Driving Standards

2016 Belgian Grand Prix Review

Photo: Red Bull Racing

The hills, the forest, it calls to them. A sacred ribbon of tarmac that weaves it’s way through the forest of the Ardennes. Many drivers have conquered the legendary 7.004km Spa-Francorchamps circuit, come rain or shine. The weekend certainly saw the bright sunshine and the unusually hot conditions that made this a Belgian Grand Prix we won’t forget.

During the free practice sessions on Friday, the unfamiliar high temperatures were causing the drivers a great deal of problems in managing their Pirelli rubber through the high speed nature of the demanding Spa circuit, it was clear the race was never going to be straightforward from then on.

For qualifying while Lewis Hamilton was out of the running for pole position after his three power unit changes left him at the back of the grid with penalties, it was up to the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s to challenge the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg for the front row. It turned out that no one could, Rosberg had just enough in hand to keep pole position but not by much. 

Heading into Sunday with the hot tempretures not abating, it was clear that tyre strategies were going to play a great role in how the drivers and teams negotiated the 44 laps of the day. Rosberg, Ricciardo and both Ferrari’s were smart in Q2 to utilise a strategy of starting of the yellow marked soft tyres to start the race with in the hope it would benefit them at the start of the race.

As the lights went out Max Verstappen got a poor getaway and tried to repass Kimi Raikkonen on the inside of La Source, unfortunately both were pinched by Sebastian Vettel making his way around the outside of both drivers, this led to a three way collision that damaged all three cars.

With Vettel left stranded at La Source waiting for the rest of the field to pass, Verstappen fought side by side with Raikkonen down the hill to Eau Rouge. On the other hand Rosberg made a great getaway and missed out on all the shenanigans going on behind.

Unfortunately it didn’t end there, into Les Combes Manor’s Pascal Werhlein ended up in the back of Jenson Button’s McLaren ending both of their races, this is a shame considering both of their great efforts from qualifying, luckily Werhlein’s new team mate Esteban Ocon managed to avoid the debris.

Kimi Raikkonen pitted to change his broken front wing but in the process of his mechanics trying to fit a new one, the underside of the car kept trying to catch fire, thankfully they managed to put it out and get the wing on.

On Lap 6 the race took a turn, after making a great start both Renaults of Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were running in the top ten and doing well, unfortunately on the exit of Radillion Magnussen lost the rear of his car and spun at high speed into the barrier, luckily he managed to hobble out of the car despite a noticeable limp. Thankfully after checks in the medical centre and more later at the local hospital, he only suffered a cut to his left ankle and should be fine to race in Monza next week. 

Unfortunately his R.S16 Renault was a total write off, the most concerning part of his accident as that the head rest that bolts to the inside of the cockpit came loose from it’s fixings and left the car with quite a bit of ease. The FIA are going to look into the incident to find out why it happened and to perhaps see if there is something that can be learned from it.

With the barriers needing repair a red flag was called, prior to this Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton had made their way through the pack to end up fourth and fifth respectively, not a bad effort from the back of the grid.

As the race got underway once more, Nico Rosberg had swapped to medium tyre and quickly made a break for it to escape the clutches Hulkenberg who was under immediate pressure from Ricciardo. It didn’t take him long to pass the Force India in front and try to hunt down Rosberg, however the Mercedes had the pace to eventually sprint away.

Jolyon Palmer suffered after the red flag due to high temperatures to his car much to his dismay, the British rookie really hasn’t enjoyed much luck in F1 since his arrival.

As the race wore on Verstappen and Raikkonen found themselves on the same piece of tarmac once again, this time with the Finn on the offensive, Verstappen makes a late defence move to protect his position much to the dismay of the 2007 world champion. Verstappen faced further criticisms when he ran Raikkonen and Sergio Perez off the road at Les Combes with defensive manoeuvres that led to him not even staying on the race track himself. 

At the final set of pit stops Hamilton was chasing Hulkenberg for third and passed him quite quickly leaving the German still without a podium finish from his 107 starts so far in Formula One.

Fernando Alonso managed to hold off the advances of both Williams and Raikkonen in latter stages of the race after a very impressive drive, with Honda having brought updates to the car, it certainly showed at Spa, however Monza will be the ultimate proving ground as to whether they’ve made true ground on their rivals.

Ultimately Hamilton only lost ten points in the title battle with his team mate and he’ll certainly be grateful for the race he had, while Rosberg will wondering what else he’ll have to 

Just nine points seperate them with eight races left to go, 1 dnf apiece, 6 pole positions and 6 victories between them, it could hardly be a closer run in, there is still plenty of action, speed and no doubt controversy yet to come.

Monza up next!

Push It To The Limit

Photo: Williams Martini Racing

One of the most heated debates in Formula One of recent years has been that of track limits. In the past if a driver made a mistake or pushed the limits just that 1% further than the car will manage, they were punished with a trip to the outer limits of grass, gravel and in many cases; the wall.

With the implentation of numerous run off areas over the last decade on most of the circuits that Formula One now travels to, drivers exceeding track limits has now become a chronic issue that is bothering the drivers but mostly, the fans.

Racing drivers are trained to go as fast as possible, to utilise every inch of a racetrack to find the fastest way around it to beat their opponents and that’s what we love so much about them, but give them that inch and they’ll try to take a mile.

Safety

I’ve been asked by some fans over the years “Why do we have these run offs?” As it is with most decisions in Formula One, safety is the number one priority. The idea of creating run offs was to allow a smooth surface for cars to slide on in the event of an accident, as it was deemed gravel could cause a car to flip and perhaps cause more harm.

