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Bad light doesn’t stop play, how Race Contol makes key decisions
Bad light doesn’t stop play, how Race Contol makes key decisions
Posted By: James Allen  |  25 Oct 2010   |  2:22 am GMT  |  119 comments

The Korean Grand Prix was a difficult race to control, with the delays at the start due to the rain, incidents throughout and then bad light at the end. And it didn’t help that the drivers were using the modern phenomenon of radio transmissions being played out on the TV to try to influence things.

Because the race finished three hours after it was supposed to start, the light was fading fast. It goes dark very quickly in this part of the world and in another two laps it would have been dark. Race Control judged it just right and got the full race distance in. Some drivers complained about the light in the last few laps, but everyone got through.

Drivers had a lot to say on radio (Getty)

There have been a few races lately where delays have meant finishing in almost darkness, like Melbourne this year. As most race tracks don’t have floodlights, it made me wonder, how would Race Control judge whether it is too dark to continue? Is there an agreed minimum light level?

Being English, I’m conscious that bad light stops play in our national game, cricket. There is actually an official minimum light level, which the referees (known as umpires) monitor using a photographer’s light meter. Once the light goes below it, then they stop playing.

Because the game involves a small hard ball being thrown at a batsman at over 160 km/h its important that the batsman can see it coming.

Driving racing cars at 320km/h might be considered even more risky in bad light. I checked after the race and there is no agreed minimum light level in F1. The reason given is that the levels are so different around the circuit and vary from circuit to circuit. Parts of Spa, for example, are in the trees, while Sepang Malaysia, is wide open on raised ground. Where would you measure the light? Not outside race control on the pit straight because the grandstands overshadow it.

So, like everything else, it’s up to the judgement of the Race Director, listening to drivers’ comments. They drive the cars and know when a situation is unsafe.

Calm heads in Race Control (Darren Heath)

Because Charlie Whiting and his colleague Herbie Blash are so seasoned and have heard it all before from the great and the not so great drivers of the last 30 years, they know what to listen to and what to filter out. They also had Safety Car driver Bernd Maylander’s view, but he’s never driven an F1 car in the rain so it’s only one perspective.

There was a huge amount of self interest going on yesterday in the radio messages, with drivers knowing that their radio transmissions would be played out to the watching world and to their rivals’ teams. The Red Bull drivers, particularly Webber had the most to lose from a lottery in poor conditions, so he was saying that it was too wet to start. Lewis Hamilton in contrast was keen to get on with it, because he sensed an opportunity to make up ground. Button was having a difficult time getting his tyres to work and so was complaining about the conditions.

And you can be sure that once the race reached the milestone of 43 laps, at which full points would be awarded, that the leaders would be calling for the race to be stopped 12 laps early for bad light! Vettel must wish he’d got his way as his engine blew not long after, hurting his title challenge.

Whiting had his BS filter on yesterday and steered his own course through a minefield of decisions and did it well. I noted that when Lucas Di Grassi pitted for new wet tyres on lap 13, for example, as he chased the pack he set a middle sector time 10 seconds faster than them. That will have given Whiting a better read on the conditions and a few laps later he let them race.

Some driver influenced decisions are legendary in F1. Remember how Alain Prost managed to get the Monaco GP stopped in 1984, when Ayrton Senna in the Toleman was catching him at multiple seconds per lap?

Nowadays the scrutiny of decisions is much more intense and self-interested drivers are just sounding boards, rather than the ultimate arbiters of when a race should be stopped or started.

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Dear James,

Thanks for your wonderful and informative article first of all.

As you said, we got two contrasting answers from the drivers regarding light conditions on track. We heard in yesterday's race, Vettel saying in his radio "light is fading, its difficult to drive", But few minutes later Hamilton in his radio said "it's fine, light is ok, condition is good". In such kind of contrasting situation, how the race control heads can take decision?


I would imagine that they will take all drivers views into consideration applying as much salt as they deem them worthy, the reality is that race control wasn't just getting the messages we heard from Lewis and Seb but from every driver on the track and whilst that might cause some information overload I suspect that it will also give a reasonable picture...

That said i do wish they had gotten racing a few laps earlier, and that Charlie made a pitch perfect call on the light.


I think it's probably safe to say that they take into account the motives of the drivers concerned as well. Vettel and Hamilton both had their own reasons for wanting the race to stop or continue but someone like Robert Kubica, who wasn't really catching anyone or being caught, was more likely to provide an unbiased opinion. Charlie obviously had his own views though, because he ignored Robert!

I thought Race Control did a good job yesterday, managing a race that was complete and quite entertaining when it could easily have been cut short or descended into chaos.

The one thing that's still gnawing at me though, is the modification of Turn 16. It's a driver's job to drive as fast as possible, taking into account the imperfections of the circuit. If they felt it was unsettling the car, or risked damaging it, then they only had to avoid the kerb. Lewis Hamilton did so there's no reason why the rest of them couldn't have. When there's a genuine safety issue then I think it's fair enough, but allowing the drivers to change part of a track purely because they don't like it sets an uncomfortable precedent.


Hamilton just wanted to race and try to overtake Alonso thats why he said the light was fine, but in the interviews after the race he admitted it was so dark that he couldn't see his braking or turn-in points. At the end of the day, as James said in the article, if a racer feels he's got something to gain he'll race if not he'll try to get the race stopped. It's all about looking after No.1


Vettel said after the race that he had a medium visor on. That couldn't have helped either.


Yes but he could have come in to the pits and changed it if it was such a big problem. No different to having the wrong tyres fitted for the conditions.


As James mention about cricket games, I think using light meters or similar devices at various locations on the circuit, should be a sensitive and reliable way of assessing the minimum light levels suitable for racing.
On weather conditions like yesterday, these level should be lowered further.


at the very least, they would give an improved understanding of the light conditions to race control.


