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.