Tag Archives: Formula One

High-Speed Blow-Outs Raise Tyre Safety Concerns

For the past few seasons in Formula 1, Pirelli have made tyres which wear faster in order to increase the excitement for watching fans. The idea has lead to teams using different strategies to gain an advantage over their rivals. At this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel suffered a right-rear tyre failure after running on the same tyres for 28 laps. Should the incident be dismissed as simply the risk taken with running longer on the tyres, or should there be genuine safety concerns?

The incident wasn’t the first of the weekend. During Friday practice, Nico Rosberg also suffered a right-rear tyre blow-out just 14 laps into his stint. While the two incidents may not be connected, the catastrophic nature of the failures means the results of both could have been a lot worse. Rosberg’s failure occurred at 305kph just before the fast left-hander of Blanchimont, while Vettel’s was at 320kph just after the high speed Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners. Had the failure been mid-corner, the drivers could have been seriously injured.

When Rosberg’s car was returned to the team, they said they had never seen a failure like it. After Pirelli conducted a full investigation, they could not find the cause of the failure. They concluded that it was most likely debris picked up from when Rosberg ran off the track. Rosberg says he did not run off track. This is something Vettel brought up in the drivers’ briefing on Friday. He was not happy with Pirelli’s excuse.

Vettel spoke out publically after the race, in an interview with the BBC, using colourful language to describe what he felt about the whole situation after his failure. To him the situation is simple. These sort of failures should not happen. I could not agree with him more.

Motorsport is dangerous, there’s no getting away from it. In the GP2 race on Saturday, Daniel de Jong fractured his spine in a crash where Rosberg had his failure. F1 cars are faster, so it doesn’t take much to imagine just how bad Rosberg’s failure could have been.

Pirelli claim the cause of Vettel’s failure was excessive wear. To me that makes sense, I can understand that tryes don’t last forever. However, the nature of the failure is unacceptable. Prior to the failure, Vettel’s lap times were good, he was keeping Grosjean behind him. There were no indications of a problem. It was a complete surprise that the tyre exploded.

If Pirelli knew that 28 laps would be too long for their tyres, they should have told teams. The fact that they didn’t makes me think they didn’t know the risk, and that is worse. If a tyre could explode, the tyre manufacturer should know when that will happen. It is not acceptable that catastrophic failure occurs without warning. There should be some warning signs at least, and when a tyre fails, it should fail in a controlled manner.

Since Vettel’s outburst, it’s clear that something must be done. A driver must have complete trust in his car, and he has clearly lost trust in the tyres. I hope this is the last time we see tyre failures like this. Safety isn’t something to play games with.

-SC

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New F1 Licence Rules Could Rule Out Future Champs

The FIA World Motor Sport Council held their annual meeting in Mexico City last week and announced key changes to the way the Formula One Super Licence will be awarded. Incredibly the new criteria, had they always been in place, would have prevented all but one Formula One World Champion since 1997 from entering the sport when they did.

The changes, to be introduced at the start of next year, rank drivers’ achievements in lower categories using a points system. A driver must have enough points to apply for a Super Licence, the licence required to drive an F1 car during a Grand Prix Weekend. The proposal had been made earlier this year, but amid complaints of how certain categories were ranked, the FIA made some adjustments.

From next year onwards, in order to be granted a Super Licence, a driver is required to (among other things) have accumulated 40 points in the three previous years according to the points system below.

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th
FIA F2 40 40 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3
GP2 40 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2
F3 European 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2 1
WEC LMP1 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2 1
IndyCar 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2 1
FR3.5 35 25 20 15 10 7 5 3 2 1
GP3 30 20 15 10 7 5 3 2 1 0
Super Formula 25 20 15 10 7 5 3 2 1 0
WTCC 15 12 10 7 5 3 2 1 0 0
DTM 15 12 10 7 5 3 2 1 0 0
Indy Lights 15 12 10 7 5 3 2 1 0 0
National FIA F4 12 10 7 5 3 2 1 0 0 0
National F3 10 7 5 3 1 0 0 0 0 0
FR2.0 10 7 5 3 1 0 0 0 0 0
CIK-FIA Senior 5 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
  • The Formula E champion will be automatically awarded a Super Licence despite 2nd, 3rd, etc.  effectively meaning nothing

I decided to examine the points system and see how it would have affected the current F1 drivers. While it makes no difference now since they already have Super Licences, the list of drivers that would have been ruled out is surprising!

The changes were sparked by Toro Rosso’s signing of 17-year-old Max Verstappen, a boy with only one year experience racing cars. So I was expecting it to rule out a lot of younger drivers. But the list of drivers ruled out included race winners, and world champions! Of the current F1 grid, the following drivers had fewer than 40 points when they entered the sport:

Sebastian Vettel
Kimi Räikkönen
Fernando Alonso
Jenson Button
Felipe Massa
Daniel Ricciardo
Marcus Ericsson
Carlos Sainz Jr
Max Verstappen
Will Stevens

Looking back another two seasons and you can add Paul di Resta, Adrian Sutil, Kamui Kobayashi, Jean-Éric Vergne, André Lotterer, Max Chilton, and Giedo van der Garde to that list.

