An F1 marshal explains why Stroll’s Imola near-miss raises safety concerns

2020 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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Following last week’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix video footage appeared showing several drivers passing by a group of marshals who were standing on or near the track during a Safety Car period.

The six drivers had been waved past the Safety Car in order to re-join the lead lap. They passed the marshals on the approach to Acque Minerale, where the track was still being cleaned following George Russell’s crash earlier.

The last of the six, Lance Stroll, passed close by the marshals at speed. Sebastian Vettel, who was ahead of Stroll at the time, warned the presence of marshals on the track was “very dangerous”.

The incident followed another near-miss in Monaco last year, where Sergio Perez encountered two marshals on the track in Monaco during a Safety Car period.

RaceFans approached a marshal who was not involved with either race to examine the onboard videos of the Imola incident and offer their perspective on how the situation was handled. They shared their opinion of the incident based on over 20 years’ experience ranging from minor local events to multiple F1 races. Here’s what they told us:

Marshal procedures and policies vary from country to country. One point which isn’t clear in what happened during the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix is what kind of prior warning the marshals had that cars were approaching.

Grosjean also warned his team about the marshals
Grosjean was alarmed by the presence of marshals on the track
At some races there will be a senior marshal trackside, in radio contact with race control, who stands watch and acts as a ‘spotter’, giving an audible warning (e.g. a whistle) every time a car is approaching the scene to alert the working marshals. Some workers may have their backs turned to oncoming traffic, so a spotter is key to ensure safety.

When the drivers passed the crash scene at Imola, after being released from behind the Safety Car, you can see there were double yellow flags shown on the digital flag panel (instead of the Safety Car on the others) from the turn before the marshals were cleaning. Double yellows flash up the diagonal top half of the board, then the opposite bottom half of the board, the single yellow just blinks the whole board on and off, while the Safety Car board displays a giant ‘SC’ on the screen.

Double yellows implies a partial blockage at least on the track. Raikkonen noticed this and backed off accordingly, which slowed down the other drivers immediately behind him.

Grosjean, the last of those, was warned about the flags by his engineer, but seemed unhappy about the marshals on track. I can understand why. The drop down towards where the marshals was working is blind in an F1 car. To emerge from the corner and find yourself upon a group of orange people sweeping a track would have taken him by surprise, but that’s why the double yellows are there.

Stroll passed three marshals on the track
Stroll’s reaction to the marshals raised concerns
Vettel was further behind the initial pack of drivers who passed by and was travelling quicker, but he did back off with the marshals out there and clearly warned his team about the situation.

But the most concerning one was really Stroll. I was quite concerned with his speeding past the marshals, changing up gears as he did so. He appeared to have no warning from his engineer and apparently little regard for the marshals cleaning the track.

Yes, these are all supposedly the best drivers in the world and driving in a straight line should be easy. But a couple of laps earlier Russell had stuck his car into a wall at the same place under the Safety Car (before the marshals entered the track). It’s hard to have full confidence in the safety of the marshals when mistakes like this can happen at any time.

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Sergio Perez, marshal, Monaco, 2019
Perez had a near-miss with marshals in Monaco last year
The timing of the decision to release the drivers from behind the Safety Car – before the track clearing had finished – is another area which requires consideration. I believe they usually wait for the track to be clear of all marshals before they let the lapped cars past.

On this occasion it seems that, with the end of the race just a few laps away, race control wanted to expedite the process, in the trust the drivers would obey the double yellows at that sector.

It’s hard to have an opinion on the actions of my fellow marshals, what they were doing and the processes they follow when on the track. The marshals were cleaning the track and should only have been there if they were given permission. This was the issue at stake in Monaco last year, following which marshals were reminded they must not enter the track without authorisation from race control.

To me, it’s the response of some drivers to the double yellow flags that brought this concern forward. Perhaps a discussion, at least, needs to happen to remind them all of the importance of these flags.

F1 is attending a lot of unfamiliar and little-used tracks this year like Imola, Algarve, Mugello and so on. We just aren’t 100% sure how an F1 car will react around the track under different conditions until it happens, throwing a lot of unknowns in the air all at the same time.

Under these circumstances mistakes are more likely to happen, and it’s vital all steps are taken to ensure lessons are learned from cases like this.

