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Formula Fun: A More Serious Note

Patrick Hoffstetter July 15, 2015 Formula 1 9 Comments

Now, we should all know the young man in this image. His name is Jules Bianchi, and he currently lies in a coma in a French Hospital. His career was ended at a Japanese Grand Prix last year. Not since Ayrton Senna had a grand prix driver suffered an accident so horribly during a race. He hit a crane that was removing Adrian Sutil’s car from the gravel trap it was stranded in.

After that accident, the F1 world rallied once again towards safety, the largest push since the Sainted Professor Sid Watkins led his charge after seeing his friend Aryton die after a massive wreck. Now, some fellow F1 writers have been calling for F1 to return to a “Rebel Yell” of political incorrectness and danger.

I’ll tell you my thoughts on that after the jump. 

I respect and really enjoy Will Buxton’s views on F1, and his philosophy on life in general. What I cannot do, however, is accept a few key sentences from his latest article, found here. In that article, he cites several ways he thinks F1 could improve the show, something most people fault the past two seasons for not having as much of. Never mind that we have had some of the most amazing wheel to wheel racing in F1 history the past two years. No, it needs more danger, faster cars, and less driver aids. I agree with most of what he says, minus the fact that my F1 squad now has far more females in it than males. And that sexism on the grid in the form of short skirted grid girls is in my view, unacceptable. But, in that article, Will says the following:

“Where has the danger gone and that beautiful line to be run between risk and reward? Motorsport should be as nerve wracking and exhilarating as the thought of a slug trying to negotiate his way down a razor blade. That’s the perfect lap. On the edge. Where one wrong move is game over. 500 yards of asphalt run off does not a hero create.”

Granted, he does go on to have a quote saying that it’s about adding grass and gravel back, not necessarily guard rails and the like, but still, this seems a tad backwards after the recent push following the Japanese Grand Prix last year. And I get that older fans might look down on today’s drivers, as the sport has gotten so much safer. But calling for the cigarette blazing, womanizing of the 70’s and 80’s doesn’t seem like the answer to me. I am all for making the cars faster, I am all for more fan access, the embrace of social media, and god forbid, a new man running the sport. If teams have the money, let them test as much as they want! If Michelin wants in, lets have a tire war, but the one thing I will not accept is any measure that would increase the risk to the drivers. Motorsport is inherently dangerous yes, but we aren’t out there losing 4 drivers a season anymore. Hell, until Jules, the last major injury was Felipe getting hit with a spring. And that helped new helmet standards advance.

We cannot let the sport regress. Each accident shows how far we have come, but still how far we need to go. In no universe would it be okay for us to start losing even one driver per season. These men are heroes. They are looked up to around the world. For fucks sake, it’s a car race, not gladiatorial combat. Earlier this season Kimi called for a tad more danger. What happened the very next race? He was almost hit in the head by a McLaren. Note how he hasn’t said anything else about it after that.

I asked a friends of mine if they had anything to say about the matter, as we are all Manor and Marussia fans, and just fans of the sport. And this is what one had to say.

Brittany Barr: “It’s been really concerning to hear big names–Lauda, specifically–push for more dangerous aspects of Formula 1. We’re coming up to the anniversary of Jules’ accident, and I want to see safety measures remain in place so that when there’s an accident, we know for a fact that driver will get out of the car and return home to their loved ones. Pushing for anything else is reckless.”

So we can’t stand for this as fans. Say yes to any other changes they want to make, but keep safety first. Noise, money, power units? All of that you can plug and play with, but the driver is the one part that we can’t risk, can’t replace, and can’t do without. Forza Jules.

  • Well said. Exciting racing is indeed possible without danger for danger’s sake. That said, I agree that F1 is over regulated. Too tight regulations makes the fun seep out.

    As for me? I’d be happier if the cars sounded better. Maybe ditch the wings and go for mechanical grip plus whatever aero they can do using the car body itself.

    • Anonymous

      I agree but in a different sense. I think regulations should be a little more lax in other areas besides safety. In the early 90s, Williams made a prototype that had a CVT, allowing the car to hold the revs at their optimum level. It was banned because it gave them an unfair advantage.

      Then you’ve got (in other motorsports) Chaparral with the 2J fan car and the rotary powered Mazda 787B, all of which were prevented from racing (except the latter which only managed one season) due to regulations. Think where we would be in terms of innovation if not for that. Imagine a CVT that could handle all that power, imagine rotary reliability if Mazda managed to keep developing it in motorsports. And i couldn’t even imagine the freak show that the 2J would’ve led to.

  • Monkey10is

    I agree with you that driver safety is something that Formula 1 should NEVER move a step backwards on.
    But there are ways to bring back ‘risk’ without bringing in ‘danger’. The risk needs to be the risk of a spin, of seconds lost, and places forfeited. This should be a clear visual peril (like the slippery grass strip before the safety run-off asphalt that Will Buxton suggests) and not artificial — arbitrary white lines, stewards’ decisions and drive-through penalties — or disproportionate — kerbs that break cars.
    This season’s twitchy cars are a good step towards a more visible level of risk (witness Vettel’s supreme skill catching the car when it squirmed once, twice, three times down the wet straight at Silverstone), but do not seem to be putting anyone in danger.
    The proposals to limit the information the driver gets on tire temperatures or fuel consumption might be a good step in terms of bringing tactics more into the driver’s hands but it is hard for the spectators to see and understand these perils. Opposite lock, locked brakes or an excursion over the run-off zone show clearly to everyone how close to the limit the cars and drivers are.

