The Cost of Making Formula 1 Safer

By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer

Lewis Hamilton mastered tricky conditions to steal victory over Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo at the Grand Prix of Monaco today. Hamilton instantly revitalized his hopes for a third consecutive championship, cunningly taking advantage of tire strategy in a race that started under wet conditions with all cars running the blue full wet tire sets to start.

Race control initiated the start under the safety car, removing the most exciting starting procedure in modern racing:, a standing start in the premier event of the Formula 1 season.

How do they do that?

It’s a hard call to make given the excitement of the standing start.

Its a hard call to make given the Grand Prix of Monaco brings drama like no other event.

The pressure on F1 Race Director Charlie Whiting and his team to deliver excitement from the drop of the green has to be enormous.

And still, race control does their job and makes the right call.

The call that’s hard to make!

In Monaco today, many were calling for the racers to be released before any sort of dry line had been established. That’s not uncommon in F1.  The comments were as follows; these are the best drivers in the world, Monaco is a street circuit so it has drainage built into the track itself. They race in the wet all the time.

There is truth to those statements.

The drivers also commented from the cockpits, stating their opinions on when the track was ready for full blown competition. Now in truth, the drivers probably have the best feel for when a circuit of ready for use given their experience and direct, “pants in the seat” vantage point.

In cases such as these, race control really can never win.

If they release the drivers too early and there is a wreck, or worse, race control is criticized for unsafe conditions. If race control holds back and waits for conditions to improve, and there are no issues, they get questioned for being too cautious. Could they have raced earlier? Was it possible to race for 3 more laps? 5 more laps?

The right calls get no attention and the wrong call gets non-stop criticism. Tough job right?

The truth of the matter is, Formula 1 does a great job at continuing to advance safety protocols that reflect the era in which they are running. Take the Halo cockpit protection system for example. Just this week, Formula 1 announced that next year’s car will feature this enhanced safety system intended to protect a drivers head from a cockpit intrusion. Although there are still tests that need to be performed and evaluated, formal approval could be granted as early as July.

The Halo was chosen over the Red Bull aereoscreen due to its simplicity in getting the system integrated into the 2017 car. The point here? F1 is serious about elevating its’ level of safety even if it means introducing an unpopular and unsightly measure that will protect the drivers.

And that’s really the point. Dropping the standing start in compromised conditions or altering the look of an open wheel racer, on one hand, breaks with the look, feel and tradition of open wheel racing. People tune in to watch the standing start, especially at Monaco. Placing a canopy over the cockpit breaks with the essence of what open wheel racing is at its core.

But it is time to step forward and F1 is doing just that Other series will follow suit once F1 sets the path.

All too often, we forget much, much to fast. And we just can’t. We can’t afford to anymore.

The recent tragedies that resulted in the loss of Jules Bianchi at Suzuka and Justin Wilson at Pocono are bitter reminders of the dangers of open wheeled racers, especially in wet conditions. So when Formula 1 makes decisions that alter the spectacle or change the look of the traditional race vehicle, remember the reason for these changes. Inside these cars are people with families who want nothing more than a safe return after a race.

As time moves onward, safety processes improve. Those improvements create safe races. Those safe races create complacency which then results in another tragedy.

And we can’t have that anymore, even though we inevitably will…and the whole cycle will start again.

It’s hard to make the right decisions.

Image: Red Bull Content Pool

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Growing up in a racing family, Steve Aibel was surrounded by Allards, Crosleys and Corvettes! A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Steve was drawn to the automobile magazines strewn throughout the house and Formula 1 in particular. With go karts, motorcycles and vintage race cars in the garage, it was inevitable that the torch would be carried by Steve. Lime Rock Park was his own personal playground while still keeping an eye on the pinnacle of motorsports overseas called Formula 1. Now, in the shadows of Circuit of the Americas, Steve is able to not only follow F1, he makes it the object of this racing stories. This passion for Formula 1 is shared weekly writing original articles for both Tribute Racing and Drafting the Circuits. He also participates in two weekly radio shows. Drafting The Circuits, (http://whoobazoo.com/draftingthecircuits), which airs Tuesday evening at 7 pm CST and Formula 1 Racing Plus (https://www.facebook.com/Formula1RacingPLUS), which broadcasts throughout the week on Performance Motorsports Network. Steve's motorsports photography can be found at www.littleorcasports.com

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