The FIA said last week it will “evaluate whether any changes can be made to the procedures currently in place to further protect the marshals and officials and minimise the likelihood of a reoccurrence in the future”.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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50 comments on “An F1 marshal explains why Stroll’s Imola near-miss raises safety concerns”

  1. The first reported comment from reported from Race Control was no regs were broken so needed no investigation.

    Later the concern expressed by just about everyone else forced them into an admission that lessons learnt needed to be investigated especially in that such incidents are not uncommon.

    What is highly strange is that FIA were meant to have fully considered the hazard AND risk to marshals on a live track (with cars running) following Jules Bianchi’s accident and FIA Inquiry & Panel. Yet the circumstances are still being repeated.

    This is not uncommon in FIA Safety Culture. Its often said that organisations have no corporate memory resulting in repeats of serious accidents/incidents on a 10/15 year cycle.
    FIA does seem to fail, unlike modern Safety Management Systems to address identified root/basic causes of accidents. They tend to identify immediate causes and use prevention/mitigation measures to reduce the risk. By not addressing more fundamental root causes similar problems reoccur too regularly.

    1. And then when accidents eventually happen the fia take absolutely no responsibility

    2. Sadly I must agree with you there, especially that last paragraph seemt to hit the nail on the head @pbfbt40.

      Especially with marshalls that might not be completely up to speed (given the lack of events this year and having a track that did not run F1 for over a decade) race control should not have tried to rush things.

      I get it that they were critisized a few times for leaving the SC out too long in recent races, but this showed exactly why it is better to have that out of caution than to risk safety of the marshalls like they did here. And yeah, Kimi did slow down, well done. Good that both Grosjean and Vettel got on the radio to warn about the situation too. But again FI and Stroll show they might have their priorities wrong (a dangerous tendency the team has been showing this year with safety measures)

      1. @bascb alternatively, you have the lapped cars drop back through the field rather than have them overtake and unlap themselves. It would be quicker to restart and safer than what happens now.

        Another solution would be to leave the cars in the order the safety car finds them. That would maximise the time the field is controlled by the safety car while the track is yellow but minimise the total yellow period (currently it’s possible to have cars speeding past the safety car until the leader is picked up). It would be a bit strange to have the leader mid-pack at the restart but I’m sure we’d get used to it.

        1. The situation you describe with the lapped cars is pretty much exactly what we had before they changed the SC rules to allow these cars to unlap themselves (and get out of the way of the leaders of the field) @frood19.

          It will mean that we get a lot of battles for the lead that turn numb because it takes the ones chasing the leader a few laps (or at least corners) to get by the backmarkers. By which time the leader has likely got their tyres up to temperature and has built up a lead. After we’ve had a couple of races like this, the cries to change this from the commentators and fans would again become as loud as they were, and the FIA will be pushed to change the rules again …

  2. 10 places penalty for Stroll in Istanbul, as he did not respect the double yellow flag?

    1. @Belmondo To be fair to him, he didn’t have yellow warning lights on the steering wheel as Grosjean, for example, had.

    2. Rosberg set a pole under double waved Yellow. So who’s to say Stroll didn’t respect the double yellow flag.

      1. @f1osaurus But he reduced speed considerably when entering the relevant mini sector to satisfy the rules. Yes, he improved both the overall lap time and sector time in S2, but the improvements came from elsewhere on the track than the roughly 200-meter section where the yellows were active, which is why he got cleared. The same with Hulkenberg in Austria the same season where he set a personal best after having driven through a double-waved segment. Looking at Stroll’s onboard image above, you can note that he doesn’t have yellow warning lights on either side of the display, which means that yellows weren’t on anymore if they had been earlier.

        1. How are people still bringing this up, Rosberg was obviously in the right

          1. @carlosmedrano True. Rosberg went 20km/h slower than before. That should be enough right?

          2. @carlosmedrano Indeed.
            @f1osaurus Rosberg? No, he reduced speed via engine braking, i.e., lifting off the throttle, but didn’t apply the brakes at any point approaching T8.

          3. @jerejj True it’s even worse. All he did was lift 30m before the regular braking point.

            And you guys seriously pretend that that is enough to satisfy “slow down and be prepared to stop”. ROFL

        2. @jerejj He braked for a corner.

