Safer cars and circuits each season encourage drivers to take risks. How can we stop them?
In mathematical demonstrations, they think in terms of limits i.e. situations are pushed to the extreme to demonstrate their validity or otherwise. Forgive me if I stray into territory that may seem debatable but I do so inspired by the same principle of pushing an idea to its limits. Why? Because I feel it could help us analyse certain situations relating to safety in grands prix.
The start at Spa when we saw cars flying over Alonso’s Ferrari (not that it matters who the driver was) as well as Vettel’s cheeky manoeuvre in Monza when the Spaniard was attempting to pass him, made me realise that that today’s drivers have forgotten just how dangerous motor racing really is.
By dangerous I mean these are races in which people can die.
Therein lies the paradox. The work done on making the cars and circuits safer has been so effective that today’s young drivers are convinced they can do anything and get away with it. I’ve been going to tracks for decades and I’ve seen many drivers killed, all too often friends of mine. I knew them very well, and the passion and commitment they had for the sport they were lucky enough to be involved in. I was also aware of the subtle sense of disquiet that the risk of an early death exerted on them all.
Cars are not safe and neither are circuits.
Back in the day, however, even the most reckless show-offs knew that they had to curb themselves at certain times to avoid potentially deadly situations. That doesn’t seem to happen anymore. The drivers try certain manoeuvres and if it all goes wrong, the worst that can happen is the team spends a couple of sleepless nights putting the car back together again. We are talking about new driver safety regulations. There is a lot of focus on head protection as this remains a vulnerable area of the body. Fine. But are we sure that, in our rush to avoid risks, we’re not actually making racing more dangerous because the more arrogant, inexpert and recklessly daring will think there will be no real consequences no matter what they do.
There’s no real solution to that conundrum: it would be unthinkable to go back to having dangerous cars just to encourage drivers to be more careful. The nature of the race would trump no matter what. But there is still something not quite right about all this: these days the race marshals have a group of experts on hand which decides live on what action should be taken when someone does something wrong. It’s a difficult call and even the actions end up being debated and debatable. It almost feels like the sport is becoming distorted. Perhaps the best thing to do would be put in place very strict rules on behaviour and ban the drivers that don’t comply with them, handing over their wheels for one, two or three races to the reserve driver every team has.
That’s what happened to Grosjean at Monza and it seemed a once-off and quite extraordinary thing to happen. But if drivers knew that doing stupid things would mean losing out on two or three grands prix, a certain kind of fear might creep back in. Not the fear of death this time, fortunately, but an effective one nonetheless.