My Toyota has had an automatic switch that turns the headlights on automatically when the car is in low light. It does not react so quickly that they come on if I pass under trees, but will come on in a tunnel. Surely the cars can have a sensor mounted so that when the majority register a set time under light that was below a predetermined level, race control will call the race. Race control sees only a portion of the track. They can't rely on the TV cameras because they artificially enhance low light and make things look lighter than they really are. To use the excuse that they don't know where they would take the readings is simply absurd and a total cop out.


Does your Toyata have a good brake that brakes when applied 😉

Justing Kidding, Jokes aside F1 is glut of technology and its hard to imagine that having light sensors to give Race control data about light conditions hasn't yet been thought about.

But then they still have not devised a refereeing system that is free of subjectivity...


Good idea


That's not a bad idea, Opposite Lock. AFAIK the camera units are FIA/FOM supplied, so such a sensor could be incorporated into that unit to ensure all teams had the same level of light sensitivity.

However, doesn't that distract from the human element of F1? I somewhat like it that you do have these different personalities trying to influence RC. I was laughing every time Vettel mentioned fading light, as I was thinking 'well, you would say that!'.

Shame for Seb in the end though - completely not his fault, and he drove a stellar race until that point.


Great article as always. It was funny to listen to many of the self political radio transmissions yesterday, I was in a chat room and many where moaning and calling some drivers not so nice names, either because they just got a reason to or not understanding their reasons behind the comments. Webber want to stall race for more favorable conditions and shorter race, same for Vettel, while Hamilton needed the race to go past 75% market for full points and give him maximum chance of picking up very much needed points.

The light level was one thing that I wondered about myself so thank you so much for digging into this almost like you read my mind 😉


The commentators here in the US speculated that Vettel (or his crew) knew that his engine was about to go, and started whining - excuse me, complaining of bad light over the radio in an effort to stop the race before it blew. Do you think there's any truth in that?


He was keen to stop it because they had reached the 43 laps, so full points. Blow ups like that don't usually come with much warning.


According to Christian Horner's interview after the race, the first warning Red Bull had that there was an engine issue was when Seb cam over the radio shouting "Engine failure!" so the desire to have the race finish early wasn't driven by the engine.


From the TV coverage you can see Vettel's head jerking forward on the pit straight just before Alonso passed him, which suggests the engine lost power there and slowed considerably.


A couple of fans who were there say that Vettel's car sounded different at the start of the straight. But radio transmissions are delayed, so I'm inclined to believe that they had no idea it'd blow at the time of transmission (which may have been half a lap before getting onto the pit straight).


Did Seb really blow it because he ran the engine on max setting day ? Hard to believe given how you would not use max throttle a lot in the wet,

How come McLaren made such a bad error in the car setup ? That was the first race I can remember where they have looked worse, not better in wet or slippery conditions.


As Kenny says, they were running richer than they perhaps normally would as they saved such immense amounts of fuel during the SC periods. This should keep the engine cooler as normally a leaner setting leads to a hotter engine, so I'm going out on a limb as a complete speculator to say that it was a mechanical defect from manufacturing or installation that failed rather than a product of the engine being run in conditions that it isn't "used to".

That said, there is a story of Mario Andretti leading the Indy 500 with a healthy margin in the 1980s. He backed off the revs in an effort to save the engine and ensure his victory, only to find that the engine was designed to run within a certain rev range for the duration of the race and once he went below that, various vibrations became more pronounced within the motor and it failed before the flag because he was running soft to save it. Not saying such a failure occurred here, but you never know...


I hadn't heard anything about Vettel's engine map but I know that most of the cars were using fuel burning engine maps for quite a lot of the race. The laps under the safety car resulted in them having more fuel on board than was needed, so they went to richer fuel mixes to try and burn off the excess and make the cars lighter.

Engine mapping is a complex thing and burning more fuel doesn't necessarily equate to running the engine harder, but it would be interesting to know if Renault and RBR feel it was a contributing factor to Vettel's failure.


For what its worth i think Charlie and the rest of the gang got it 100% right

It would have been carnage if they didn't delay the start (and start under SC) and timed it perfectly to get the full race distance in - being an Aussie i was hoping it wouldn't get passed 75% but in the interest of the sport as a whole i'm glad it did


To me it all seems a bit shonky that these sort of decisions are based on experience, rather science. Motor racing is a high tech sport, why not take a high tech approach to making decisions resulting from climatic conditions, by installing light meters and rain gauges at each corner with the results fed back to race control in real time, then once the light reaches a certain level at any one corner the race is off, or similarily once the rainfall reaches a certain rate the race is red flagged, or proceeds behind the safety car.

The other approach would be to amend the car regulations so that they can run in wet weather, or low light. Get some engineers developing a spray capture system, and some extremely low profile, low weight, ultra bright head lights.


Sorry but no, I agree that rain gauges and light meters are a good idea as I think they would add to the amount of information that race control has and could be used to help them make better decisions quicker.

However these cars run on a knife edge, and thats a huge part of the sport fitting them with various devices that would only be used a couple of times a season and the rest of the time be a hindrance is just counter intuitive. The system we have already works brilliantly, it has allowed us lots of great wet races... but I do feel that there needs to be a reality counter balance to the various drivers self interested views and those addition devices could help.


No car modifications for wet weather running required. They've always coped with spray in the past - I don't think the conditions in Korea were remotely as bad as some wet weather races in the past. The drivers don't get paid all that money for nothing and they should be adapting their style in the past. You wouldn't drive full speed up the motorway in thick fog would you?

And Jenson confirmed afterwards that there was no aquaplaning because there was not enough standing water on the track, which shows the tyres were doing their job.


It wasn't as much rain as we've seen, but it looked like visibility was worse than usual. That depends on the asphalt as much as on anything else.


