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


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.


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.


The picture with the two cars is amazing!

Is there a higher resolution one available somewhere??


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.


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..?


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.


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.


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?


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.


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?


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.


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 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…


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.


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?



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.



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!


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…


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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