The FIA has spoken for the first time since Jules’ Bianchi’s horrific accident in the Japanese Grand Prix last Sunday. They announced plans to find a new system for speed control through yellow flag caution zones, taking the decision to slow down away from the drivers. They will meet with teams to discuss the best means of imposing a speed control system.
Speaking at a special press conference chaired by FIA President Jean Todt in Sochi, FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting said that he would be consulting the teams on Saturday to discuss possible ways to implement speed control systems, including the possible use of safety car delta times for yellow flag sections.
In a wide ranging discussion with the media lasting over an hour and a half, Whiting also suggested the possibility of introducing protective skirting around the mobile cranes in use at F1 circuits and detailed ongoing research into the idea of closed cockpits.
They found that Bianchi had slowed down under the waved yellow flags, but he lost control of his car. He travelled by ambulance to hospital, taking 32 minutes to get there, 7 minutes more than he would have done by helicopter, which was not usable as it could not land at the hospital. Whiting said that the safety car was not necessary under the circumstances that presented themselves after Adrian Sutil’s initial accident which brought out the yellow flags, as the Sauber was well off the circuit against the barriers.
Whiting submitted his report into the events of Suzuka to the FIA this morning (Friday) and Todt has passed it on to a special panel recommended by Peter Wright, Chairman of the Safety Commission, to analyse.
The special panel will in turn present their report on the report to Todt and the Safety Commission and, if necessary, propose changes to safety.
In his report Whiting has indicated that some but not all drivers slowed for the yellow flag zone caused by Adrian Sutil’s crashed Sauber in Suzuka and by varying amounts.
However, Whiting insists that there was no necessity for the deployment of the safety car in the wake of Sutil’s crash, saying that the German’s car was not on or close enough to edge of the track to warrant its introduction.
In the meantime Whiting plans to develop a new system for speed control in caution areas, although not along the lines of the Slow Zone system used at the Le Mans 24 Hours this year to allow track workers to recover cars in a controlled environment without recourse to use of the Safety Car.
“We want to engage with all the teams and the drivers to make sure that we come up with good, sound and well thought through ideas,” said Whiting. “One of the most important things to learn here is that it is probably better to take the decision to slow down away from the drivers.
“I think it’s better to try to put in place a system that is much clearer to everybody how much we think cars should slow down under similar circumstances. That’s what we’re working on starting tomorrow morning with a meeting with all the teams to discuss exactly that – a way to to impose, for want of a better expression, a speed limit. It probably won’t be a speed limit as such but there will be, I believe, a way of controlling the speed with complete certainty and complete clarity.”
The proposed speed limit idea is intended to ensure proper enforcement of yellow flags to achieve an appropriate reduction in speed. Other race series, including DTM, have different criteria but adopt a similar principle within their Sporting Regulations.
For the teams and drivers, whatever that reduction is, they will want to be as close to the limit as possible meaning that any test is likely to just be the first step in selecting and implementing the correct criteria for a rule change.
Adopting the Le Mans regulation entirely seems unlikely. Controlling the time loss in any such zone will be a factor and with it’s finer margins, shorter laps and shorter races F1 will be more sensitive to this than Le Mans.
The kind of measure proposed implies a three-tier yellow flag system including the Safety Car which will make the selection of the right measure more difficult. In Le-Mans again the lap length is the reason that Safety Cars are impractical.
Another consideration with enforcing a speed profile in a given area, is that certain cars will suffer less and others more which is why a limit based on time rather than speed well be preferable.
The suggested Safety Car Delta Time proposal is one that appeals to Whiting.
“We are meeting with all the teams tomorrow to discuss this. There are number of ideas out there and that’s one of them. What we could do is effectively to deploy the safety car but not send the safety car out. You do exactly what you do now. The drivers will all see the safety car delta displayed on their dashboard and they will follow that.
“They have to follow that and keep positive to the safety car delta at the Safety Car 1 line, which is the SC line before the pit entrance. As long as they are positive by that point then they are legal. What we are thinking of doing is to extend that requirement so that driver has to be positive allt he way through the double yellow sector.
“Taking Suzuka as an example, from Turn Six he would have to be positive all the way through those two yellow sectors. That’s one of a number of ways we are considering.”
Several drivers including Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have called for more research into the idea of closed cockpit Formula One cars and Whiting detailed the ongoing work on the topic.
“Skirts on tractors, I can’t remember the last time they discussed but it has been discussed in the past, though it would have been a long time ago. Canopies and protection forward of the driver’s head is something far more recent and is ongoing.
“Following Felipe’s accident in Budapest in 2009 and Henry Surtees’ accident,0wWe have done a lot of research into roll structures, quite substantial structures in front of the driver, as well as fighter canopies. The purpose of these tests was to protect a driver against a wheel, which in the case of Henry Surtees, was the cause of his fatality. That research goes on.
“It’s very difficult to find something that is strong enough to stop a wheel and drive a car without being adversely affected by the presence of this structure in front of him. One of the things that surprised us during this research by throwing a wheel through a cannon onto the roll structure, you’d think it would immediately bounce off but it doesn’t.
“Because of the tyre deflection it takes a long time to take upward motion beyond where it hits the roll structure. That’s the reason we found the structure has to be so high. We found it has to be 20cm higher than the driver’s head, which makes it a substantial structure.
“It’s not simple but research is still going on and in fact is on the agenda of technical meeting next Thursday and will continue to be so until we find a solution.”