Yesterday’s news that the FIA has rejected claims that Kimi Raikkonen should face punishment for his British Grand Prix-ending accident is, perhaps, unsurprising. I, for one, was not expecting a sudden about-face from the FIA.
That’s not to say that I think the FIA has got this one right, nor that their alleged reasoning for rejecting claims that punishment should have been forthcoming is anything other than moronic.
To begin this article, however, I’d like to make one thing clear. After my post on Monday about the role Raikkonen played in his own destiny in the British Grand Prix, I was forced to cease approving comments to the blog after reasonable and reasoned debate descended into fanatical-driven abuse and name calling. I will not stand for such a low level of discussion on this or any other post. I also want to make it clear that the focus of my piece could have been any one of the drivers on the grid. Just because I might at one time or another form an opinion that a driver has done something wrong, does not mean I have an axe to grind or that I dislike said driver. In these instances it is perhaps best to attempt to separate one’s emotional attachment, and to debate with reason rather than to close one’s eyes and thrust one’s head deep into the sand purely because you have read or heard something about your favourite driver with which you don’t agree. Not agreeing with something doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, nor the person who wrote it an idiot… or worse.
This article is not intended to press for a punishment for Raikkonen. It has been written merely to highlight where I believe the FIA has got their decision in this case worryingly wrong, and also to suggest a solution to the issue of drivers running wide. Not that I believe for a moment it will have a shred of an effect on future decisions, but anyway…
My colleague and well respected journalist Jon Noble wrote yesterday morning on this very subject, and reported the following:
“AUTOSPORT understands that while the FIA did look in to the incident, it decided that Raikkonen had not rejoined in an unsafe manner.
Telemetry data shows that, after leaving the track at 230 km/h, Raikkonen did scrub off some speed as he returned to the circuit, before his car was unsettled by a bump as it ran through a patch of grass.
Although the FIA accepted that Raikkonen would not have crashed if he had slowed down dramatically, it is understood the governing body believed that any other driver would have rejoined the track in the same manner.”
It is the final paragraph of this which I find to be of staggeringly short sight and to be verging on the asinine. For while Noble understands that the FIA has accepted that the accident would not have occurred had Raikkonen slowed, the governing body believes that everyone else would have done the same thing. And as such, it is perfectly acceptable.
Let’s come to that in a moment.
What seems abundantly clear to me is that Kimi Raikkonen’s first lap accident was born of several simple but key components.
1. He exceeded track limits
2. He re-entered the racing arena without the full control of his car and at a speed held by the FIA to be too high
3. The resultant accident eliminated himself and Felipe Massa from the race
4. The resultant accident caused substantial damage to the trackside barrier and the delay of the race restart by an hour
These are the facts
For the moment we can leave to one side the potential risk for the trackside workers and marshals and the potential injury to Max Chilton caused by Raikkonen’s loose wheel, as we thankfully escaped all of the above.
Article 20.2 of F1’s Sporting Regulations states that: “Should a car leave the track the driver may rejoin, however, this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining any lasting advantage.”
Again, I would argue that in this case Raikkonen exceeded track limits and thus left the track. He did not join in a safe manner as he was at a speed the FIA has admitted was too high, and he was also not in control of his vehicle as the manner in which he rejoined the track resulted in an accident entirely of his making. Regardless of the existence of the gulley, Raikkonen and he alone was in control of the car and as such there can be no argument that he was suitably in control of the car at the point he re-entered the track. Critically, he also re-entered the track on the racing line. Arguably, by joining the track where and how he did, he failed to lose position, thus gaining an advantage over where he might have rejoined had he done so safely.
As such I fail to see how Raikkonen’s first lap incident did not contravene Article 20.2 of the Sporting Regulations. Furthermore, he exceeded track limits and arguably gained an advantage. His driving also caused the retirement of another driver. Neither of these points was investigated. But on point one alone (Article 20.2) it seems highly difficult to argue that he did not deserve some kind of penalty be it a grid drop, penalty points or something as harsh as I had originally mooted, a race ban.
The decision, as it stands, fails to place any responsibility with Raikkonen for an accident that was entirely of his making.
