The recent Azerbaijan GP had some epic drama and mad racing, which was so exciting to watch. But it also left a bitter taste because of the frankly scary reaction from the FIA to some high speed crashes in the race. And I’m just done with it.
I’m going to link this to something a bit different just to start off with but bear with me. I went karting for the first time in years last week, and for the most part, it was brilliant. I love it for all the raw reasons that we love F1. The speed, the thrill and mad competition.
The fact that we can pay 30 quid to go to a local kart track in the evening with some mates and just throw a kart around a purpose-built track and get a taste of this is amazing. I’ve never known a better way to spend an evening (but I haven’t partied in the Amber Lounge).
This time was a bit different, though. This was the first time I’ve ever felt unsafe at a racetrack. I wasn’t even driving, I was waiting my turn, but I was scared.
I wasn’t at all comfortable with the driving of people there. The reaction from those running it wasn’t to black flag them or to have a word either. It seemed to be just to shout a bit from the sidelines and then leave it be.
Anyone who’s done arrive-and-drive style karting knows how it works: there’s a traffic light system. Green is an open track, yellow means go at a walking pace because there’s an issue and Marshalls are on track, and red means stop immediately.
People there weren’t paying attention. Karts were stopped on track, and other drivers saw that and tried to weave through them at full pace. I didn’t like watching it. It was an accident waiting to happen, and God knows how one didn’t. I’m sure a lot of the drivers there were happy for it to end.
Yes, this is a different score from F1. It’s amateur karting, not the best drivers in the world, but the principle is the same. A 40mph kart being driven aggressively and competitively is dangerous. Safety in every form of motorsport needs to be the highest priority of all. And examples need to be set from the top.
In a lot of good ways, they are. The halo is the biggest example. It had so many critics because it was different and looked a bit shit, but no one’s against it now. It’s definitely saved lives. It’s necessary for the safety of the drivers in racing cars. The influence of F1’s halo has seen the majority of open-wheel categories down to F4 level now running a halo. That’s fantastic!
But the way a Grand Prix weekend is being run at the moment just beggars belief. Baku, for me, was the last straw. We had two super high-speed crashes, one for Lance Stroll and one for Max Verstappen, both from tyre punctures. Whether that’s because of cuts or the tyre failing, we don’t know, but the evidence points towards debris cuts.
The reaction to these two quite similar crashes from the team running the race just boggles the mind, really.
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 6, 2021
The reaction to Stroll’s crash was obviously a Safety Car to control cars whilst that part of the track is cleaned before moving on with the race. It didn’t take long for that to happen. Max’s crash was different. It did bring out the Safety Car but only after an absolute age! It took an immense amount of time for the track to be neutralised for a crash that eventually brought out a red flag!
When the lead car is stricken at the fastest part of the track, you’d expect that deploying the Safety Car would be instinct, but apparently, it isn’t. There was that message on team radio that came from Charles Leclerc. His team told him that they were still racing, Charles was shocked: “That’s a joke, that’s a joke. Safety car straight away, what are they waiting for?”
It’s understood that the drivers are going to raise it with Masi at the next drivers briefing.
After the race, the F1 Race Director, Michael Masi, was asked about the cleanup process of the track. Naturally, questions from the media arose about the similarity to Bottas’s puncture at the end of the 2018 race. The implication from the question was whether or not that had been the reason for Verstappen’s late puncture, was it from debris that wasn’t properly cleaned up?
Masi went full politician and dodged the question: “The cleanup that we have here, we’re quite fortunate with the cleaning equipment that we have at this event. Instead of using sweepers, there’s the Fod Boss Mat which is another type of cleaning product, let’s call it, that’s used. [It’s a mat at the back of a truck] and you’ve seen at a number of circuits previously when we’ve had race suspensions that we send track sweepers around to clean everything up, and it was the same, let’s call it, philosophy during the race suspension.”
He just says what the cleanup process was—no mention about how previous events influenced it. I don’t recall the track being swept in the same way that it would under a red flag during the Safety Car period for Stroll’s crash, either. That feels difficult to do on a live track with cars coming around. A truck is unsafe on track, so it can’t get in the way. Yes, this is fine under the red flag, “the race suspension,” as Masi calls it, but Max had already crashed by then. It’s not an answer to the question.
It seems safe to assume that Max got a puncture from Lance’s damage that wasn’t cleaned up. Pirelli reported that Lewis Hamilton had a deep cut in his tyre too, and he was lucky his tyre didn’t blow. That cut is most likely for the same reason.
There were other moments in the race that made me sit up and question what was going on. An FIA to McLaren radio conversation that was aired during the red flag had Masi tell the team that he should be penalising all the drivers for not slowing down enough under yellow flags. I know it would be a mess, but surely the FIA should do this then? Make cars drive safely, seriously! It happens in qualifying. Cars are given penalties for going too fast under yellow flags quite often. Why not in the race when there is usually more activity on the track?
Yes, it would be terrible PR if everyone got penalised, but Masi’s only PR perspective should be the FIA Action For Road Safety. The best way to fulfil that quota is to enforce the rules about safety, surely?
Another incident that was just ignored was Nikita Mazepin’s frankly dangerous defence of his teammate Mick Schumacher on the race’s final lap. I think his worst driving since he started in F1. The polite Mick was fuming. “Is he trying to kill us?” he said on the radio. The Stewards didn’t even pick this up during the race, with Masi confirming they would review it after seeing it come to light on social media after the race. However, nothing has been done about the move.
Drama on the final lap between the two Haas drivers.
Schumacher slipstreamed Mazepin on the final straight but wasn't happy with his teammates defence.
Schumacher on the radio: "What the **** was that? Honestly! Seriously? Does he want to kill us?" pic.twitter.com/5CeqYzFDIe
— WTF1 (@wtf1official) June 6, 2021
There have been quite a few safety issues in F1’s recent history that are frankly unacceptable. Turkey qualifying last year is one example. It was wet, the track was slippery as hell, so it was treacherous. Nicholas Latifi’s Williams was beached in the gravel at the end of Q1. In the gap between sessions, there was a crane on the track clearing a car. You would expect Q2 to be delayed until the track is clear. Yet, it was started when the crane was still moving the vehicle. It’s understood that the expectation was that the crane would’ve finished moving the car by the time the pack came round. That didn’t happen.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 14, 2020
Another is the Safety Car period for 2020 Emilia Romagna GP. Cars were allowed to un-lap themselves under the Safety Car, yet they came across Marshalls still clearing the track at full speed. Marshalls had to jump out of the way of flat out F1 cars! Charles Leclerc at the 2020 Spanish GP did two laps at full speed with no seatbelts on and received no sanction whatsoever for it.
I get the impression that racetracks aren’t going in the correct direction when it comes to safety. There are way too many things being ignored and not checked. It makes me worried. A serious review of procedures needs to be done because it’s not hard to see that so much is slipping through the cracks in race direction.
This is making racetracks unsafe for everyone. There have been way too many heart-in-mouth moments for a lifetime in the past two seasons.
C’mon, FIA, sort it out. I’m not saying sack Masi or the team. They’ve done the time and climbed the ladders to get their roles. What I’m after is to give them a kick up the arse and take a hard line on safety and the rules.
We love everyone in this sport, the drivers, the teams, the Marshalls, all of them. Please look after them.
Do you agree with Freddie’s opinion? Let us know in the comments below.