The German Grand Prix this weekend showcased a master class in driving as drivers such as Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton repeatedly went wheel to wheel as they battled for both position and bragging rights. But it also showcased complete idiocy and irresponsibility by the race control when they decided not to neutralise the race following a spin for Sutil, which left a car in a dangerous position on track.
Adrian Sutil spun out of the final corner as his car battled a failing engine, leaving him stranded diagonally across the right hand side of the grid. After determining that his Sauber had called time on his race, Sutil climbed from the cockpit and strolled back to the pits. Lewis Hamilton pitted for a new set of tyres, taking advantage of what was sure to be a Safety Car period, and I’m sure every team in the paddock had strategists calculating if it was worth pitting behind the Safety Car, with only fifteen laps to go.
But Hamilton’s gamble went unrewarded and the hurried strategy decisions proved useless as the Safety Car stayed parked in its standby position at the end of the pit lane. Instead, the stricken Sauber stayed stationary on the grid while yellow flags waved frantically on the pit straight.
There were two things which I found quite frustrating about this.
Starting with the lesser of the two: the delay in clearing his car. Unless Sutil parked his car in the marshal’s cafeteria, he couldn’t have put it any closer to an abundance of marshals – the pit lane is quite literally crammed to the brim with these volunteers, yet none ventured onto the track to recover the car. It was a full two minutes and fifty-five seconds between the moment Sutil spun and the time that the first marshals arrived on the scene. In the meantime, an assembly of officials gawked stupidly at the abandoned car from the safety of the pit wall. Finally, three ballsy men ran from the other side of the track, across the racing line, to push the car towards the gap in the pit wall, mere metres away.
Obviously, there was nothing the marshals could do: they can’t simply walk onto the track if they feel like it. Instead, the men and women in orange must wait for an order from race control. It is race control who must answer for the farcical delay in removing the hazard.
I joked on Twitter that perhaps Bernd Maylander was using the toilet at the time, and so could not drive the Safety Car to neutralise the race. Obviously, he wasn’t. The Safety Car had not broken down and Bernd sat ready to go, as per usual. So why wasn’t he used? It made absolutely no sense to leave that Sauber dangerously placed on the grid, when a Safety Car for a lap or two could have it cleared safely out of the way.
“A Safety Car would have normally come out in situations like that,” said Lewis Hamilton, echoing the sentiments of the other drivers in the paddock. “In fact, there should have been a Safety Car,” he told Sky Sports. “How on earth a car can be sitting in the middle of the road for a couple of laps and not come out…but I think you know why.” It’s clear that Hamilton has convinced himself that Race Control has it in for him, that they purposefully left the Safety Car in the pits in case it would hurt Rosberg’s lead in the race. It’s a ridiculous suggestion, and one I have seen echoed by a lot of people, (particularly British fans, strangely). But although the idea is outrageous and highly unlikely, I’m at a loss to find another reason why Race Control wouldn’t bother using the Safety Car.
The second (and most important thing) that frustrated and concerned me was the blatant disregard for the safety of drivers, marshals and anyone within range of debris which would be thrown up by a car smashing into the parked Sauber.
I simply can’t get my head around the logic of those who are in charge of the races. This is the same sport which only two weeks ago postponed a Grand Prix for a full hour while minor damage to a small piece of Armco barrier, the odds of which being hit again was millions to one, was repaired. How can the same apparently safety conscious organisation spend an hour repairing a barrier in one race, only to shrug off a big car parked diagonally across a track. It’s lunacy. Also, I hope the irony that Sutil’s car was parked beside a CGI road safety message was not lost on you.
For me, this almighty cock-up was merely the act of an incompetent Race Control. I would like to see a statement from them, explaining their decision, but I know that they won’t bother. The truth of the matter is that there is no excuse for not bringing out the Safety Car for a blockage on track when we have seen the AMG SLS brought out for as little as a front wing endplate out on the track. On the other hand, the officials in Race Control were simply failing in their duty to keep the competitors safe, rather than maliciously endangering the drivers in an attempt to help Rosberg, whose talent and speed on the day was enough to see him win the race comfortably, regardless. But, the British press will, I imagine, continue to rant and rave about a mixture of conspiracies and the worst of luck for Hamilton (the latter being nothing short of a case of bad sportsmanship) because, on the day, their man lost.
Image courtesy of Sauber Motorsport AG.