You're forgetting what we would have to use to judge where to set those limits - experience and instinct. If you were to develop a system which took enough details into account that it could make a reliably accurate predictor of whether conditions are safe or not, you would expend far more effort than simply judging conditions on a case-by-case basis.

Rules, regulations and procedures are only worth the paper they're written on if the situations they apply to occur frequently and under similar circumstances, and neither low light nor race-threatening rain are such situations.


technology doesn't solve everything and brings its own problems. An engineer needs as much a pen and paper as a computer.


Because light meters and rain gauges don't take account of grip and human instincts


As far as I know there are many times when the rain radar predicts rain will stop in 10 minutes or something, but in fact the rain keeps on longer and longer.Technology sometimes can't make it.

I believe human experience and instincts do better in grip and visibility than machine. Besides,like many comments here,I like the human factor(driver compains)in such conditions.

As there are few wet and dark races in the season and not so many overtakeings in this sport,this will add the additional fun for us spectators.


I Agree with James here. Nothing like human instincts. I read some where that the US space shuttle can land automatically at any programmed airfield, but they still rely on the experience of the crew to do it.

I remember Brazil a long time ago (Where Schumi had his 1st DNF in almost 3 seasons). No one needed to use any instrument to stop the race after so many cards pilled up at a part of the track after losing control. It ws all down to instinct & common sense (which is not so common). Personally, I felt most of the Drivers complained only for selfish reasons. If you can't continue, go to the pit lane! That is why you have a super license and us mere mortals need use 'ordinary' drivers license.


Agreed on the entertainment value human instincts bring to the sport. Otherwise we would not have seen Webber lose the car had a computer been in charge of the traction/suspension/braking system.

Humans are better at some things computers cannot yet do so well, but when it comes to munching through several libraries worth of data in fractions of a second there is no human brain that can match that. The way I see it, right or wrong, computers would be better judges than drivers in certain situations since they have no bias or interest.

Measuring light and rainfall is a good example of how computers would give the most accurate data available in those terms, adding lap times to the calcualtions would complete the picture.

If computers were no good, why would every team out there spending millions on simulators and CFD systems, despite current testing bans? surely consulting the horoscope for a particular date would be much more "instinctive"


"but they still rely on the experience of the crew to do it."

Gok, every pilot on earth would give his right arm to fly that bird - you think they're going to pass up an oportunity and let a computer do it? No way!


Probably the right decission will be that based on the experience - taking account of grip and human instincts, as you say - but with the normal aid of some scientific tools.

We all could see a surrealistic image yesterday, during the red-flag period: a man from Race Control going out of their building, just to walk a few steps, and extend his right arm with his palm turned upwards - seemed to be guessing how hard was still rainning...

James, don't you think that there could be some technical help - light meters an so - no matter that the final decission should obviously be made by RC?


I don't understand why a sport like F1, which is so data driven, appears unwilling to embrace technology that would help in these situations. Surely setting minimum light levels and maximum rainfall levels would remove the need for drivers to 'push their case' like we saw at the weekend? I agree with OppositeLock, we could fit each car with a lightmeter (maybe in the FIA spec camera on the airbox) that feeds to race control. Maybe having a rainmeter every 100 metres would also allow race control to advise each corner when to show 'reduced adhesion' flags. If everyone knows the rules, it would stop the radio lobbying, while ensuring the drivers were able to race safely.

While we're on, lets remove the brake covers, so we can see the disks glowing. This would have made a great show, but we couldn't see them!


That's up to the drivers though and it's what they get paid for. If the light meets a pre-determined level that is safe then it is up to the drivers to run within the car's capabilities for the conditions.

The only things that should stop a race is when the conditions create situations where it is impossible to react to a reasonable event.

ie - a car in front slowing down early for a corner can't be seen due to spray or light

- debris or other hazards on the track can't be seen within a reasonable reaction time

- it is difficult to see or distinguish marshalls flags etc


Agreed re rain gauges but not light meters - if there was a big accident in the dark there would be some big questions.


Exactly. Two things were taken into account, level of grip and visibility. If wrong choices are made based on these two things, lives could be lost. I don't blame Whiting for delaying the start.


I'm not sure what all the complaining is from fans online, last I checked the race happened and it was great !! The drivers may have been complaining but I don't think for a second, they have the ultimate say in Whiting's decision making. He could have probably have started it a bit earlier but hey, no one is perfect. I fell asleep during the delay and woke up in time to see it restart. Again, I'm just glad it happened and went the full distance. Being from America and a baseball fan, I'm used to rain delays so no issue for me. I just wish they hadn't done a safety car start, that to me is just appalling.


Silly question but why can't formula one cars have lights?


Bad for aero and excessive weight. Plus, Singapore is the only night race and Abu Dhabi a twilight race, both which just entered the calendar recently. Lights were never needed. McLaren tried it and aerodynamicists were NOT impressed.



It must be a very stressful situation up in the control room. They are scrutinized for every move and Lord knows they make some wrong decisions. Yesturday however, they absolutely made the correct decision to let the boys race for the entire distance. Kudos (for once) to the officials!!


Installing light meters and rain gauges at every corner, as some suggest, is way excessive when it's enough to just look out the window. Increasing the number of gadgetry does not equate to increased safety. The best system is the one we already have, with one experienced race controller in charge of the whole situation taking quick decisions based on the right amount of reliable feedback and instinct.


The "luck" factor? no.

This time, Charlie Whiting's decision affected everybody. From the first to the last contender, the light was the same for all. At almost the end of the race, the first runners had the most to lose and you know, if this one it's Alonso you should bet the race will end to the last second. No complaints, it's free speculation maybe supported by past "unlucky" decisions.

This season, in a fair championship, the "luck" (or their acronimous in 2010: CW) let us to see Alonso as World champ one or two races before. But you know, you have to "believe" the F1 polite manners. Even when all evidences show how many times one driver has the prerrogative to surpase the rules denied to others. One driver has had the privilege to "rewrite" new rules from now on. It's a fact that in some country, Alonso's thrird triumph could hurt so much the upper status and dominance always pretended by "old empire". (Say Rubbish!)