I could have gone on, but I decided to just focus on notable drivers from the past. Two legends of the sport, Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli would also have needed more experience before racing in F1. Most surprising, however, both Michael Schumacher and Mika Häkkinen also fell short of the 40 points, even when you replace their achievements with today’s equivalent.

All in all, this means that the only world champion since 1997 who would have qualified under the new regulations is Lewis Hamilton. In fact he would have 88 points, and could have entered a year earlier.

This all begs the question, is the new system necessary? Some of the best drivers in the history of the sport are on the list. There have been very few bad, or dangerous drivers in the past. The only one I can think of in recent years is Yuji Ide, who was stripped of his Super Licence after only four races after numerous crashes. Amazingly, he would still have gotten a Super Licence under the new rules! So who are they trying to stop from entering the sport?

The points system does not just apply to Formula One. A similar licence for Formula E is being introduced next season which affects the current drivers! In order to be awarded an ‘e-Licence’, a driver must have 20 points in the previous three years, OR have taken part in three ePrix in the last season, OR have previously held a Super Licence.

By my calculations this means that six of the drivers from last season are not allowed to race next season! Don’t worry, Yuji you’ll be alright since you had a Super Licence in the past.

Oliver Turvey, Simona de Silvestro, Matthew Brabham, Marco Andretti, Katerine Legge, and Antonio Garcia will not be allowed eLicences next season under the new rules. Turvey and de Silvestro raced at the end of last season and may have expected to continue into next season. Turvey had two solid points finishes in London, yet according to the FIA he is now too inexperienced to race a Formula E car.

-SC

Verstappen’s Big Chance

Scuderia Toro Rosso announced this week that Max Verstappen will race for the Italian Formula One team next season. When he makes his debut, the Dutch teenager will become the youngest person to ever compete in Formula One.

The debate in the Formula One paddock is whether the soon-to-be 17 year old is too young to race in motor sport’s premier class. The issue people have is not just his age, but also his experience. Verstappen has only been racing cars for four months, for Van Amersfoort Racing’s Formula 3 team.

However, in those four months he has won eight races and currently sits second in the championship, meaning he qualifies for a Super License. Just like for driving on public roads, you need a license to drive an F1 car. Good results in certain racing series is required to apply for a Super License.

The situation has been compared to when Kimi Räikkönen made his debut in 2001 at the age of 21. Younger men had raced before him, but he just had a short spell in Formula Renault to his name. The Finnish driver later became a world champion and was one of the highest paid athletes in the world in 2009.

While the Räikkönen situation seems similar, times have changed dramatically since 2001. Räikkönen’s move did not involve as many changes as Verstappen’s will. F1 drivers nowadays have to cope with turbo chargers, hybrid systems, braking energy recovery, movable rear wings, and Pirelli tyres. The switch from F3 to F1 will be a massive step compared to Verstappen’s recent step from karts to cars.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to drive a full size racing simulator at Base Performance Simulators. I got to test cars from Formula Renault, Formula 3 and GP2. The main difference between Formula Renault and F3 is more downforce, but they still feel similar to drive. However GP2 is different in every way. More downforce, bigger engines, and stickier tyres mean much faster speeds through the corners. But the main change is the brakes. It’s second nature to floor the throttle and work your way up through gears, but remembering that you can brake from 280kph for a 90° right hander just 100m from the corner and turn in at 60kph is what sorts the men from the boys.

My driver trainer for that day was two-time Le Mans Winner Darren Turner. He said there’s a jump from Formula Renault to F3, but the jump to GP2 is about 5 times as big, and F1 is about the same size jump again.

I have no racing experience. I am not saying Verstappen will not be able to handle a Formula One car -not in the slightest. He knows how to race and how to drive fast. My point is that lower categories of racing are there for a reason. By making steps through the categories, drivers learn how to adapt to different situations.

Who knows what F1 cars will be like in five years. When F1 switched to Pirelli tyres, even the experienced drivers struggled with that one change. But the younger drivers adapted quicker -maybe because they had gone through changes more recently.

I don’t think the question should be “is 17 too young for Formula 1?” but rather “is it too early for Verstappen to race in F1?”. I think the answer to that question is yes.

Toro Rosso is the testing grounds for Red Bull Racing. Both of Red Bull’s current drivers came through the Italian outfit. Typically, driver’s are signed for two years, and if they can’t prove their worth, or there’s no seat to fill, they don’t get a seat at Red Bull.

In two years Verstappen will be 19 (currently the record for youngest driver to race in F1). Only two of the current teams have ever signed a 19 year old -Toro Rosso, and Ferrari. Toro Rosso might not want him any more, Ferrari no longer sign young drivers -so who would sign him?

He might have to go to another category of racing, get more results and hope he gets another shot at Formula 1. Few drivers get a second chance, but it can be done -Romain Grosjean did it recently and has returned as a more competitive racer.

It’s an unfortunate situation for the teenager to be in. No young racer in their right mind would turn down a switch to Formula 1. It’s the dream, it may be a once in a lifetime offer.

I’ve watched Verstappen race in Formula 3 this season and he has a lot of talent. Around the streets Pau I saw him make the car slide around corner to get a better line for the chicane. That’s something you would normally see in karting, but he made it work in an F3 car.

Verstappen’s first time driving an F1 car will be before November’s United States GP and I for one am excited to see how he’ll do.

-SC