Formula 1 drivers praised the FIA for improving its communication about recovery vehicles appearing on-track in response to their complaints following the Japanese Grand Prix.
The worsening rainfall and decreasing visibility resulted in the race being red flagged. Many drivers were furious to encounter the crane on track without prior warning, with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly driving by the incident at just under 200km/h.
Gasly, who was penalised with a 20-second time penalty for speeding under red flag conditions, later voiced his fury that the crane on track had posed a serious safety risk. The FIA launched an investigation into the events around incident, reporting “procedural issues” with how the crane had been deployed and recommending a series of measures to improve safety, including race control issuing a warning on the official race control message system which teams must relay to drivers.
Two weeks later at the United States Grand Prix, the warning was issued for the first time when Valtteri Bottas spun out into the gravel trap at the penultimate corner. A crane was deployed to remove the Alfa Romeo and race control issued the message ‘recovery vehicle on track at turn 19’, which teams relayed to drivers over team radio.
Gasly later said he felt the situation was managed “in a lot better way” at the Circuit of the Americas compared to Suzuka.
“It is a sort of message which I would have liked to have in Suzuka because it would have changed completely my approach going in this area of the track,” Gasly explained.
He called for the FIA “to find even more ways to make it even safer”, but was pleased with the speed of the implementation of the new approach.
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“At the end of the day even if there is 0.0001% chance something bad happens… That’s the reason we put the halo – same thing. If it reduces 1% or even less than that, why would you not do it?”
“I think it’s at least a step forward,” said McLaren’s Lando Norris, who was warned about the crane over the radio by race engineer Will Joseph. “We try to make it clear there’s still a big difference between when it’s bone dry and perfect sunny conditions.
“Common sense is just needed for when it’s obvious – it’s dry. There’s times when we accept it, when it’s dry, we have grip, we can be in control of the cars.
“But places like Japan, when it was so wet, there were crashes because people were aquaplaning. It’s hard to get your tyres up to temperature. The common sense of maybe it’s just best we red flag it or wait a lap or whatever, then do it, recover the cars and we restart a race. It’s a very simple thing to do.
“So I think we all made it clear. I think they did a good job putting our review together and explaining it to us. We’re thankful for that. It was at least a step forward, what we had in Austin. We got notified and so on, and we could get out the way.”
Sainz also praised how quickly the FIA responded to drivers’ concerns. “I love proactivity and reactions when things don’t go to plan,” he said.
“I love the FIA taking it seriously and building up a report and trying to find conclusions. It’s the way we should all work together. It’s maybe what we were lacking a bit at the beginning of the season and it shows that they are trying to improve on them. And we’re going to be there to support them the whole way.”
World champion Max Verstappen said it is critical for drivers to be given as much detail as possible about where recovery vehicles are on track when drivers’ visibility is compromised.
“In Suzuka we had a lot of spray and, of course, when you have the spray you try to move left or right to see something and if you don’t know there is a crane, that is very dangerous,” he said. “Just communicating, ‘hey, guys, the crane is going to go on the track now, be prepared to really take it easy there’.”
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