The Alonsos's third victory could be a huge milestone. Always against FOM interests and english media (the strongest lobby in F1) and against Ferrari-FIA, CW and TSA in 2007 (RD - LH affair similar to HM - SV nowadays but a far more fair). The stats and other drivers know who is the best driver, but the reality is that a person called "luck", is desperate to prove this as wrong proposition. "He" wants a bestseller, a great "product".

Something (logically) totally rejected by lobby's system media costumers even when you can prove with lots of evidences that slaps in our faces. Polite manners could hide some dark affairs and you have some "video" real examples like a thriller movie.

Better to say "luck". Is faster and more polite, and for sure you can save a headache.

This is F1. Enjoy!


I am glad the race was finished but not so happy that vettel didn't finish. I so wanted him to lead and win this championship.


To me it looks like Vettel complained about the light because he knew that Alonso was catching up.


Vettel firstly complained about the tires and the team told him that they are expecting soft rain to continue which actually meant he must continue with the tires. At that time alonso was really closing on him, i remember the BBC commentator saying "Alonso is really putting pressure on the young German"

After that Vettel Complained About the light and then he tried to push harder (commentator said something like: ...he complains about the light but he keeps on doing fastest lap after fastest lap... ). That's when the Engine Let go.

What do you think?


This is what I think as well. It is definitely plausible


Could be that many [younger] drivers on the grid yesterday had not experienced such conditions before. It’s natural to feel overly cautious about unknown factors.

However, I can’t believe there is a driver in the field who does not trust Charlie and Herbie to make the right decision. As you rightly say, they have seen and heard it all before.

For all the fans that got up early it was a great spectacle. The Championship is close to boiling point. There will be tears for sure in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. I sense Dietrich Mateschitz has already shed a few last night.


I think Race Control did a pretty good job yesterday. My only criticism is that maybe the safety car should have been called in earlier.

Despite earlier concerns about what would happen if it rained on the newly laid surface, most of the driver comments appeared to suggest that the problem was the amount of spray and not a lack of grip. From the onboard footage it didn't look that bad, and I've certainly seen previous races in worse conditions. I hope that this doesn't set something of a precedent.

As for the light, it was getting dark but the drivers maintained their lap times on tyres which were past their best, so it was a good decision to complete the race.

This clearly means there is no need for light meters etc, just experience, common sense and good judgement. In addition, these races that have now experienced low light levels, are only occuring because of Bernie's insistance that they are held at a time more suited to european viewers.

Personally, I would rather get up at 3am and see a full race, rather that a shortened one at 7am.


The problem with relying too much on experience and instinct is that the FIA allows the sport to become marred in the same undercurrent of whining and suspicion that often afflicts referring in other sports (e.g., FIFA World Cup).

I agree that the race directors nailed the decision to go the full distance yesterday on low light conditions, but I was still very disappointed to see such a long stretch behind the safety car. It's not what the fans pay/tune in for and by shortening the race it dilutes the show.

Also, if the 10-plus laps behind the SC were intended mostly to dry the race line (as was suggested during the broadcast), I see no reason why the organizers couldn't have other cars/trucks in reserve doing the rounds to ensure the delays and disruptions are minimized.

Formula One cannot continue to explore new countries (e.g., Malaysia, Korea) and then realize on race day that they picked the wrong season or time of day because local conditions are so different to Western Europe. Will we discover in 2012 that it sometimes snows in Russia in the month of October?

At any rate, the (remaining) race yesterday was a blast and this season is shaping to be one for the ages. I think it'll come down to Webber vs Alonso and the Ogre from Oviedo will take home the goods.

I love the blog, James. Thanks and please keep it up.


I don't think we'll have to worry about the Russian GP being snowed out; thanks to Russia's large and strange shape, Sochi is on about the same latitude as Monaco!

There's always a chance of rain when you're that close to the coast, though.


Great work, great article. Thank you James. It's always going to be difficult to manage the expectations of the drivers who are competing with each other with such different agendas. Great work again.


Behind the scenes at race conrol would make a first class documentary.


very, very true.


What is the point of starting the GP under the race car? I know there are only perhaps one or two less overtakes once underway but is there anything more boring? All we see is a Merc and then some spray.

The bout of unbridled excitement when we were first shown an onboard shot of the rain was soon tempered by the fact that it always looks exactly the same as every onboard shot in the rain has ever looked. Just like rain in fact.

I know I might be a bit grouchy after getting up at 6.20 and seeing nothing but it was little short of a farce.

The timing of the start was wrong as well. Did it surprise anyone that it got dark when the sun went down? Is it, whisper this, that the big television audiences are in a different time zone?

If, as Bernie suggests, he wants the World in the WDC to mean something then South Korea, being part of that World, should be allowed the same start time as the European races.

Using the safety car to allow the race not to be stopped after an accident is a cracking idea, but just swanning around the circuit to count off laps is pointless. Using the pace car to ensure full points are awarded is manipulation of the regulations.

One good point was that I discovered you can only drink so many cups of tea at that time in the morning.

And why call them ‘monsoon tyres’ when, in fact, they are more ‘not quite fairly heavy rain tyres’?

If the race had started at 1 pm local time I would have probably recorded it to watch when I got up. As it was my dog’s needs overcame mine around 9.10 and I had to miss the final few laps. I returned, unpaused it (sorry about the new word) and then watched as Vettel’s engine dismantled itself. It lost none of its excitement.

Just accept that if rain, which is common in most of the places F1 goes to, is too heavy at the scheduled start time then wait a bit.

One last point: there is a road outside my house. It too gets wet when it rains. It has a very slight camber. Not much, but it is there. Can you guess what happens to the water when it rains? Perhaps someone should tell those whose job it is to design circuits that it is not all about making it impossible to overtake. A little bit of sensible engineering might help.

