Category: Safety in Racing

10 Ways to Make F1 Pit Stops Safer

This post should allow mobile users to see the slideshow I put up this morning.

Once again the F1 supremo has spoken and once again he has decided the best way to save the little people  is to save them from themselves. I’m not saying Red Bull, or any other team should be singled out for punishment when someone is injured in the pit lane. The pit lane and the pre-race grid walk are dangerous places to work and spectate. The fact that F1 organizers have so quickly and unilaterally removed journalists (camera people) from the pit lane reveals, well… …I don’t need to say what it reveals, it’s obvious. They are the people with the power. This is not a news gathering environment. At this point, it’s barely a spectating environment.

I’m an advocate for safety but there are two chronic lies we keep telling ourselves about safety in motorsport. First, that safety has improved uniformly through out the ranks. This is patently false. The big dollar series are able to apply big dollar fixes to safety issues. And secondly, the moneyed few have used “safety” every chance they could to lie to themselves and further distance themselves from the filthy stinking masses (IE. the paying spectators.)

In the early 80’s,  I think I paid $10.00 for a pit pass (on top of the price of my weekend ticket.) I had the pleasure of strolling virtually unmolested through what felt like the vast confines of Cobo Hall at the Detroit GP. I chatted with some of the crew members of various teams. Gordon Murray walked by, followed by Jean Pierre Jarier. Maybe they were harassed to distraction at European races, but in the USA, basically no one recognized them. Now, it sounds like not even journalists will have that kind of access to F1 teams. At what point does it all become too absurd to bother?

Anyway, here’s the list:

F1 Pit Stop 2013

Option #10: Limit the number of crew members allowed over the wall for a pit stop. This is a rule used to make pit stops safer for everyone in the pitlane in NASCAR and USAC. Do 20 crew members attacking the car make for a safer more controlled pit lane environment, or 3 seconds of organized chaos?



F1 Traditions: No Pit Stops

Option # 9: F1 has traditionally been a sprint race involving no scheduled pit stops. Design tires to last the entire race and change rules to make pit stops too lengthy to be competitive.



NASCAR: Five Lug Nuts

Option #8: Simply mandate a design change to wheel specifications (like the 5 lug nut wheel used in NASCAR) making it virtually impossible for a wheel to fly off in the pit lane. A double locking center wheel nut would work.



NASCAR: Official Oversight

Option #7: NASCAR officials watch over every pit stop and strict rules are enforced about what the limited number of crew members can and can not do. Minor infractions, like losing a wheel in the pits, result in big penalties. OK, so maybe I am suggesting harsher penalties for teams that screw up.



Le Mans Pit Rules for Equipment

Option #6: Limit the equipment allowed to be carried over the wall. At Le Mans and in ALMS, limited air wrenches can be used during a pit stop. This slows everything down.



Option #5: Limits on Procedures

Option #5: Le Mans also controls pit procedures. Tire changes can not be performed simultaneously with refueling. Slower is safer, especially in a congested pit area.



Pit Lane Speed Limits are Universal

Option #4: F1 needs to look outside it’s own little box for simple safety solutions. A few years ago, mandatory speed limits seemed radical, now every professional series mandates speed limits. Perhaps a minimum time for a pit stop to ensure safety must be mandated. This could also assist in safer release into the pit lane by the lollipop person.



Indy Car Crew Position Rules

Option #3: Limiting the start position of crew members to avoid equipment being run over, USAC and IndyCar slow the overall pit stop and makes only one tire change (the outside rear in this case) critical. Perhaps similar positional restrictions could be made to make F1 pit stops longer and safer.



A Return to Refueling

Option #2: As much as refueling creates its own inherent risk, it slows the overall pit stop. Gravity fuel flow, further slows the procedure while eliminating the risk of high pressure fuel spills. Maybe not ideal, but teams would no longer be able to get in and out of the pits in 3 seconds.



Will The Rules Be Evenly Applied?

Option #1: The grid is perhaps the only place in F1 more dangerous than the pits, with cars driving in and around the knees of royalty, celebrities and fancy dress grid girls. How is F1 going to get the house of Grimaldi in full face helmets and balaclavas?

So that’s it. Ten ideas, none original, that should be brought into the discussion of making F1 pit stops safer for everyone, not just the media.