If it had been a Grosjean, Maldonado, Gutierrez or Perez, I can’t help but feel points would have been the bare minimum.
If we return to the FIA’s logic of why a penalty was not applied, then as Noble’s article has outlined we must believe that it was because the governing body believed everyone would have done the same thing. To take such a line of argument, however, is bafflingly idiotic. It is as clear a case of argumentum ad populum as I have seen. Logically it is utterly flawed. The mere fact that a practice or a belief is widely conducted or held, is not necessarily a guarantee that it is correct. Often referred to as “the bandwagon fallacy” this argument is a critically dangerous path for the FIA to tread. For where does it end?
“Everyone else was doing it,” is not a reasonable excuse for the perpetrator, and as such it cannot be held as a reasonable excuse for a ruling body to fail to uphold its own principles and regulations.
Unless, of course, this is the FIA admitting that the rule is unworkable. If everyone is doing it, why not simply scrap the rules over track limits and re-entry? Why not just make it a free for all?
The FIA told us it would adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy as regarded track limits in DRS detection zones in Austria and Great Britain. The Alonso/Vettel scrap at Silverstone showed us that this promise was, itself, a fallacy. Some would argue that was a good thing as it gave us a great scrap. Others would question why the FIA should have made so much noise about “zero-tolerance” and then failed to enforce it.
Perhaps this is part of the FIA’s move towards leniency. If so, fair play to them for allowing that particular race to unfold. But then don’t go so heavy on “zero-tolerance” if it isn’t to be adhered to. And if leniency allowed Raikkonen to escape without so much as a wrist slap, then I for one feel it is a step too far. It stops being leniency and starts being weakness.
When it comes down to it, though, the problem at the root of all of this is that racing drivers are racing drivers. Give them a kerb and they’ll use every inch of it, and a little bit of the grass over the edge too. Give them an asphalt run-off and they’ll use it. It’s what makes them racers. They will take every advantage and we cannot be upset with them for doing so.
Again, the FIA must take its share of responsibility here.
There was a time when race tracks were the width of the tarmac. A simple painted white line at the edge of the road showed you track limits… perhaps a few hay bails or some oil drums. I spent yesterday driving around the old track at Reims. If you exceeded track limits there, you were in the middle of a field.
Gravel traps became, and were for many years, the standard run-off. But then teams and drivers got upset that a small mistake would lead to a beached car and the end of the session / race. And so we saw asphalt replace gravel. To a large extent the changes have helped greatly as damage is not so great and a small mistake which would have ended a session before now simply leads to running off track and rejoining… hopefully when it is safe to do so.
But inherent in that is the fact that, right now, there is no deterrent for making such a mistake. If a driver can keep their foot stuck in and not lose position or even momentum, then track limits mean less and less. From a fan perspective, we also lose an element of wonder as the twitching car is allowed to drift wide rather than to be caught, saved and powered through on opposite lock.
Many varieties of run-off have been tried, with Astro-turf seemingly the best considered option. But as we saw in Silverstone in Friday practice, Astro-turf can still bite.
For my money, Circuit Paul Ricard has had things right for the last decade. High abrasion run-off. But take it up a notch. Coat the run-off areas in such a high abrasion surface that it will not cause punctures or deflation, but will scrub enough rubber off as to ruin that set of tyres. Put a wheel off, let alone all four, and you’ve got to come in and get them changed.
No more keeping your foot in. No more making up positions. No more taking just a few inches more than you should. Keep it on track, inside the white lines.
If you once again make run-off areas a part of the track that drivers don’t want to be driving, if you make them somewhere that will slow drivers down, then they won’t use them. The FIA has created a generation of drivers who know they can push the limits and go over them without penalty, be it an immediately competitive one or, as is becoming increasingly clear, without fear of Charlie’s axe over their heads either.
It is time the FIA took the power back. They created the run-off. They created the opportunity for the rules to be exploited. They created a forgiving attitude, a lenient approach and a sloppy implementation of a supposed moral racing code.
These are supposed to be the 22 greatest racing drivers in the world. It’s about time they were held to the highest standards. Not pandered to and excused because they can’t, or won’t, keep their cars within the clearly marked limits of the track.