I might have come across as a bit grumpy in this post. I tell you though, it’s a good job I did not write this at 7.20am yesterday.

And one last last point, James: cricket our national sport? Where did that come from?

The WDC and WCC are poised nicely. It is all very exciting.


First of all I think race control took the decisions all right. Not an easy task.

I wonder if the actual race kalendar is made for maximum entertaining after the years of sleepy MS/Ferrari authority.

The abroad races that were added in last years all seem to have a big chance of rain. Is it because Bernie planned these races in the middle of rainy season ?

Of course this gives a lot of spectacle, but these races always seems to end in a lottery.

To me a lottery should not be part of F1. It is about racing on worlds fastest tracks in worlds fastest cars without external influences.


Great article and food for thought!

It is definitely difficult to define whether the light is too low to circle safely or not, depending on circuit and circumstances (for example, if it is raining or on a wet track it is presumably much more difficult to see, all the more in low light). Moreover, given the drivers' subjectivity and therefore contradictory opinions due to their standings, chances for points etc, it is not an easy task to define when the race can be safely started under difficult circumstances, such as in Korea, or when it should be ended.

I would like to propose two possible solutions to these problems:

1. Regarding visibility, define beforehand (i.e. on Saturday afternoon before the race), when the absolute time limit to safely end the race is.

2. In difficult conditions, like in Korea, in which the safe start of the race is hard to define, just send a formula car with a driver carrying F1 experience at the end of the queue while in safety car phase, in order to obtain an additional, as well as objective opinion about visibility and safety.


The only reason that races in the Far East are staged so close to sunset is to allow Bernie to collect the large government bungs on offer in those regions, while still trousering prime time TV advertising revenue in European time zones. Perhaps Billionaire Bernie could be happy with his bank balance and stop increasing the risk to drivers in the pursuit of yet more cash.


The host country should NOT have to hose its race to suit europeans too lazy to get up early or stay up late.


The race should have the same local start time as say Silverstone....


I remember an interview with Damon hill on Top Gear where he said something like 'in his day' Bernie would basically be telling them that the race was happening, even though it was raining so heavily there were guys on surfboards in turn 3.

Very interesting on the political and personal side of the use of the radio - how much of this is conscious and how much is sub-conscious? I can imagine Charlie Whiting and Herbert Blash as Monty Python-esqe school masters trying to keep charge of a load of recalcitrant school boys - 'Sir, he nicked my chair!', 'did not', 'did' 'did not' etc. etc!

I noted that on the basis of his 'let's just get on and race' radio transmissions yesterday some of the voters were going for Hamilton. I agreed with them, and didn't even stop to think of the bigger picture.

On another subject, at what stage will Vitaly Petrov be thanked personally and shown the door at Renault. I know that being a rookie in F1 is tough, but too many mistakes are showing through. Has any more info come through on the comment that it was some sort of failure this time?


BTW, what happened to Sebastian Vettel's engine to blow like that - one so spectacular hasn't happened in a while. Will he still have enough remaining engines?


Great insight James. I think the light was marginal but the fact that no-one fell off in those conditions tells me everything was ok to race. Not only was there a political aspect to the drivers radio contact but I think there was probably some pressure to get the race finished properly after Japan and the SC start. All in all a fun race I would say.


The drivers do have a choice about whether to race in bad weather... I think the safeety car start was a nonsense. As many people commented, there was no standing water and no acquaplaning going on. Races have been run in worse conditions in recent seasons without safety cars. The answer is to let them race, those that are worried about the safety can retire from the race is they like. Race control made the wrong call and were swayed by the exaggerated comments coming from Red Bull and Ferrari.



I find it interesting how you juxtapose Cricket and F1. Cricket it a sport where technology is resisted as it is seen as corrupting a classical game. There were absurd situations where a test match that could produce result on the final session of a test match was called off due to bad light though, the stadium was equipped with floodlights.

I think F1 on the other hand is known to be at the cutting edge of technology. I read somewhere that the Redbull engine failed due to bad light and some sensor malfunctioned!

I am sure Charlie and the FIA have at their disposal means to measure light at the darkest part of the circuit and make a call.

All went well yesterday but I am not sure if it was entirely safe.

All in all a great race yesterday


Good topic!

Martin Brundle (as did Coulthard) on BBC expressed surprise for not getting on with the race after 5-8 laps behind the safety car...

Is it clear why it took so long to start? Martin assumed it was the slippery new track surface, but the drivers were complaining more about lack of vision.

The amount of water on the track... we've seen worse in the past... as did Martin commentate on this as well.

So why was it different this time?

Were it the tires? Would monsoon tires have given drivers a different feeling (but then the spray is more as well)

Was there something particular about the local weather.. there seemed to be no wind at all.. so maybe the spray hung there over the track instead of blowing away...

It is still not fully clear to me why these wet conditions were worse than other much more worse wet conditions. Any word from Bridgestone on this?


Bridgestone's Yamamoto apparently said that the water didn't dissipate off the track in places because of the concrete walls which are placed so close to the asphalt. Not even anything to do with the newly laid roadsurface. He said it would have been the same if it had been down for 9 months as well.

I honestly think for some reason or other, they were being more careful here because of the new road surface where on other tracks the go-ahead would have been given when the race was red-flagged.


while watching the race I found that during those treacherous early laps where the spray is really big that those blinking tail lights were one of the most imp tool that drivers use to judge their distance against cars in front. I had an idea which may seem outlandish to everyone and too crazy... but why not put light sensitive lights around the edges of the race track. it can be a continuous or dashed light source that wraps around the edges of the whole track. it must not be too strong so not to produce too much glare. it can help guide drivers specially during wet weather conditions when there are heavy spray coming out of the front car. it will act like the blinking red lights of F1 cars but now this one is for the track. it will help drivers judge where the corner is during heavy rain and during twilight races. they have lights flashing from cars in front so why not put guides along the track which can help enhance racing during wet weather. if will also add to safety during conditions where drivers now think are dangerous to drive in.


you see during clear lighting conditions drivers can see every corner and every edge of the track. why not grant them the same ability specially during treachery conditions? it is a good driver aid for safety.