Images used whenever possible with the consent of the image provider. If you are aware of an image being used without credit or incorrectly, please contact the F1Jester immediately. Thank You – La Gerencia


Lauda on Le Mans, Translation of Original Article by Christian Schrader Motorsport Total

Lauda on Le Mans: “That so few (deaths) have occurred, is a miracle.” Link to original article in German.

Niki Lauda speaks about danger in motor sports, the Le Mans tragedy and how it relates to Formula One. And he explains, why he never took part in the French classic.

After the deadly accident at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend Niki Lauda said that danger exists in motor sports and everyone who participates must be aware of it. The Austrian spoke on ORF (Austrian Public Broadcasting) “of this lethargy” that comes when nothing happens, and then the shock when, as was seen, an accident occurs. He compared the situation from last weekend to Formula One. Moreover, the 64-year-old, explained why he never raced at Le Mans: because of the risk.

The danger at Le Mans is already well understood. In 90 years of racing, over 100 deaths have occurred at the French classic. Last weekend Allan Simonsen joined that sad list. The Dane is the first death since Sebastion Enjolras was killed in pre-qualifying for the 1997 event. The last driver killed in the actual race was Jo Gartner back in 1986. After so much time, and so many thousands of miles driven without a fatal accident it could be concluded that Le Mans has become a pretty safe race.

“You get comfortable with that and forget what can happen. Namely, just what has happened at Le Mans.” countered Lauda in the ORF program and he made the comparison “Even in Formula One that’s so.” The last two fatal accidents to kill a driver in F1 occurred on the same “Black Weekend” in Imola 1994, when Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was killed on Saturday, followed by Ayrton Senna on Sunday.

Lauda Remembered His Time in Racing

“Auto racing is done at high speed and everyone is trying to beat everyone else, trying to win. That’s reality in motor sport.” Lauda continued, drawing a comparison to his own career: “Thank God, there are fewer incidents today than when I raced. There were no safety arrangements.”  It’s hard to imagine how a driver could deal with the situation in the cockpit, actually focused on the race, and a few yards away seeing a colleague in a serious accident, to know that it could be life or death, and know that he must keep going.

From the driver’s point of view, the three time world champion reported, “naturally you were involved with it all.” “Today in the media environment more or less, but you must ask the team directly, because you see it” he explained further “When such a bad accident occurs it is an unbelievably difficult situation that you have to come to grips with.” The Austrian had to battle with his own almost fatal accident at the Nordschleife and so he knows what he is speaking of.

“In my time it was so brutal that one out of sixteen drivers would die every year. When you are doing that, you start to do the calculations. That means, the stress was intrinsically higher, and you were constantly confronted with it. Also when you experience that, that someone has an accident in front of you, like what happened to me for example,” remembered Lauda, he emphasized, “I’m sure many wake up from the habit of thinking that nothing bad can happen.”

Despite the Accident at Le Mans the Race Continued

Nevertheless, the Mercedes-Director stated: “This lethargy will return when nothing happens and then again naturally everyone will be very shocked. Only: you have to be aware, when you are involved in auto racing that this is a part of it.” he reemphasized again the danger of racing.

It was reported the family of Simonsen asked Aston Martin to not pull out of the race at Le Mans. Also, the death was announced during the race over loudspeakers at the track. Naturally that could be discussed, whether it was the right thing to do or not. Lauda said he agreed: it was right to continue the race, “because otherwise it would be too difficult”, he said. When the debris from the accident could be cleared and the area brought back to racing standards “then most races would be restarted,” said Lauda.

Too Much Risk at Le Mans for Lauda

“You must know what you are doing here,” Lauda restated. “To think you can be in auto racing and nothing is going to happen is false.” Lauda could never get excited for participating at Le Mans and he explained, “the problem at Le Mans that really stopped me from participating was the danger of professional drivers, driving full blown racing cars that can reach almost 225mph, against basically amateurs in street cars.”

Just two examples from many are the 2011 accidents survived by Audi works drivers Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller (links to short videos of both accidents to show how lucky both drivers were) bad injuries after accidents with slower GT class cars. The Briton crashed so badly into the tire wall that debris from the accident rained down on spectators. “The speed difference, day and night, professionals versus amateurs: that is definitely the biggest danger” is Lauda’s opinion of Le Mans. In closing he added, “That so little has happened is virtually a miracle.”

