I miss the old days when a first-corner crash at Monaco was almost an inevitability, the prospect of a smash-up involving a few cars adding to the pre-race tension and overall entertainment value. I put some blame on the modern points scoring, but improved reliability has made F1 much more about consistency, and modern drivers are more collectively sensible.
I heard an observation on a podcast that the Monaco Grand Prix has been the centre-piece of Formula One since its first running in 1929. The Monte Carlo Rally had existed since 1911 and the Automobile Club de Monaco wanted to be upgraded from a regional French club to having full national status. The Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus refused, as Monaco did not hold a major event within its borders, so in 1929, the Grand Prix was originally held on the Monte Carlo streets. Of course, Formula One did not exist until 1946. Monaco was included twice in the seven inter-war European Championships, with that series picking three to five Grands Prix in a season to count for points. Monaco was included in the first Formula One World Championship in 1950, but not again until 1955, between only being run in 1952 for sportscars.
Fernando Alonso’s absence from qualification after his FP3 accident made me rail at the silly rule banning spare cars. This is to save money but, as I have observed before, the teams just spend it on something else. Under the old rules, even without a spare, he could have shared his team-mate’s car in qualification. In Q1, Massa had set a good enough time to make Q2 with 12 minutes to spare and an even better time with eight minutes to spare. In Q2, he also set a time to make Q3 with eight minutes to spare.
Where the no-spare-car rule may really bite F1 is in a scenario such as the 1998 Belgium Grand Prix. The first start on a wet track resulted in a massive pile up out of the first corner (see clip above) involving most the field. Only 18 of 26 cars were on the grid for the second start because teams had just one spare car. By today’s rules, there would be only be six or seven cars available for the restart. It would also be good for teams to be allowed, as before, to run third drivers on Fridays.
Robert Kubica impressed more with his third place around the principality streets than his fine second place in China. It was the only performance that seemed to buck the perceived pecking order. It is a shame for Renault that he does not have an experienced team-mate to help them challenge Mercedes in the Constructors’ competition. Kubica’s committed performances in FP2 and FP3, as well as for qualification and the race, will for me go down as one of the highlights of the season.
Flavio Briatori was around at Monaco and rumour is Uncle Bernie might give him a job helping to promote the sport. Many years ago, when Briatori was between running Benetton and running Renault, Ecclestone suggested to a meeting of team representatives that the flamboyant Italian be put in charge of stewarding. Apparently, the howls of laughter in response to the suggestion did not go down well with the F1 boss. I suspect, hard though it may be to believe, that Mr Ecclestone would see Flavio as the best candidate to be his successor.
So both RBRs managed not to fall apart at Monaco and Webber had two races in a row without being unlucky. Their reliability issues have been the sort of things that should be one-offs – the spark-plug failure, a wheel-nut problem, and a faulty brake disk. One theory is that Mark was more effected by his leg injury last season than he let on, which is believable, but it has been Sebastian that has had the three race-damaging problems. To be fair on Mark, his poor result in Australia was because the team bought him in too late for slicks, but his poor result in Bahrain, with a qualification mistake and a weak race, looked his own fault. They are tied on points at 78 each. Without the reliability issues, Vettel would probably have won Bahrain and Australia plus second in Spain, putting him on 119 points, and Mark would be on 94 if we blame the team in Australia. Vettel has shown much better consistency than last season with the team looking fundamentally reliable and downright fast. It looks like Red Bull could run away with this, and in Vettel’s favour, unless Mark can improve on out-racing his team-mate more than twice in six attempts.
Considering how HRT barely scraped into F1 this year, it is not surprising that there is doubt as to if they can complete the season. Since Uncle Bernie seems to want them to, they probably will, possibly with a piece of the team belonging to Ecclestone by the end of the season. Lotus and Virgin drivers were about a second to a second-and-a-half behind making Q2, but the HRT drivers were two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half seconds off. Having split with Dallara, there appears to be minimal chance of any new development parts, and why would anyone want to sponsor them? Colin Kolles has claimed the team is close to revealing its plans to build their car for next year, but as we learnt with US F1, such proclamations cost nothing. Surely, the only feasible possibility is a buy-out with Bernard collecting his cut. It might be Stefan GP’s only way in.
(What happened to US F1’s punishment for not making the F1 grid in Bahrain that we were told was going to be made by FIA? I was looking forward to them being given a suspended race ban.)
40.11 When the clerk of the course decides it is safe to call in the safety car the message “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP” will be displayed on the timing monitors and the car’s orange lights will be extinguished This will be the signal to the teams and drivers that it will be entering the pit lane at the end of that lap. At this point the first car in line behind the safety car may dictate the pace and, if necessary, fall more than ten car lengths behind it. In order to avoid the likelihood of accidents before the safety car returns to the pits, from the point at which the lights on the car are turned out drivers must proceed at a pace which involves no erratic acceleration or braking nor any other manoeuvre which is likely to endanger other drivers or impede the restart. As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.
40.13 If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.
The sticking point is rule 40.13. At first reading, it seems clear that Schumacher’s overtaking move was just wrong. However, this rule is designed so if a race ends under safety-car conditions with the circuit still under yellows, then the safety-car peels off to let the winner cross the finish line for TV pictures uncluttered by the pace-car.
On the last lap of Sunday’s Grand Prix, the track had been cleared and the procedure was followed for a racing restart. The safety-car lights went out, the “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP” message was displayed, and the waved green flags with green lights at the line were shown. This meant the safety-car had been un-deployed, therefore rule 40.13 did not apply. If the safety-car was still deployed, the yellow flags and safety-car boards would still be out, the safety-car lights would not have been extinguished, and the “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP” message would not have been displayed.
In past years, this would have made no difference because no overtaking before the start/finish line was allowed even when racing resumed after a safety-car period. Now, overtaking on such a restart is permitted from a line before the pit-entrance. The race had been restarted, Schumacher overtook Alonso between this line and the finishing line, and was penalised for overtaking under a green flag!
I really do not like Schumacher, and if Damon Hill took the opportunity to take a little revenge for Adelaide ’94, good luck to him, but it would not seem like his style. The other stewards were three FIA officials, one from the Automobile Club de Monaco, a Mexican FIA Vice-President, and the President of the FIA Hill Climb Commission. It is quite possible that none of them have stewarding experience even at club-event level, with these F1 stewarding positions an all-expenses paid junket for unpaid FIA and national-club officials, that surprisingly often turn out to be Ferrari fans. (New policy this year to address the inexperience issue is F1 stewards first attend a Grand Prix to observe the stewarding process, which allows additional perks, and strikes me as the blind leading the blind.)
Even if they deemed the manoeuvre illegal, I suppose I am expecting far too much common sense that with the green flags and stuff, and obviously strong arguments on both sides (otherwise why such a long time for a decision), that the fairest outcome would be to demote Schumacher back to seventh place. Of course, the drive-through represented by the twenty-second penalty is the automatic punishment, which is automatically harsher if a race ends bunched up after a safety-car period, and will be irreversible even if FIA allow an appeal to re-examine the decision.
(Reading the rules, Button was lucky to get away without a penalty in China.)