As Martin Brundle pointed out in commentary, at the same time as Vettel was complaining about the light he was also setting fastest laps....a fact that must have registered with Race Control.

Wouldn't it be sensible for a team to let Maylander do some laps in an F1 car this winter so that he gets some experience of driving one?


That's a good point, I wonder if they could get him to do some tests in the Pirelli/Toyota car? That way none of the current teams could say that his judgement was influenced by the characteristics of a particular team's car.


Great article, but there is one thing that I just don't get...Why did they start the race at 3 o'clock in the afternoon? Remembering the trouble it caused last year in Malaysia for instance...Just never start a race at this time, because when whether conditions are so bad, the 'pure-racing-time' that is left is already reduced with one hour, jut because of the time they start the GP.


Good article. It was amazing to me seeing how each driver was trying to manipulate the situation. I was surprised alonso wasn't so keen but i think he remembers fuji 07 where his dnf cost him the championship. Webber to me was fat too negative. In my sport golf when conditions get tough the golfer moaning is the one you know you will beat and it was no surprise to see such an elemetary error from him. Funily enough though I think it may help webber because I think webber struggles under pressure and he is now in a position of nothing to lose and he also the best car!


The other element which needs to be taken into account, as commented on by Felipe Massa, is the fact that the modern steering wheel has many flashing lights, which of necessity have to be bright so they can be seen in normal sunny race conditions. In conditions such as yesterday these will hinder any "night vision" the drivers are building up as the light fades.

I'm assuming the drivers do not have the ability to change the brightness at present, and they have a different preset for Singapore.

Maybe this will give rise to another button on future wheels!


Guess it was not as bad as 2009 at Sepang. And you will never get an accurate feeling of how dark it is on TV due to compensated exposure.

Light meters I don't think will help, human judgement will be more accurate and better.


Hi James

Good informative piece, as per usual.

Do you know who sets the times for the race to start, seems strange to set off at 3:00 in Korea, when they knew that light fades so quickly later on. When the races are in europe they tend to start at 1:00 BST.

I can understand them slightly altering the start times for the european market, but not all races out of europe (australia, america, brazil etc) are scheduled for the early morning / afternoon market of europe.

Superb drive by Alonso, if he was Hamilton (and i'm a Lewis fan), then everyone would have been lauding the drive in the wet.


James: one thing puzzled me about the start and I would appreciate your input on the rules here?. After safely starting the race behind the safety car, following enough laps for a race to be declared (is that 2 or 3?) maybe longer if the conditions need to be assessed, why couldn't the safety car could come in and the 'race' continue under full course yellow? It could then continue under something closer to racing conditions (but no overtaking) until such time as the track is clear enough to declare it 'green'. A sort of half-way challenge for the drivers that could help to clear the track (or at least the racing line) of water.

Chris from Adelaide

Hi James. Just a little off topic, but I would love to see some articles or videos on what actually happens in race control and how important decisions happen. Ive always been interested in what Charlie Whiting and others officials do during a race weekend.


I thought it was pretty un-gratifying to hear the drivers complaining to the point where the race is delayed or cancelled. I know it it is they're safety at risk, but it seemed like LH was the only one who wanted to go racing.

I'd like to think that is because LH loves racing, rather than politics. The rest of the drivers saying 'oh, it's too wet' was transparent to the audience. It wasn't too dangerous to race, but because the race wasn't the best conditions for them.

Having gotten up at 6.30 to watch the race, I hope I wasn't the only one getting annoyed with the whiners!


Regarding the light level, the directors should be thankful there wasn't a serious incident in the closing stages. If there had been a crash - even if it wasn't itself caused by the dark - it would have made things more difficult for the stewards and emergency services to respond and deal with the problem effectively. Especially as it would very shortly have been pitch black.

In hinesight I think they were a little irreponsible in this regard and it seems to contradict the caution displayed by the amount of time the safety car was kept out generally.

And no, I'm not a Vettel supporter! In fact I cheered when his engine let go.


The light conditions reminded me very much about driving at dusk, when you see lots of other road users driving without their lights on (and if you are me remark to yourself about how irresponsible they are being)

But the reason those drivers don't put their lights on is because they can see everything just fine, they just haven't taken into account how difficult it is for others to see them.

The same applied at the race yesterday, seeing the track, braking points etc would not have been a problem for the drivers. All the cars were running with their rain lights on, thus making them more visible. The only time it might have become dangerous would have been a chased driver seeing a car behind pulling out a move on him. However, as Martin Brundle often points out, the drivers rely on hearing the other competitors as much as it is about seeing them.

I have to say, I am not sure that Lewis Hamilton was think just about the opportunity he had to make up ground on Alonso and the Red Bulls when he called in to say it was fine to race. He explained after the race the conditions were very very slippery but there was no aquaplaning. Now - unlike Suzuka where I fully supported the decision to cancel qualifying as there were several deep rivers across the track - there is a huge difference between tricky, slippery conditions and a track with points where you can aquaplane.

The aquaplaning means that drivers will randomly be taken out of the race regardless of skill or talent and the race turns into a total lottery rather than one founded in skill or talent. Slippery conditions means that the driver is in control of his own destiny - yes the margins for error might be very fine, but they are still within his control.

The fact that he had Rosberg behind him, who presumably he and McLaren were aware was on a full wet weather set up, means he must have been aware he would have been vulnerable. Yes, the fact his rivals were calling for it not to go ahead would have presumably given him extra motivation for it to go ahead - but if he didn't think it was safe he would have known it would have been just as much a lottery that he would have aquaplaned off, and Hamilton is very much a driver that has conviction in his own abilities he would not want to reduce it down to chance.