          1. And you’ve definitely seen all the data and telemetry right?

          2. @f1osaurus You can’t definitively define ‘readiness to stop’ as it depends on circumstances such as the given situation speed, track and or weather conditions, what type of corner or section of track, etc. F1 cars decelerate incredibly quickly in a short distance, so reducing speed by 20 kph can give enough reaction time and braking distance depending on the given circumstances. For example, Ricciardo and Vettel also went fast through T8 and T9, the former at similar speeds to Rosberg, if not even slightly faster, and that was when Alonso was still stationary on the curbing, which wasn’t the case anymore by the time Rosberg reached the same reference point. No one questioned that nor Hulkenberg in Austria only a couple of events earlier, so the double-standard treatment was unfair. There was never a chance of Rosberg hitting Alonso as otherwise, the yellows wouldn’t have been lifted when they were, had there still been any chance of him hitting Alonso’s car, which had been on the move for a good few seconds already. He was merely lucky with the timing, which meant that he only had to heed for the yellows for a very brief time before the section became green again. Drying track conditions had a more considerable impact on the overall lap time than the yellow flag-affected part. The important thing was that he did the right thing when approaching double yellows, which, of course, was reducing speed considerably. Debating about something that happened 4+ years ago feels weird, LOL.
            @carlosmedrano @MP

          3. MP well that what Rosberg said. That he went a bit slower into a corner. Assuming he’s not lying then yes he did very little to satisfy the “slow down and be prepared to stop” requirements

          4. @jerejj Well I don’t agree. I don’t feel he did the right thing. He got away (again!) by abusing the vagueness of the rules. The

            Simply lifting 30m earlier would at best be the absolute minimum for a standard yellow flag. Double waved should require a lot more.

  3. petebaldwin (@)
    10th November 2020, 13:33

    Good article. The only thing I’d disagree with is : “Perhaps a discussion, at least, needs to happen to remind them all of the importance of these flags.”

    These guys are F1 drivers – they have spent their lives racing cars. There is no excuse for failing to slow for double waved yellows. You would be disqualified at your local arrive & drive kart track if you accelerated past people working on the track.

    1. It makes no sense though Pete, if the incident can be cleared using double waved yellows then why have a SC in the first place? They just shouldn’t have been released under the SC.

      1. Exactly @john-h. Sure, drivers should all react like Kimi did by slowing down greatly. But it’s race controls job to heed safety. They should just have waited another lap.

        If in doubt, they can always ask the TV crews to SHOW marshalls still working if they are afraid of getting boos from the TV commentary (and often from drivers and from the audience as well) when they take their time. That is far better then reacting to critique in a few races by allowing these cars through too early when the work is not done yet.

  4. We should applaud F1F for not letting this lie and seeking the opinion of a marshal. Very interesting. Aside from Stroll’s driving this for me is easily the most concerning comment:

    “On this occasion it seems that, with the end of the race just a few laps away, race control wanted to expedite the process, in the trust the drivers would obey the double yellows at that sector.”

    My thoughts are the same, and just reinforces that race control are currently not fit for purpose. They have had a few close misses now with very questionable decision making.

    1. @john-h I would say that it is not just a case of poor decision making – Martin does raise a good point that those issues seem to be arising from systematic failures in the systems that the FIA is using and a lack of action to rectify those failures.

      One common issue does seem to be that of a breakdown in communications between the Race Director and the marshals on track. We saw that in Monaco in 2019, where non-FIA members of staff could instruct the marshals to go onto the track, but were not then relaying that information back to Race Control, and the events in Imola suggest that there was a similar breakdown in communications between the marshals on track, those acting as spotters and those in Race Control when the order was given to allow the cars to unlap themselves.

      The very fact that we are going to venues that the sport has either not used before, or has not used for a long time, should be the very sort of thing that flags up a need to review safety standards. There are now too many near misses happening within close proximity for this to be acceptable, and the problem is that Masi also seems to be approaching this with the wrong attitude.

      Asides from what feels like a lack of proactive measures to anticipate problems before they occur, it also feels as if, when something does occur, Masi doesn’t take the attitude of “what can we learn from this to prevent it occurring again”, but seems more interested in trying to protect his reputation and that of the FIA instead by attacking those who raise criticisms or trying to deflect attention from those concerns. I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before the FIA pushes its luck too far and there is a serious accident due to this attitude, and chances are that it will be a marshal that pays the price for it.

  5. For me it is inexcusable, the reality is that marshalls were on track and said cars can un lap. I’ve hated this un lapping rule from the last few years as my general view is that if they’ve been lapped then tough, I don’t think its fair that P10 can be a lap ahead if P16 and then be under threat suddenly thanks to bunching up the field. For me the safety car should only be out if there is a danger other wise it should be in. If the cars are given the green light to un lap then there is no longer the need for the safety car. In this case I dont understand why the cars were even released with personnel on the track, the procedure should be the same year round on every circuit and not different in each county.

