FIA’s “Solutions” Avoiding the Real Problems

In the various media scrums today in Hungary, the FIA embarked on a rather ridiculous journey to increased pitlane safety. Numerous suggestions were made, and all of them were shot down through either sheer logic or indecision. There are two particular “solutions” that I want to address right now, though, as I feel they exemplify the cowardly indecision that defines the current makeup of the FIA.

Before I begin in ernest, though, I want to also address the further media bans in the pit lane this weekend in Hungary, and indeed for the rest of the season, and potentially for the rest of the sport’s existence. Broadcasting organizations under contract by FOM, which runs the TV coverage of Formula One, are now allowed only one cameraman and reporter in the pitlane during any session over the course of the weekend. A total ban on media members in the pits for qualifying and the race remains in place, although the FIA will allow certain camera crews to work from the pit wall.

This type of decision-making is completely useless. This was implemented in the first place after the unfortunate accident in Germany, where FOM cameraman, Paul Allen, was struck by a loose tire from Mark Webber’s Red Bull. But this rule, and indeed all the rules made this weekend that restrict media access to the pitlane, completely sidesteps the very apparent problem, rather than addressing it head on. This is lazy legislation on the FIA’s part, and is only exacerbated by FOM’s compliance.

Back to the original rules, though. The first one I want to address is one that I brought up in my post regarding Formula One’s sense of competition. I suggested that a possible solution to rouge tires, like the one we saw wreak havoc in Germany, was to implement a minimum pit stop duration. I suggested 4 seconds, as the normal pitstop these days is often under 3 seconds. In hindsight, that is a completely worthless solution, as it is not long enough to make an impact, and because Fernando Alonso reminded us of an incident from the not-so-distant past.

In 2009, when Fernando Alonso started the Hungarian Grand Prix from pole, the spaniard endured his own tire troubles in the pit lane. A loose wheel went flying during one of his pitstops, endangering the mechanics and FIA/FOM personnel around him. Alonso was quick to point out to the media today when the proposed minimum pitstop times were brought up, that requiring a pitstop to take a certain amount of time was pointless. In 2009, we must remember, re-fuelling was still in place. Tire changes were never under any pressure because the fuel always took long enough to give the tire changers ample time to check their handiwork. Yet, the problem was still there, and it has been ever since.

This proposal was unanimously shot down by all the drivers and teams.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly is the proposed, and confirmed, rule implementing grid penalties for accidents in the pit lane.

It seems hard to justify punishing someone for an accident. No one in the sport sets out each and every race weekend to harm someone in the pit lane. All the accidents in the pit lane are just that. Accidents. Regardless, the FIA has confirmed that any car leaving the pitlane with a loose wheel will result in an immediate 10-place grid penalty at the next event.

This is the rule I find most angering. Not all will agree with me, but surely it is pointless to punish the drivers for an even that is entirely out of their hands? This new ruling is about as useful as grid penalties for gearbox changes. Both pitlane accidents and gearbox changes are out of the control of the drivers, yet it is the drivers that are being punished. Gearbox changes are out of the control of both teams and drivers, so I can at least feel some sympathy for that rule, although it is not substantial. But pitlane accidents, regardless of their accidental nature, are entirely in the hands of the teams.

Why are the teams not being punished then? Why will we not be seeing Constructors’ Championship points deducted? Why will we not be seeing monetary fines, which, by the way are completely pathetic and minuscule in comparison to the team’s budgets right now? There are a whole host of options for the FIA to pick up on, yet they take the easy route out and punish the drivers.

In protest to this rule, Felipe Massa spoke out today about the FIA’s avoidance of the real problems. Speed reductions in the pit lanes, restricted media access and this grid penalty system all aid to sidestep the real issues at play. They are not providing solutions to the problem, rather, in their avoidance of them, they create even more.

Perhaps even more pertinent to the safety of the sport than finding a solution is the fact that no one can even agree on a solution. I don’t know what is best for the sport, and I won’t try and convince you otherwise. I do, however, know what is bad for the sport, and the FIA and FOM sure have made that task very easy for me and the rest of the sport’s fans in recent days.

The FIA and FOM have shown their true colors these past few weeks. We have seen inarguably that they are ineffective when it comes to implementing common sense safety precautions when it comes to the immediate concerns of safety today. We know now that they have been avoiding making technical changes to the cars themselves for reasons unapparent to the public. What we don’t know, is why? Why is the sport creating an environment where safety and the public’s viewing experience are compromised just because the sport can’t make common sense decisions?

Good thing the summer break is coming soon. The FIA and FOM have a lot of thinking, and hopefully decision-making, to do.

 

Let me know what you think should be done to ensure better safety in the pit lane. Should we be restricting access to the media and punishing the wrong people, or should we be developing better technology to give more assurance to personnel in the firing line?

 

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