The fallout from the Italian Grand Prix will likely continue to make headlines until we next convene for racing in Singapore. The focus will, quite naturally, be on the procedural grey areas around the taking of tyre pressures, the definition of what constitutes the “race start” and the manner in which the increasingly convoluted set of technical and sporting regulations are written.
Of course, this all stems back to Spa a fortnight ago and the tyre failures which befell Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. Pirelli blamed debris on track and called for a universal method of track cleaning. Positive meetings were conducted in Monza between the drivers, teams and Pirelli in which a greater understanding was reached between all parties on expectations and solutions for the future. The most likely thing we will see is the return of tyre testing in 2016, to be conducted by today’s actual race drivers and today’s actual cars.
With Pirelli still experiencing a mysterious increase in the level of cuts and debris on their tyres in Monza, and with tyre safety in sharp focus throughout the weekend, the moveable feast that was the company’s recommended parameters of camber and pressure was a talking point throughout the Italian Grand Prix. These guidelines are and were enforceable by the FIA on the grounds of safety.
Some have said that rules are rules and as such Mercedes should have been thrown out of the Italian Grand Prix. Others, that the timing of the checks and the circumstances surrounding those checks were inconsistent with procedural regulation and open to question. This, as stated, will likely be the focus of changes going forward and, one hopes, the start of a clearer routine for these type of examinations.
On Sunday afternoon there were debates over the differences between regulations and directives, suggestions and recommendations, the enforceable and the unenforceable. For example, the regulations themselves have upwards of eight different Articles and Appendices referencing race starts and each has a distinctive definition and purpose. But it must be noted that in Monza the Stewards sided with Mercedes in the debate over the FIA’s own procedural inconsistencies and regulatory vagaries.
The Stewards come in for a lot of stick, but there is a deep-seated frustration within their ranks over the wording of the regulations they are tasked with enforcing (both technical and sporting) and the wide array of interpretations possible within their application. Not only that, but it is impossible for them to act without first being called to action by a referral either from the Race Director or Technical Delegate.
Whether Mercedes was guilty of a breach of regulation or whether the FIA’s procedures were incorrect and need amending, however, misses what to me is a far greater issue.
The tyre pressure parameters were put in place for the Italian Grand Prix by Pirelli in the interests of safety following the fallout from the Belgian Grand Prix and two catastrophic tyre failures.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the manner and the timing of the checks made to the tyres, the FIA found both Mercedes cars to have tyres which were, according to Pirelli’s enforceable guidelines, outside an operating window mandated on the grounds of safety. And yet the FIA’s Technical Delegate Jo Bauer failed to notify Mercedes that their cars were running tyres which were, according to his examination, unsafe.
We’re not talking about finding a wing is a centimetre too wide. We’re not talking about potentially increased performance. We are talking about the only part of the racing car which is in contact with the racing surface, and a mandated minimum tyre pressure required on the grounds of safety.
Whether the reading was erroneous or taken at such a time as to be unrepresentative, why was the team not informed immediately that their tyres had, in the FIA’s view, fallen below the minimum safe pressure? If the FIA believed these tyres to be unsafe, as is evidenced by the subsequent reporting of the team to the stewards on the grounds of being outside the mandated limits, why did it take over an hour for this report to reach the stewards?
The reality is startling clear. The FIA allowed the Italian Grand Prix to start with two cars on the grid which it (rightly or wrongly) believed, due to information it had gathered and held privately in its possession, were running tyres that fell below the minimum safety requirements.
What if the FIA had been correct? What if those tyres had fallen below the minimum safe pressure and Mercedes had been unaware of this? Imagine, for a moment, that one of the Mercedes rear left tyres had suddenly lost pressure and let go in the opening laps of the race, resulting in an accident.
The parameters were put in place on the grounds of safety, not performance. As such, the FIA’s failure to inform the team of their discovery on the grid could arguably be seen as a breach of the duty of care that it holds towards not only Mercedes, but every team and driver on the grid, the circuit workers trackside and the paying public in the grandstands.
All it would have taken was for an FIA representative to have spoken with Paddy Lowe, Toto Wolff, Niki Lauda or any team member for that matter on the grid and informed them that their cars’ rear lefts were under the limit and could they please just ensure all was OK. The tests were done over five minutes before the start of the formation lap, leaving ample time to make any amendments if deemed necessary. But instead the information was withheld, taken away and then slowly and slovenly written into an accusation of wrong doing. Over an issue, I repeat, not of performance but of safety.
It’s akin to seeing someone walking down the street with their shoe laces undone only to pull out your phone and start filming them in expectation of the inevitable moment when they fall over, rather than tapping them on the shoulder and letting them know they might be about to hurt themselves.
It smacks of irresponsibility.
Spa and Monza have shown the world that the FIA faces an urgent need to get its house in order as regards its governance of Formula 1. Its own Stewards have been forced to side against it due to an inability to uphold and enforce poorly written regulations. Its own procedures have been proven to be confused and inconsistent. Priorities have become misplaced.
Because in Monza, it appears that an attempt to punish was placed before the thought to protect.