    1. The unlapping is a safety thing, not a competition thing. Having the 17th fastest car in the middle of other cars fighting for position with cold tires and brakes is asking for trouble. Most of the time, they don’t give them a chance to catch back up anyway. They just want them out of the way.

  6. FIA and Masi need a large fine.
    No excuses for this stupid action.
    A large donation by fia/Masi for the marshalling would be nice.

  7. Safety just doesn’t seem to be very high up on his list of priority list.

    1. list of priorities.

  8. Another reason why Stroll should be nowhere near an F1 car. He also seemingly had little care for the pit crew member he took out. I find it rather disturbing.

    1. I’m kinda with you on this.

      I know nepotism is fairly common in a lot of industries, sport included, but I really don’t feel like Stroll has really done enough to convince me his merits are the primary factor keeping him in that F1 seat; not even mentioning the disregard he’s been displaying lately. He’s obviously capable of handling an F1 car in race conditions, a skill that few humans actually have, but it’s hard for me not to see how much his connections are keeping him in the sport. Perez displayed incredible loyalty to Racing Point over the years, stuck around through really tumultuous times, and was abandoned because of the family connection.

      A Perez/Vettel tandem would have been very interesting to watch.

  9. The timing of the decision to release the drivers from behind the Safety Car – before the track clearing had finished – is another area which requires consideration.

    This is the biggest problem I see. The logical process is first clean the track then release the cars. The first step wasn’t completed, so how was it Race Control decided the Safety Car should come in? The responsibility for finding the answers to that lies with the FIA.

    At some races there will be a senior marshal trackside, in radio contact with race control, who stands watch and acts as a ‘spotter’, giving an audible warning (e.g. a whistle) every time a car is approaching the scene to alert the working marshals.

    This sort of process should be Standard at all tracks. One has to assume it wasn’t Standard at Imola, and if it wasn’t then the FIA should have made sure it was.

    …to examine the onboard videos of the Imola incident…

    One point which is easily overlooked is many electronic LED type signs use a strobing system. It is invisible to the human eye. Meanwhile video is a cascade of photos, taken almost instantly and consecutively. So the video can see the strobing effect. If the strobing system and the video system happen to use a similar clock, then a sign could be On to the human eye but appear on the video to be flickering as though there was some sort of electrical connection problem with the sign. I have an idea I may have seen a sign on a CCTV monitor that was looked as though it was Off when it was actually On. The important thing is to know this phenomena exists.

  10. Martin Brundle complained about Portimao and the marshalls, this is what f1 should be like. No mistakes…

  11. Double yellow means slow down and prepare to stop if neccesairy. Drivers dont do that. In part it is why the bianchi crash at suzuka was so deadly.

    1. @cdfemke True, but Stroll didn’t get those anymore.

      1. @cdfemke Shown to him, I mean.

  12. There should be no signal for lapped cars to overtake and catch up until the track is safe to drive at speeds exceeding those of the Safety Car. While the marshals were on track, the lapped cars should have been held in place.

  13. If Stroll was changing up gears in that area, then surely he should be heavily penalised.

    Was formerly a circuit marshal here in Aust. for many years, incl several AGPs.
    Fact – race drivers will NOT slow down – don helmet & disengage brain.

    Again, reiterate, to SOLVE the problem [NOT a band-aid solution], scrap unlapping. Simply move over in a straight and let those cars on the lead lap pass and tag on behind.

    1. Just to clarify, by far most drivers don helmet & disengage brain.
      Thank you, Kimi.

    2. @ancient1 – I don’t think they should solve this by scrapping the unlapping. They could have just waited another lap – to give the marshalls time to finish their work, which should off course be the most important priority.

      Apart from that, yes, if drivers get away with driving fast at a piece of track, they will. So them doing so should get a clear and heavy penalty. We’ve all seen what can happen if yellow flags and especially waved yellows are not heeded. And I guess people who’ve been to tracks regularly see it even more often.

      1. Your last sentence IS so-o-o true. Marshals do attempt to clear the track ASAP, but there is pressure on officialdom to resume racing also, ASAP. Marshals are human & so are the people who run Race Control, with the overwhelming majority of all race meetings around the world being volunteers. I have received $$s fom the promoter following a race meeting, but as part-compensation for the expense of officiating, eg. fuel, particular if driving a long distance [interstate] and usually at a major race meeting, But, be clear, it does not compensate for the expenses over 3 – 7 days. The shortfall is categorised as love of the sport.

