Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023

Tracks like Jeddah are more dangerous than Spa, says Verstappen after fatality

2023 F1 season

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Max Verstappen has spoken up for the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium which has faced criticism over its safety standards since the death of Dilano Van ’T Hoff last weekend.

Some Formula 1 drivers have demanded changes to the circuit, which is the home of the Belgian Grand Prix, since the fatal crash during a Formula Regional European Championship.

Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll said the Eau Rouge corner on the circuit is “way too dangerous” and “needs some changing” following the fatality. Verstappen pointed out Van ’T Hoff’s crash happened beyond the famous corner, at the kink in the Kemmel straight, and claimed the section of track is safer than parts of other, much newer circuits.

“It’s, for sure, quite a dangerous corner but we also go to Jeddah and sector one at that, for me, is probably more dangerous, even,” Verstappen said in response to Stroll’s remarks.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
There is little run-off in places at Jeddah
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit, which hosts the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, was added to the F1 calendar in 2021. “I’m happy that nothing has happened yet in that sector because going through (turns) six, seven, eight if you have a shunt there that can be the same – it’s all blind, you don’t know what’s coming,” said Verstappen.

Footage of the crash, which occured in very wet conditions, indicates Van ‘T Hoff struck a barrier and bounced into the path of oncoming cars when he was hit by another driver, Adam Fitzgerald, who was unsighted in the spray.

“It’s super-dangerous when these things happen,” Verstappen continued. “For sure, in Eau Rouge, going up it is blind, but of course this accident now happened later [along the track]. I think the only thing that maybe can be improved there is to make more space in terms of trying to move the barriers more out, because at the moment, it looks like as soon as you crash, you hit the barrier, you bounce back onto the track quite easily.

“Of course with that scenario, where there is almost no visibility, a lot of water, that is of course a big issue. I think in the dry, normally, it’s a bit better. You see, of course, more of what is going on in front of you.”

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Another fatality occured at Spa in 2019 when Anthoine Hubert was killed in a Formula 2 race during the Belgian Grand Prix. His crash occured in similar circumstances at the Raidillon bend immediately after Eau Rouge. The circuit has since extended the run-off areas at that section of track.

Start, Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Spa-Francorchamps, 2022
Van ‘T Hoff’s crash occured after famous Eau Rouge section
“I think already the changes they made in Spa, they definitely opened it up a lot more,” said Verstappen. “But it will always be a dangerous corner.

“But we are going to a lot of tracks where there are dangerous corners, where up until probably there is an accident, you won’t say anything. And now of course it gets brought up, but I feel it’s a bit unfair to just blame it on the track.”

Verstappen questioned why the race, in which 34 cars were running, was restarted in such poor conditions immediately before the crash. Van ‘T Hoff was one of at least two drivers who spun off on the Kemmel straight.

“I think in the first place you have to look into why did they restart. It’s a big championship, a lot of cars. They are up-and-coming talents, they probably risk a bit more, because they want to show every race that they are the best driver out there.

“With that visibility, it was just impossible to see anything and I know, of course, when you’re going there, you don’t see anything. You’re like, ‘well, I guess the guy in front of me is flat so I just stay flat-out. And that’s probably exactly what happened there.

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“The drivers are just staying flat because they didn’t know there was a car in the wall and then another car in the wall later on. So yeah, there are a lot of things that have to come together, what we have to improve.”

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc echoed Verstappen’s concerns about restarting races in conditions where visibility is poor.

“The first thing to look at is when to start a race and in which conditions we are happy to race and it’s safe to race,” said Leclerc. He pointed out current cars, even in junior categories, create more downforce than they did 30 years ago which increases the spray produced in wet races.

He also reinforced Verstappen’s view that more run-off space is needed at some tracks F1 visits. “Maybe to consider for these tracks with very, very high speeds, to have the walls further away from the track, so when they lose the car, they don’t bounce on the wall and come back on the track.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez agreed “there is room to improve the exit of Eau Rouge still” but also suggested race directors feel pressured to restart races. “[They’re] pushed by, probably, fans and social media, people sitting back at home thinking that the circuit looks fine to race,” he said.

“It’s not about the [visibility for] leader or the second place; it’s about the 10th, 15th, 20th. Basically, they need to be able to see,” he added.

“It’s something that we really need to force other categories and also in Formula 1 to make sure that we are able to race whenever it’s safe for everyone to see at least. Accidents can happen but you cannot have situations where drivers are basically blind and just going flat-out, because it’s when those big accidents can happen in any series.”

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Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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31 comments on “Tracks like Jeddah are more dangerous than Spa, says Verstappen after fatality”

  1. Since seeing Jeddah circuit for the first time, my biggest concern has been a similar accident which caused the end of Dario Franchitti’s career or claimed Jeff Krosnoff’s life.

    1. @bleu Having just searched for & looked at those accidents, I see what you mean about being concerned about something similar happening in Jeddah.

      1. Yellow Baron
        4th July 2023, 16:13

        Wonder why Max thought brake checking and weaving on the straight (unpredictable) when supposedly letting the driver behind through was a good idea then??