  • mve

    F1 bills itself as the pinnacle of motorsport. If the drivers are afraid of taking risks, then the racing will suffer. There has to be a way of bringing back more risk.
    In my opinion, no amount of runoff would have spared Bianchi. That incident was a culmination of several tragic decisions made by multiple parties.

  • KeithRichards

    None other than Emerson Fittipaldi said, “I like doing dangerous things as safely as possible.”

  • Will Buxton

    My dear friend, I hope you will allow me a right to reply.

    I’m afraid that you, and you’re not the only one, have completely misread the intentions of my piece. That so many were offended by it perhaps tells me I should have chosen my words a little better, or given it one final edit. Anyway, what’s done is done and as I told you in Canada I believe the internet is written in ink and I will not go back, edit, and pretend a reworked version was the original.

    My point was not that Formula 1 should revert back to its unsafe, borderline misogynistic days of the 1970s. That one throw away line about “girls in short skirts” was referencing a time when Formula 1 was unapologetic for what it was. The underlying point I was attempting to make was that perhaps in attempting to be all things to all people, Formula 1 has lost sight of what it is and what people love about it, and that a return to the self belief to simply be what it was, a belief it held in the days when cigarette and beer advertising adorned the cars and photographers didn’t think twice about taking photos of the grid girls’ underwear when the wind blew. I’m not saying we need to return top those days. Merely to having confidence in the product.

    As for danger… the article referenced risk versus reward. The Montoya interview I referenced included him stating that the first 10 laps in an F1 car after the winter break used to SCARE him. And I think that should still be the case. There should still be a risk. There must be a reward for tackling that risk head on and coming out on top.

    I did not call for the sport to become unsafe. Nor to regress to the days of the 1970s. And to use Jules’ Suzuka accident as an example is low. Jules loves racing on the edge. It gives him the greatest pleasure of all. If he was aware that every time anyone dares to say that we should not be replacing the skill element at corners such as Parabolica or Copse by replacing gravel with tarmac, his name was used as supposed evidence of why that is precisely what we MUST do, I can only imagine he would be horrified.

    Jules is a friend. And I think of him everyday. Do not for one moment think that I would wish his situation on anyone.

    The points raised in my article were not born on my own mind. For being scared in a car, see Montoya. For risk versus reward and track limits see Ricciardo. For grid girls, see Vettel.

    Again, I’m not saying we should move backwards. Merely that we should remember why people love this sport and the excitement it provides. This sport used to be unashamed of itself, regardless of its political incorrectness. It used to have a bit of pride.

    An apologetic sport is not a strong sport.

    • Will, one, thank you for replying. That was very unexpected and it means a lot. And while it seems like I was calling you out, I never meant it to be so negative towards you. I look up to you, and hope to be respected like you are. Using Jules as an example was not meant to be low, but to showcase the importance of this debate. I guess the word Danger, and the phrase “Game Over” just riles me up. And, as you know, my recent group of F1 fans is mostly female, and any reference to the old days worries me. I should have gone after what the drivers said, and not what you said. And I take what you say to heart. And I made the mistake of looking at Jules through the eyes of a fan, and not asking someone that knew him as a friend.

      Will, I hope I didn’t anger you, and I will take this whole experience as what it is for me still. Learning, and getting the feel of how my opinions affect other people. And I do agree with you when you phrase it how you did at the end of your comment. The sport needs it’s grove back.

    • Also, I would love to be able to talk more about this, and to be able to get more advice and guidance from you, if you would be cool with that. You can email me anytime at phoffstetter(at)gmail.com

      • TecnoFormula1

        I think your presumption that Kimi has altered his view point in any way post-Silverstone-accident is likely incorrect.

        I don’t wish to see death in F1…but the possibility of death (and there IS a distinction) absolutely sanctifies it – makes it immensely meaningful. Willingness to sacrifice so much for the superfluous and the beautiful. It is not the same without it, and I’m sorry you cannot see this aspect or view it simplly an ignorant anachronism. Clark, Moss, Senna, Hill – they have all expressed this eloquently at one time or another…

        In my opinion think the way forward is actually quite simple – it is to simply ask the question: – does the ‘the price of safety element ‘X’ unduly alter or degrade from a) the driving experience of the competitors or b) compromise the visceral spectacle.

        So taking this on a case by case basis we would see something along the lines of:

        Carbon fibre/continually improved impact materials in car construction – NO
        Hans device/improved helmets, personal safety equip etc. – NO
        Enclosed cockpits – YES
        Wheel teathers – NO
        Improved barrier tech (Recticell, SAFER) – NO
        Excessive Tarcmac runoff area – YES
        Excessive removal of ‘natural terrain’ elements – YES
        Providing the absolute best and most efficient post-accident medical response – NO.

        As for my personal view on the Bianchi accident…it honestly leaves a very bad taste. To me is almost profane and quite representative of the hypocritical and inconsistent state of F1 at the moment. Each new circuit on the calendar is of the featureless ‘playmat’ style – the great circuits sterilized with tarmac runofff…yet Bianchi is put in the position to impact a multi-ton piece of construction equipment. Not good.