I would even go as far to say that Vettel should have been penalised for his radio transmission with Rocky. That kid certainly can't act and I don't think it's the first time he and Rocky have tried to so blatantly affect the race.

Race control needs to dictate the rules and make decisions without listening to the self interests of drivers and teams. They have the safety car drivers to turn to, plus Alan Jones was there to give his input. Maybe a call to Damon Hill or some other ex-driver if they were really stuck on whether it's safe or not.

Although it seems Charlie Whiting made the right decisions in the end.


Hi James,

this is a different topic but its comes from Vettels engine failure. Assuming engines last for 2 races, drivers will be starting to dip back into the pool of 8 they have for the season. I suspect that Vettel's failure here was a sign of the strained mileage.

I understand that Webber entered Korea with 7 used engines while the other contenders had 8 and Massa used 9. If Webber started his 8th in Korea, then it didn't see the whole race.

How do you see the engine usage affecting the title race in terms of what the drivers can acheive in the remaining races with this in mind.


8 engines for 19 races means some engines must do 3 races.

Jenson was the first driver in the modern era to win 3 races with the same engine last year.

Webber chose to take his last new engine after Friday practice. This confirms that some engines will be used for 2 races and 3 sets of practices whilst others will do 2 sets of practice and 3 races.


Of course, the real problem is making a F1 calendar that takes races to some venues in certain months and then making the race happen at an acceptable hour for us European watchers.

If we accept that there is no option but to do it this way, then my opinion is that an objective method to measure light should be adopted. Call it "x minutes before dawn" or just "when light goes below Y level" with light been measured at three points in the circuit.

I cannot help but to think that strategies were compromised yesterday. Some team could have changed to intermediates and see the race stop by an arbitrary (even if meditated) decission by race control. I believe that teams should have a framework in which to take decissions.


I thought it was pretty strange for sunset to happen before 5pm there. That fact should've figured into the scheduling decisions, but no...


It was 6pm it went dark. THe race was supposed to start at 3pm


Listen to yourselves people! Most of you say that we should use more technology, gadgets to measure the light etc....for what??? The simplest way to SOLVE this problem is to start the races 15 minutes or 30 minutes earlier. That's all really!! Everybody can wake up half an hour earlier to watch the races in the new Eastern venues....This way, the races will almost certainly be run in full or reasonable light no matter the delays...



I think it completely illogical to base F1 start times around the very narrow group of F1 Fans in Europe who are dedicated enough followers of F1 to get out of bed at 7am, but not quite dedicated enough to get out of bed at 5am.

That’s a pretty narrow criteria to focus the race scheduling on in my opinion – meanwhile the drivers have to race in the dark, and everyone else (spectators at the track, those who live outside of Europe, those in Europe who would be happy to get up at 5am, and those who are quite happy to record the race/watch a rerun) have races potentially limited due to a lack of daylight.

Additionally - brave call from Race Control to leave Petrov's Renault on the outside of the final corner for the length of time that they did. That was F1 simply crossing fingers and relying on luck as its safety measure.





There is a problem with your logic.

Bernie negotiates (given his heroes, one can appreicate how open he is to the opinions of others) the start time with the local organisers.

You would therefore seem to be suggesting that Bernie has some concern for the spectators. This stretches credibility. Probbly a bit further than breaking point.

Whatever the reason, it is not so you and I don't have to wipe sleep from our eyes.


That is the reason often given though.

I absolutely agree with the timing of the races being shuffled around to suit europe time frame as being ridiculous. The majority of the races are in europe surely the few outside could be at a logical local time?

Surely the balance of the world viewing public must equal the europe viewing numbers, so Bernie is pandering to a select few...

What a surprise.

Off subject, I agree with him about democracy NOT being the way for any succesfull organisation to be run but sometimes his head is in his ass, with his decicions so obviousley and blatantly based on Money and NOT the good of the sport.....especially his medal idea!



This is a little off topic but, Could you give some insight on why the Red Bull keeps blowing engines while Renault is not having any engine problems? Renault even has an extra engine for each of their drivers.


I have read that Red Bull can adjust the engine's management system to allow the exhaust system to still 'power' the blown diffuser during engine over-run (when lifting off the throttle) for short bursts during qualifying and that this over-run system stresses the engine's internal parts. But I have not read anywhere that Renault do this. Could this be the cause of the different engine reliability aspect between these two teams?


No it is Renault who do it. They were the first and have been at it for months now.


I am still trying to find out more about this. In order to keep the volume of gas flowing through the diffuser but not producing power they delay the ignition spark. I cannot see that this creates any undue stress on the engine.

To produce maximum power from each injection of fuel the spark is created before the piston reaches its highest point (TDC or top dead centre). In order to create the same volume of exhaust gas but not the power the spark is created as the piston has already started going down the cylinder. This means the burning fuel follows the piston rather than pushing it.

This also means that the input side of the engine will actually be cooled slightly and the heat is moved towards the exhaust side - where the exhausts already have to cope with getting red hot.

The exhaust systems are created by the teams and not the engine builders so, presumably, this and Adrian Newey's history of tightly packaged rear ends is where the Red Bull is causing their engine failures.


some drivers were saying one thing some other drivers were saying another. But you can be sure tha rubinho is always going to be complaining about something. Sunday was the light, saturday was schumacher. It is so boring listening to him. Am i alone here?


I can't agree more mate. It's time we get rid of him. Williams have been taking bad decision after bad decision : the last being the recruiting of Rubinho.

He should see a shrink about his Schumacher complex. It's really getting to him. If Schumacher manages to win the world championship next year, Rubinho might end in a psychiatric hospital.



I like hi and see him as being pretty open and honest.

In saying that, do you not think he has a few valid issues with Schumacher?