        1. That is so not the point being discussed here. It is about blind and fast corners. Not the situation at the end of a straight with perfect visibility when letting some-one past (who doesn’t want to pass because of the drs line) on instructions of your team. Telemetry shows very well what really happened there.

        2. Charles and Max played DRS chicken in Jeddah ’22 without incident. I didn’t see any penalty handed out then, or does it only matter if someone is caught napping?

          1. Yes, penalties are only given when there’s contact, there’s been plenty of cases where driver A takes driver B out and gets a 5-10 sec penalty where, had driver B conceded position, driver A wouldn’t have been penalised.

  2. I would agree that Jeddah is more dangerous, and the worst thing is that it was purpose built to be exactly as it is, instead of Spa that has evolved from roads through a hilly countryside.

    But there are good reasons why F1 stops races when visibility due to spray is too bad to see (i do hop those “sprayguards” help with that), it could turn out as bad or easily worse if there would ever be an F3 race like that on Jeddah in the wet weather (not sure climate change has thrown enough chaos in to make that realistic, and the series don’t attract enough attention for SA to pay for it anyway) with even less visibility, less room to evade and as high speeds

    1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

      In the same conditions, I would say Jeddah is more dangerous then Spa, and probably too dangerous to really be racing there. However, it’s the conditions which regularly occur at Spa which make it more so. You just don’t get conditions like that in Jeddah.

      With modern F1/F2 cars, the amount of spray is insane and the visibility is near zero. We’ve seen 2 deaths in similar conditions in 2 seasons, and IIRC Norris’ accident there could easily have been another.

      As much as we all like wet races, and nobody wants to let fans down by cancelling a race, I think we all need to accept that the conditions are sometimes just too dangerous. Otherwise we’re going to end up with more fatalities.

      1. The conditions become too dangerous for these types of car designs.
        It’s an important distinction to make – the design philosophies used in open-wheel cars in particular now are inherently poor at accepting a wide range of conditions – least of all ‘very wet.’

        Aero is the devil, while wider tyres and ever-increasing speeds just compound the issue.

        1. Absolutely, it’s because of the different cars we get all that spray, can’t blame the conditions.

        2. Agreed. I was particularly talking about F1 etc cars.

      2. Yellow Baron
        4th July 2023, 16:17

        Although the spray from cars seems worse since 2017 I wonder if the drivers are a bit more careless now than previous generations. There were numerous races in the past 25 years in very wet conditions, and although there were crashes it seems they threw caution to the wind a little more when visibility was low

  3. Echo the previous comments and those of Max. Jeddah is wilfully dangerous and it’s only a matter of time before something really bad happens. Spa simply needs a strong CoC to recognise when it’s time to throw the red flag for bad visibility.

  4. Very sensible comments, and moving the barriers a bit further back along Kemmel is indeed possible.

    But plenty of tracks have even less runoff, so the visibility is a much better thing to focus on.

    And aside from the race director, the drivers also have a say in this. But as Verstappen rightly notes, they’re not in a point in their career where they can just refuse to race.

  5. I echo all views.
    Jeddah Corniche Circuit indeed is more risky than Spa-Francorchamps as a whole, so visibility in wet weather conditions is the more critical focus.

  6. Add a chicane, somewhere on the Kemmel Straight, to be used when circumstances get too dangerous.

    1. That does not solve the visibility problem.

      1. Chicanes never solve visibility problems, they are designed to solve hi speed problems.

        1. Not too bad of an idea, we see drs being enabled and disabled when conditions get dry\wet, they could also make such a switch when visibility is so poor you can’t see who’s ahead of you; if an accident happens the worst that can happen is they retire from the race then.

  7. The problem with Spa is that you’ve got an area where cars often go off and the pack then follows through at top speed. It’s easy to blame it entirely on the spray in this case but it was dry when Hubert died and the results were the same.

    I don’t like people saying “yeah but X is even more dangerous” because that’s irrelevant to this specific issue we’re looking at. Jeddah has it’s own problems and they should certainly be looked at separately but there’s clearly a significant problem related to this 100m stretch of track that has caused multiple deaths and significant injuries over the past few years. In addition to that, we’ve seen multiple other massive crashes where drivers were lucky to walk away unscathed (Norris for example).

    I don’t know what the solution is but as things stand, it just feels as though we’re waiting for it to be an F1 driver who gets killed and then suddenly it’ll be viewed in an entirely different light.

    1. Although I agree that the ‘but what about x’ argument shouldn’t be used, I don’t agree that Spa’s Eau Rouge section is the issue in this scenario. We have seen massive incidents there but generally the barriers did their job in preventing injuries. The main danger is a car-car collission after a crash of a car and I think they have improved the track there to prevent it from happening again.

      In this case I think the main issue was that the barriers along the straigth were too narrow once the car went off. However, the same can be said about the Red Bull Rings S/F straight or the straight between T3 and T4. Generally, at least a quarter of the tracks will have a straight that is as narrow or even narrower. This is because of a number of reasons, but the reason why this isn’t as big of an issue as a crash is unlikely at that part of the track. So I think the main focus should be on why there was an accident there in the first place, and how it was possible that nobody was aware of the incident ahead as he was hit with quite a large speed.

