verify nut torgue. the thing that scares me is a car being released into the path of another car at pit lane speed and going airborne a catch fence between the engineers and the pit lane could save a whole team brain trust. id say dramatically lower the pit speed as its the same for all competitors, as long as the engine isn’t overheating or below its rpm range why go faster in a congested area.

  13. All very valid points, I personally like the wheel nut torque sensor idea, and can think of many ways to implement it. However, the common sense and logical thinkers are not necessarily the one who decide, its the ones with power, money and influence. And if they see something that is going to add to bottom line costs, thus reducing their profits, well, we all know which option they will choose, the cheap one, which is in my eyes, what they have done. Slowing down pit times to a mandatory xyz seconds will just mean they will find ways around it, arguing that “the pit stop is fun to watch on TV, and amazes people that it can be done so quick.

  14. Can you substantiate that the pit crew helmets seem flimsy or are about as protective as a child’s toy iron man helmet? From the TV they look like solid helmets, so maybe they look quite different up close and in person, and not many people who follow F1 get to see the pit crew up close and in person. I’m legitimately curious if pit crew helmets provide anywhere near the same level of protection as the drivers’ helmets

  15. You rarely if ever offer fresh content from pit lane, 95% of what you offer is what is happening on the track, which we already have 3 people commenting on. Can’t you get any interview’s from the teams? So I don’t see the big loss to us in the States watching NBC.

    • At the time of writing this my point was that the changes by the FIA would not have helped safety of averted the injury we saw in Germany. We don’t have pit access during qualifying or the race, that is why content is limited. Now however, after a fresh announcement yesterday, we are banned during practice too. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a practice session, but I’d say 95% of the updates from me during those sessions are what I am witnessing with my own eyes in pitlane, in the garages, and are interviews with people in the garages or on pitwall. So it’s a huge shift.

  16. I think if you really wanted to get the the heart of the problem, you would actually take measures to prevent the teams from releasing the cars in an unsafe condition. The only measures that would work would would be ones that would convince the teams it is in their own best interest. 30,000£ is a drop in the bucket to the main teams, and not viable towards having the teams think about taking that extra second. What if teams were docked constructors points? Or threatened with race bans?

    One can argue that this penalty already exist since the car may have to be retired, but in this latest case Webber recovered fairly well.

  17. Pingback: Pit lane reporting a thing of the past?

  18. Pingback: Buxton’s blog: Consequences versus causes after Germany | MotorSportsTalk

  19. You are definitely underestimating the value of helmets. Anyone on pit road during a race should be required to wear one.

  20. Pingback: Multi 21 Podcast 5: Left Rear | Multi 21 Podcast

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