        Fact of life that where there is human involvement there WILL be problems. The more I think about this matter [noting drivers are human] the more positive I am that no-unlapping is the safer solution, rather than the band-aid of FIA investigations etc.

        I was a marshal @ F1 AGP when a fellow marshal was killed as a wayward wheel/tyre flew through the a designated whole in the safety fence. Had it been a rear tyre/wheel it would not have fitted through. Also have unfortunately attended a number of deaths at other race meetings.
        I do believe when your number is up, your number IS up. However, there is absolutely NO reason NOT to do whatever to prevent unnecessary injury/death.

        1. Thanks for helping out making racing at all possible by the way @ancient1 (nice name too). Without people who do the job of being out there at those marshall posts at their own expenses in their own free time where would we all be.

          The minimum we should do is take their safety serious enough and built in enough fail saves that when incidents (inevitably) happen, they get mitigated by enough of them that the most serious effects can be avoided.

    3. The issue with cars falling to the back is that they are then on the same lap as the leaders without completing the lap, therefore they gain an advantage in having a safer level of fuel to use and also fresher tyres.

      1. Ummmmmmm:-
        The safety car should pick up the leader, so all cars that it has lapped will be a lap down. I don’t believe the leader is the problem, but particularly at a re-start lapped cars will hinder those cars that are on the same lap and may well be vying for the lead, thus stuffing-up close competition.
        Also timing should have those lapped cars at one lap less than the leader, so with, or without, a safety car they will complete one [or more] less laps than race distance anyway. Hence, no difference to fuel/tyre wear saved.

        Just get them out of the way safely to allow the front of the field to race uninterrupted.

      2. You are certainly right that this is the reasoning for the current rules @broke84. But as @ancient1 (and many others in the past) have offered, that doesn’t really add up to all the hassle we get with the current procedure.

        Now, another reason why they introduced this, was to actually have those cars unlap themselves in the hope that this would bring the field closer and increase opportunities for racing between the cars. It could bring a driver in a top car who had bad luck/an accident earlier back into the running.

        If that is the purpose, then simply doing a SW thing where they add a lap to those cars extra to make them “even out” and then drop them to the back of the field (but admittedly with more fuel, which can just as well be a disadvantage as it can be an advantage, depending on what track and how many SC laps there were) would achieve the same result. Currently we risk safety because these cars drive their laps at high speed (not under SC for them anymore) and then they cruise up to the back of the field with high speed and warm tyres and hit a “wall” of cars that are just starting to get up to speed. Like we got in Mugello.

        1. @bascb good points. I have no issue with cars dropping back as long as they remained lapped. I preferredbwhen cars were picked up as they werebthen blue flagged. If you’re lapped you’re lapped. I don’t think they should suddenly be on tye same lap as the leaders. They can remove standing starts after a red flag too while they’re at it.

  14. In Monza most of the drivers did not notice that the pit lane was closed and they only stayed out because they were notified by the pit wall.

    Now we get this.

    The drivers seem to find it increasingly difficult to notice what is going around the track (flag or no flag Stroll should have noticed the marshals and backed off) .

    I think that they rely too much on the information they get from the pit wall. This is becoming a safety concern and should be addressed before anything bad happens.

  15. The track side SHOW the yellow digital “flags” little Stroll need to catch a wakeup and a penalty for him will be a great wakeup call. Double yellows are not restricted to the race car steering which is a SECONDARY WARNING SYSTEM. First and foremost is the MANUAL MARSHAL OPERATING WAVING FLAGS, (in f1 that is backed up by these new digital “flag” lights) So Stroll ignored the official marshal / track side flags which is worth a hefty fine/punishment.. End of story.

    1. @ZenaRacer The steering wheel warning lights are in correlation with the trackside light panels. The light panel on the Acqua Minerale ahead is for the next mini sector, not the one where the Marshals were as the preceding panel would’ve displayed yellow had it still been yellow-flag affected, which is why Stroll didn’t get yellow lights on the wheel. The light panel system became a norm in F1 from the inaugural Singapore GP back in 2008, so nothing new anymore.

      1. Besides, it displays ‘SC’ rather than yellow.

    2. …and part of that punishment should be community service, like Max V., who was made to spend a FE meeting as a guest of the stewards to understand the other side of the fence. Stroll should be made to go to a race meeting and go out with the circuit marshals.
      Here in Oz, particularly at club meetings, have known of a few race drivers who are not competing at that meeting, eg. awaiting parts or lack of $$s, that have done that voluntarily. Doesn’t that open their eyes!!!!!

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