  8. “It’s not about the [visibility for] leader or the second place; it’s about the 10th, 15th, 20th. Basically, they need to be able to see,” he added.

    I think this point is one often overlooked in such scenarios and more often than not when we hear the radio messages from drivers talking about visibility it’s usually those towards the front. I mean how often do we hear drivers running in the top 3-4 lap after lap saying ‘Conditions are fine’ despite visibility further back been obviously significantly worse.

    I also think in general there is an over simplification of things from broadcasters that give newer fans in-particular a false impression of how easy certain things are.

    How often in wet conditions for example do we hear Martin Brundle say “The throttle pedal works both ways, If you think it’s too wet just back off” which ignores how in poor visibility if you lift & a car behind doesn’t see you end up with a situation like Adelaide 1989 where Martin did lift off & got run into by the race leader Senna who in the spray didn’t know Martin had lifted. And of course you have situations with aquaplaning where simply lifting off isn’t enough as you can still aquaplane off the track at very slow speeds.

    As the overall broadcasts & commentary have been dumbed down over the past 10-15 years it just feels like some of the over simplifications have made the armchair experts feel like they know it all & know better than drivers which is why whenever it’s obviously too wet you end up with those same sort of ‘Well just drive slower’ comments.

    Fans will never understand what it’s like to drive these cars in those conditions and the broadcasters should aim to educate rather than over simplify things down to the point where the true picture isn’t been put across accurately.

    It’s frustrating with Brundle in-particular as it’s something he used to be very good at in his early ITV days but especially since switching to Sky he seems to have started to take some very different views & putting things across again in a more simplistic way that doesn’t often put across things as accurately as he once did. Maybe there’s also an element of him not understanding how the current crop of cars on the current crop of circuits act differently to those he used to drive did.

    And then of course cameras see through conditions better and slow motion replays allow far more time to analyse details compared to the milliseconds things happen for those driving the cars.

  9. Jonathan Parkin
    4th July 2023, 12:41

    It’s true Spa has always been dangerous. I still remember Jim Rosenthal describing it as ‘it’s long, it’s fast and it’s scary’ Back in 2000 drivers really respected the place

    Because of track changes and the aforementioned higher downforce possibly some of that respect has gone, but it still remains long, fast and scary

    Maybe because of this we should be more selective maybe in the racing series that actually go on it. Formula 1 and Formula 2 can race on it but not Formula 3 or Formula Academy

  10. Not sure a lot of Jeddah has been built around safety re placement of barriers & can always be changed as we evolve. The visibility issues have been changed a lot since the original format. Weather is less of a factor & it’s easier to throw yellow/red flags with bright flashing signals to drivers if there’s a car stopped on track. Spa’s biggest issue has always been the spray imo, rest is the lack of solid structure in junior series to take sideways impacts which is less of an issue in modern F1 given how srignnent the FIA chassis tests are.

  11. Maybe it’s a case of:
    If dry, all go for Spa…
    If significantly wet, bring back the 1994 Eau Rouge chicane to slow down Raidillon.

    1. Or a Le Mans-style slow zone from the entry to Eau Rouge until after the kink on the Kemmel Straight when visibility drops below a certain level.

  12. Jeddah is a deathtrap, they’re just lucky there’s not been a chain of events that have led to anything serious yet on the track, but I’d say it’s a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’ someone gets seriously hurt during a race there.

  13. Footage of the crash, which occured in very wet conditions, indicates Van ’T Hoff struck a barrier and bounced into the path of oncoming cars when he was hit by another driver, Adam Fitzgerald, who was unsighted in the spray.

    My understanding is radio waves would still reliably work in the amount of spray in the air at the time of the crash, so why can’t the cars be fitted with some sort of alert telling the drivers a crash had occurred up ahead? I don’t know for certain, but I presume all these cars are already fitted with radios, and that they have telemetry capability. If the radios have telemetry capability then there’s no reason why these cars can’t be fitted with a high G force – impact radio alert system which automatically notifies all the other drivers one of them has hit a barrier or such like. Then you wouldn’t have to rely the race controller seeing something on the TV or a marshals’ post calling in or the driver in the crashed car (who might be dazed or unconscious) to call up his controller to tell him the car is a sitting duck in the middle of the race track.

    1. I like that idea.

      You could have an instant alert/yellow flag to all cars, or by using gps as well for track location just for cars in/approaching that section of the track.

      The challenge would be defining what level of G force triggers the alert. If the barriers are close to the track you can hit the wall with almost enough force to break the gearbox but carry on essentially unaffected. Could that same level of force at a different corner/circumstances be enough to leave a car stranded in the middle of the track? Maybe?

  14. Obvious that Jeddah is more dangerous.

    But you can never take all degrees of dangerous out of car racing.

  15. Has the idea for there to be no run off at eau rouge and radillion been considered? By my understanding, if a car did crash in that section, scraping against the wall would result in a less speed difference between the crashed car and the oncoming ones.

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