An example of this is Mark Webber’s accident at Valencia in 2010, despite the fact he did walk away with no physical injuries, had a gravel trap been at least half way in the run off, he may never of reach the tyre barrier in such a violent fashion, however that is mere speculation.

Motorbike riders are also having an issue with this scenario all now for a different reason, with the tragic loss of Moto2 rider Luis Salom at the Catalan Grand Prix earlier in this year, run off areas and track safety are being scrutinised even further in the name of safety.

A lot of circuits that Formula One travels too often have some motorbike action at other points of the year which can often make designing precautions to cater for both very difficult. Bike riders dislike run offs because of they come off the bike and slide, the friction caused by the slide can often burn through their leathers and cause burns, or in Salom’s case a lack of deceleration before colliding with the wall close to the track.

The current modern view is that gravel & grass are deemed as dangerous because of how a car could dig in and perhaps do more harm than good in the event of a violent accident.

Two examples come to my mind when I think about this debate, one of which is at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix Fernando Alonso collided with Estaban Guttierez in the turn three braking zone, as Alonso reached the gravel trap the car pitched into a roll and came to a stop after barrel rolling and a flip. Alonso climbed out of the car and walked away despite finding later he had a few fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Had that of been a run off, would he have scrubbed enough speed before the wall in a similar fashion to Webber’s Valencia crash? Hard to say. But the gravel trap certainly did it’s job.

My second example falls to Jack Miller from MotoGP, at the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix during the sunday early morning warm up session, as he exited turn seven he rode the kerb on the inside and it unsettled the bike and caused him to lowside at quite high speed. The gravel trap on the exit helped dissipate the speed he was carrying albeit bouncing his way through it, but again despite a few minor injuries he managed to survive, had it of been a run off he could well of ended up in the wall, something we don’t want to see again after Luis Salom’s tragic incident in Barcelona.

Getting the Balance Right

Fans around the world know that the white lines in any sport is the difference between in or out. Whether it’s a football in a goal or a try in rugby, so fans are asking; Why in Formula One are we having this issue?

The white lines either side of the circuit define the race track, it’s very simple, so when a driver decides to take all four wheels off of the circuit they should be punished for taking the car beyond the defined race track.

Currently there are being placed on specific kerbs at corners where they deem an advantage can be made. Is this the correct answer? I don’t feel it is. The looming threat of a 10 second penalty in the race is no match versus the possible cost of retirement.

I personally would allow a run off that it is just one quarter of the car’s width on every corner exit, followed by grass and gravel, this way there can a tiny room for error, but push any harder whether defending or attacking a position, or if your going for pole position in qualifying, you get punished.

Many would argue on the safety front and while I agree to a certain extent, these drivers get in these cars knowing they may not get out again, so we should them as such with the right balance between safety and common sense, driver skill must prevail above all else.

Race Hard Or Go Home

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Many fans out there want to see all out attacking racing with no quarter given, that’s what the drivers are brought up to do through their junior years. Now we all all know there is an entiquette to overtaking in Formula One because of the speeds that get achieved. Respect is paramount when racing at 200+ mph.

In light of the incident between Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen at the German Grand Prix a week ago, questions have to be asked as to whether we’re sending out the right messages to the junior drivers out there from today’s top level formula.

On lap 29 Rosberg on warmer tyres made a lunge up the inside of Verstappen for third place into the turn six hairpin. This move was very optimistic and bold but managed it without making contact and has to be appluaded from how far he came back.

This is where I’ll stop and now recognise a similar move between Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya from the same race in 2002, Montoya attempted to try around the outside of the same hairpin but Raikkonen ran him out of room, the two then ran side by side for the next four corners before coming into the stadium section with Raikkonen being ran wide into putting two wheels in the astroturf/gravel exit.

Now, not one complaint was made about that racing from either driver at the time and that to me showed respect, determination and above all sensibility from the stewards to allow them to settle it out on track. 

So why can’t this happen today?

In the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg raced hard all the way to end ducking & diving all without making contact despite how close they ran and yet, once again the stewards let them get on with it. 

We don’t like to see contact but we do want to see hard racing without drivers being penalised for doing what is only in their nature to do, which brings me on to another point.

Since when did driver’s start complaining so much!?

For quite a few years now we’ve been privalidged enough by FOM to hear team radio during the sessions. While I think we can all appreciate the odd mumble and grumble over certain facts of a race weekend because lets face it, we can’t always have a perfect weekend.

But it seems now to be becoming a trend that drivers will winge and moan over sometimes the most trivial of things. The British Grand Prix in 2014 witnessed a great tussle between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, however while racing each other, they were constantly on the radio complaining about each others driving when it came to track limits on the exit of copse.

Max Verstappen entered Formula One in 2015 and quickly made an impact with his style of driving, flamboyant, aggresive and unwillingness to back down quietly. This became apparent in Monaco while despite being lapped, on lap 55 he followed Sebastian Vettel past Valtteri Bottas into Portier to steal a postion away from the Finn.

At the Belgian Grand Prix he preceded a daring pass around the outside of Felipe Nasr into Blanchemont and making it stick into the bus stop. On the flip side at the 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix he defended bravely against Kimi Raikkonen who came attacking in the final stages of the race, even despite the contact made.

Verstappen has had his critics, but so have many when they’ve made such a bold impact.

While not all of the drivers moan and groan, it has to be said that some drivers need to focus on racing hard, give no quarter and do whatever it takes to win. 

Give as good as you get and race hard or go home.