Daily Archives: March 29, 2010

Safety should still be key

When I was watching the race on Sunday, two things struck me as odd. First of all was Kamui Kobayashi’s repeated front wing failures, and the second is the issue over the outboard wing mirrors, which I have already posted about.

Neither of these ended with catastrophic results, but they are both still worrying. The fact that drivers have to take their eyes away from the road in order to look behind them is unacceptable in F1. The fact that there were two front wing failures on one car in one weekend, with little action taken (so far), shows a lack of drive by the FIA and the stewards in improving safety.

Since the death of Ayrton Senna, Formula 1’s primary aim is safety. Many innovations have been crucial in assisting this, such as the HANS device, front, rear and side impact structures, and helmet improvements. However, ignoring simple problems like these could one day undo all the great work that had been done over the year.

Here’s one example. Kamui Kobayashi’s front wing failure meant that he speared into Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastien Buemi. Now thanks to the improvements in chassis structures, only the heaviest of impacts could result in serious injury. But, what about the debris from the front wing? Let’s not forget that the front wing is very wide, and the debris could fly into spectator or photographer areas, or near the stewards. A steward was killed in Australia 2001 when he was hit by a flyaway wheel from Jacques Villeneuve’s and Ralf Schumacher’s crash.

After incidents like these, you would think that the FIA would be quick to clamp down on the complete lack of safety in Sauber’s front wing design. But, so far no action has been taken by either the FIA or the stewards regarding this problem. Hopefully Sauber will sort this out before Malaysia next weekend, but it is very worrying to see that something like this could get away unpunished.

Then, we have the problem of the outboard wing mirrors. At the moment, the mirrors are outside the drivers’ peripheral vision, which is the area that you can see, outside the point that you are currently looking at. If you currently want to look behind you, you must first take your eyes off the road, which is plain crazy at speeds of up to 200mph. This means that drivers are opting to keep looking ahead instead of behind, which means they don’t see cars approach from behind. A perfect example of this is the collision between Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher.

When Fernando turned into Turn 1, he simply couldn’t look in his mirrors to see that Button had already taken the inside line into the corner. Jenson tipped Fernando into a spin, and he hit Schumacher, damaging his front wing. To be honest, I’m amazed that nobody else was caught up in this incident, seeing as there was a backwards Ferrari and a small bit of flying debris.

While this incident was a small one in the scale of things, there could be a much worse accident if the outboard wing mirrors continue to be used. These are just my thoughts, but swift action must be taken on issues like these to ensure that Formula 1 retains its appearance as a pinnacle for safety.

Drivers call to change wing mirrors

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on the Ferrari F10

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on the Ferrari F10

Formula 1 drivers are trying to lobby the FIA to take action on the problems with the wing mirrors this year, following many complaints about a lack of visibility.

Many incidents occured in the Australian Grand Prix this weekend because the drivers were unable to see behind them while concentrating on the road. In Friday Practice, Pedro de la Rosa was given a reprimand after holding up several drivers, although he was unable to see them approach from behind. In qualifying, Michael Schumacher spoke to the stewards after he was held up by Fernando Alonso while he was on a flying lap.

Currently, most teams mount the outboard wing mirrors on the very edge of the turning vanes, so as to improve aerodynamic efficiency. However, while drivers can see them, they have to turn their head to look behind them, which means that they cannot concentrate on the road. Ths results in drivers opting to look ahead rather than take the risk of looking behind them, which is certainly a danger on the track.

The drivers are very concerned about this, according to Rubens Barrichello:

"I hope we put a proposal as the GPDA to see if we can have the mirrors back to 
where they belong – and it is something we mentioned in the drivers' briefing 
on Friday.

We have all been quite honest and said that we all have difficulties – apart 
from Lewis. The problem for me is that we are driven by the aerodynamics, but 
the mirrors situated on the aero stuff vibrates." Just a thought on what Rubens 
said about Lewis there. If Hamilton claims that he does not have problems with 
the wing mirrors, then it is his fault for holding up Michael Schumacher in 
qualifying on Saturday.

Pedro de la Rosa spoke to the FIA race director Charlie Whiting on Friday about this issue. He said:

"Everyone has got a problem with mirrors. The reality is that the mirrors on 
the sidepods, they give you very small vision of what is happening behind and 
they vibrate a lot so you see very little.

So if you don't have a lot of information coming from the radio, then you have 
a problem. You can see when you have a car straight behind okay, but when it 
is two seconds behind you have no idea where it is.

Everyone has the same problem, but since the mirrors have gone outboard this 
is a problem – as they are aerodynamic devices now.

Mirrors are to give the car the ability to look backwards and what is happening 
behind. They have to come back to the monocoque, with the old style, as that is 
the best position to work.

The reason they are out is that they are an aerodynamic device so they give 
downforce. That is the reality. We have to compromise – this is a safety issue. 
Most of the drivers agree – it hasn't been an easy weekend for me because of this 
factor."

There’s only one good thing that came out of outboard wing mirrors. When Felipe Massa was hit by a spring in the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying, his head was – you guessed it – turned to one side, looking at the wing mirrors. If his head was straight ahead, the spring would have hit him head on, and it could well have killed him. I realised this when I first heard of this news of the outboard mirrors.

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