Pinball, while I agree that the lure of F1 is it's high-tech engineering and telemetry is part of that. The excitement comes from the "Human factor". If the cars were robot driven it would capture a much smaller audience. So why not let "race control" be part of the human factor mix.


I was trackside at the circuit and the call was correct within a lap or two.

Incidentally, Lewis Hamilton came within millimetres of an enormous accident as Yamamoto returned to the circuit after a spin a few laps from the end. Not sure this made the tv cut but another example of the fascinating variables at play in this year's championship...


Yet again, James, you've managed to crystallize into words that which was on everybody's minds and every time it make for a good reading. I appreciate.


I think the Parc Fermé rule must be changed to allow the teams to change the cars to a full Wet Setup in this cases.

That would allow for a safer race under bad conditions and race with more water on track.


Great track but the Grid girls were the best I've seen lol. Who decided there outfits because I want to thank them haha


Are you referring to the outfit where it looked like someone had snook up behind and given them a wedgie?


If I recall correctly Prost's decision backfired. If he had taken six points for a full distance second rather than four and a half for a half distance win, he would have beaten Lauda for the championship.


If nothing clears a circuit of water like an F1 car, couldn't they have made use of the 24 of them circulating behind the safety car yesterday and had them drive off line to clear the puddles more quickly?


Rain gauges won't tell you everything about grip (which depends as much or more on the track texture and the camber) and light gauges won't tell you everything about the visibility (which depends as much or more on contrast in the field of view). Not to mention any mixture of rain and low light.


No other comment than just to bring your attention to a small mistake on the title of the post: "ContRol". Discard this reply, James, and keep up with the finest F1 forum in the planet.


Seriously I don't know why people are suggesting light meters at points all over the circuit - how often does this become a problem? Rarely.

The judgement call was right, end of - the next time a race is delayed into the evening, I dare say they'll again get it right.

Are people wanting shorter races or something?! Or do they just know better than people who've been directing the races for years..?


The problems with the light certainly gave one of the most brilliant visual spectaculars (and bi this isnt having an indirect go at seb) or seeing the sparks from all of the Renault bits firing across the track after coming out the back of the Redbull.

I'd be amazed if mr Heath doesn't have that picture? He is a bit like Nostradamus. How he is always in the right spot. You sure he isn't actually Clarke Kent?


I thought the 4th November is a while away yet.


The picture with the two cars is amazing!

Is there a higher resolution one available somewhere??


Do we really need safety cars?

Now the cars all use the same engine management systems (made by McLaren Technology) and race control have developed the policy of requiring cars to circulate within set limits under some circumstances why not take this a stage further?

It would not take much to enable race control to be able to broadcast a signal that could restrict all engines to a reduced power output. This could replace the safety car completely. When needing to impose the restrictions of the current safety car conditions this system would remove the problems of picking up the lead driver. The broadcast signal could trigger a warning and the engine restriction not imposed until each driver touched their brakes. This would mean all cars are running under reduced power within a few seconds. Removing the restriction would also allow full racing to be resumed after a warning signal without having to wait until reaching a white line.

The Korean race could have been started under compulsory full wet tyres, reduced power and waved yellows. Within a few laps the waved yellows could have been withdrawn allowing racing under restricted power. Maybe full power would not be permitted until it was proven that intermediate tyres were faster and not a massive liability.

Whilst thinking of new ideas... why are full wets the same width as normal tyres. In conditions where aquaplaning is likely I would have thought a narrower tyre would be less likely to aquaplane - a smaller contact patch would mean greater downward force and greater ability to cut through standing water. At the same time the wheels could have substantially greater diameter creating some ground clearance. As the cars are not creating aero downforce in these conditions this would not be an issue but would remove the problems of the cars beaching on their planks.


I feel we are forgetting that the Safety Car may be required to maintain *Safety*. Please imagine situations worse than marshals clearing cars from run-off areas. Please remember the ambulance on the Melbourne track when Villeneuve's wheel killed a marshal. Please imagine a wreck on the driving line around a blind curve. Unless (*or until*) a race were to be red-flagged the safety car might be needed to slow cars further and guide them around danger. Just occaisionally...


Tom - you obviously read some of my comments but you haven't understood what you have read! Please explain to me how taking nearly 2 minutes to collect the leader and complete the deployment of a safety car can compare with actually slowing the whole field in a few seconds? If a car has stopped on the racing line around a blind bend the rest of the field will have passed before a safety car can be effective.

If race control could slow the cars in a few seconds the drivers would know they wouldn't be able to overtake unless the car in front made a stupid mistake.

Thinking about this further this could also avoid the problems we have seen under safety car conditions over the last couple of seasons. Schumacher would not have been able to overtake Alonso, Lewis' "liegate" situation would not have arisen.

The real benefit is that safety would actually be better than merely being behind a modified road car that is so slow F1 cars cannot maintain their grip or braking ability - or ride height which was a major factor in Senna's death.


If Hamilton was the race leader, would Mr. Charlie Withing had stopped the race earlier?

For sure, many English supporters would reject the idea that accepted as normal ("fair & square") that LH could qualify with less fuel than the rest of drivers in Canada or to overtake the SC in Valencia without a proportional punishment, but the fact is that Alonso's actions always include bad "luck" when the race director interferes.

Jenson's case is different. His bad "luck" has nothing to do with Whiting, but with his team and the support he receives with their strategies. Even more in clamorous mistakes as in Monaco where there was no opportunity to fight for a handful of points. It seems that in Korea, again they miscalculated his entry in pits re-entering in the worst possible position: behind Sauber's KK.

We all know improvisation represents the nature of English, just as we know about their ironic sense of humor.

"Now" it's time to ask Button public support for Ham. I understand why Brawn didn't want to let him go, Jenson is the multirole guy, always with a smile.


National game cricket? Are you sure James.... last time I checked, it was Football!

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