Original article written by Christian Schrader, any errors or ommissions in the translaton are completely down to the Jester’s poor German skills. Corrections welcome and accepted.

Death at Paul Ricard, Le Mans, Isle of Man, Bridgeport Speedway…

Italian entrepreneur and racing driver Andrea Mame has died Sunday at Paul Ricard in a Lamborghini Trofeo event.

That sentence won’t appear anywhere in a newspaper in the USA tomorrow. But thanks to the internet and social media, it’s simple to find out who has died or been seriously injured in motorsport this weekend. My deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Andrea Mame, but I feel I need to do more than just keep them in my thoughts.

As I write this the F1 British GP is taking place on questionable tires. Three punctures on track and damage to race leader Sebastian Vettel’s tyres forced an extended safety car period, when perhaps the event should have been red flagged for a rethink. But the high stakes involved, the need to keep the executive boxes happy and the money flowing into the F1 coffers, seems to have trumped safety.

The common view towards safety in racing has become a nostalgic complacency. When we look back at the 1970’s we jokingly speak of it as an era when sex was safe and racing was dangerous. True, racing was unquestionably more dangerous several decades ago, but that’s no excuse for the complacency plaguing motorsport. The idea that it has become over sanitized: too safe. There is no such thing as too safe.

Not when the stakes are so high. And we’re not just talking about drivers lives but spectators as well, as can be seen from incidents at Daytona and the Isle of Man TT earlier this season. As the linked articles point out, these types of incidence should serve as wake up calls for racing.

I first became aware of the problem with unreported deaths in motorsport when I went to Europe in 1985 to try my luck at racing. I attended the basic Winfield Driving School and lapped the then dilapidated Goodwood circuit in a Formula Ford. But what really got my attention was the weekly death toll reported in my favorite German magazine, Motorsport Aktuelle. It seems that year, a week didn’t go by but that some young driver or rider was killed in karting, motorcycles, rallying, or club racing.

This was brought home to me again when I revisited Germany in 2009 and picked up a copy of the weekly motorsport news, to find an article on the death of Thomas Knopper at the German national karting championships. At the time I was back in kart racing and, since I haven’t raced since, maybe that news was enough to sober up a middle aged father about the risks of being out on the track.

With the recent double accidents at the Isle of Man TT, the death earlier this year of a young (12 year old) motorcycle racer in the USA, two motorcycle racers paralyzed in the last month, the tragedy at Le Mans, the tragedy at Bridgeport, the tragedy at Paul Ricard and some events I’m probably forgetting, I have started waging a public campaign to get the FIA to begin monitoring racing accidents with a complete database of every accident resulting in serious injury across the globe.

This is an excellent first step in reupping the safety crusade, and not surprisingly when I queried a well respected motorsport journalist on ths topic, he asked: what’s the point? The point is…(I thought, fuming) …to make racing safer by studying the ocean of data that is out there after accidents occur.

I was shocked when I attended the IMIS Safety Seminars at Indianapolis last December and discovered that no such database exists.

Today, we have telemetry on practically every aspect of high end motorsport vehicles. Even in club races, most events are captured on video. So, by combining the findings of all serious racing incidents we are bound to come up with better solutions for safety in racing. More data, more studies, more science, makes that virtually inevitable.

One thing that I would strongly oppose however, are knee jerk reactions to accidents at places like LeMans or the Isle of Man TT. Reactions that call for mindless “cut down all the trees” or simply ending the TT solutions. There are too many examples of racing existing in a dangerous world, to make changing the dangerous world a viable option.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from the Jackie Stewart era of safety lobbying, dangerous situations will always exist in racing. I am of the personal opinion, and this is only me (and I have never done this) that a driver sweeping past a farmhouse at the old Spa circuit has a different mentality towards risk, than a young charger who feels overly confident in his safety blasting through Eau Rouge today.

Safer barriers, a trademarked product, now used extensively in oval racing in the USA need to be looked at for more situations. I realize this means high cost retrofitting for dirt tracks around the USA, so I’m not suggesting this be mandated. But if mandated, this would be a far better use for the money pouring into high end racing series like NASCAR and Formula One, than a new $100 million mansion or more executive box seats. Executives, who apparently, can’t be bothered with driver safety as once again tyre safety looms large over Formula One.