Video: Is contact between F1 cars OK?

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Nurburging, 2007 | Ferrari MediaFelipe Massa has spoken out about his dice with Fernando Alonso in the closing stages of the European Grand Prix.

I’ve read his words back a couple of times and it honestly seems to me that he’s saying it’s OK for F1 cars to make contact while racing for position.

Is that really what he’s saying? Is it OK for drivers to behave as if F1 is a contact sport? Here’s what Massa had to say, and my thoughts on the controversial battle between him and Alonso.

Here’s what Massa had to say – I’ve highlighted the most interesting sentence:

The battle on the track is intense. At the Nurburgring I was in front but had some problems on the car, so I still tried to maintain my position in the correct way.

That is what sport should be. We had words afterwards, but for me that was sport, that is what people like to see and I was fighting for my position in a normal way.

It does not mean that if you touch someone that you are going to push them off the track. That was never my intention. We touched in what was a racing incident which happens very often in F1, which is why I don’t understand why is reaction was so severe.

I am going to keep fighting and I am a racing driver which is why I will never give up position easily, especially if it is for the lead in the race. Competition is great when it is a sport, but now politics is part of all sports and I hope the sport won’t become less interesting because of that.

If Massa is saying that it’s acceptable for two F1 cars to make contact, that’s a surprising and bold statement.

One of the greatest dangers in open wheel racing is that two cars may make contact wheel-to-wheel, which can result in enormous and violent crashes. Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher’s crash at Australia in 2001, that killed marshal Graham Beveridge, is an extreme example.

But even at lower speeds wheel-to-wheel contact can be very dangerous – remember how David Coulthard’s Red Bull leapt into the air when it made contact with Alexander Wurz’s Williams at Melbourne this year. The Red Bull passed perilously close to the cockpit opening on Wurz’s car.

Here’s a video of the contact between Alonso and Massa at the N????rburging:

As ever, there are conflicting interpretations of what happened. The crucial sequence is between 2’03 and 2’18. Here’s how I see it:

2’03 – Massa defends the inside of turn four from Alonso. Alonso takes a wider entry to carry more speed through the corner.
2’10 – Alonso moves to the right to try to pass Massa on the outside of turn five. On the previous lap he had tried the inside but Massa covered the move (see 0’22).
2’11 – Massa sees the move and tries to defend the line but can’t because Alonso is already alongside.
2’14 – They turn in to turn five, Massa on the inside, Alonso alongside on the outside.
2’16 – They exit the corner, still alongside each other.
2’17 – The pair make brief contact. Alonso’s car is on the outside of the corner.

Although the contact was only slight, given that Massa knew where Alonso was and that Alonso was on the outside of the corner (obviously unwilling to drive on the wet painted line and kerbs which might have caused a spin), you have to blame Massa for the contact.

It may only have been very light contact, but it doesn’t take much to knock a suspension arm out of line or damage a critical component on an F1 car.

Lewis Hamilton has a similar incident with GP2 team mate Alexandre Premat at Barcelona last year. On the final lap the pair made contact, Hamilton was tipped into a spin, and Premat took a controversial win.

If Massa does think it’s OK for F1 cars to make contact, I think he needs a stern talking to from someone at the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association.

But I don’t believe he thinks that. He knows he lost the race, and he wants to play down the importance of a controversial incident. Although Alonso’s reaction after the race was extreme, Massa knows in his heart that the Spaniard was right, and this is one to chalk up to experience.

For another look at the incident, check out this Dailymotion video, hilariously set to the theme tune from the X-Files, with accusatory arrows pointing all over the place (external).

Photo: Ferrari media

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17 comments on Video: Is contact between F1 cars OK?

  1. It’s actually quite a difficult point. How can we be completely condemning of occasional contact between F1 cars when we all rerun again and again the famous battle between Gilles and Arnoux in the French GP? At the time, I pointed out to all those rapturous over such an incredible battle that it was extremely dangerous and could have ended in tears. I was shouted down as a wet blanket and now I think maybe it was right that I was.

    Both drivers said afterwards that they enjoyed their tussle immensely and that they trusted each other not to make a completely stupid move. And the result was a classic moment in F1’s history, something that remains in memory all our lives. It would be too sweeping to regard all contact as wrong, I think. It happens, at times the track is just not wide enough and it happens.

    But I also think that there is more to that particular incident than Massa is admitting. After the race, he said that his car was sliding and he could not prevent it touching Alonso’s McLaren. Now, he seems to be claiming that this kind of thing happens all the time in F1 and it’s no big deal. A racing incident, he says.

    I accepted his “sliding” story at first – it looked plausible from the videos I’d seen. But the funny video you posted actually gives a better view than others – and it is very clear from it that contact did not occur until after the corner, when any sliding by the Ferrari should have been easily controllable. From the overhead view, Massa’s move looks a good deal more deliberate than from other angles.

    And that is the point really, isn’t it? Contact happens, yes, but it becomes unacceptable when it is deliberate. That is often very hard to judge but, from having been in the position of considering that particular contact to have been accidental, I am “sliding” towards the the view that it was intentional. It looks to me as though Massa didn’t want to shove Alonso completely off the track (as we’ve seen others do at times) but was hoping to push him just enough to get him on to the dirt and ruin his traction by doing so.

    It is fairly obvious that the incident still rankles with Massa; Alonso has not referred to it once since that day, as far as I’m aware. It seems that Alonso has shoved Massa psychologically – winding him up after the race, knowing that it would eat away at the Brazilian. There’s a reason why Fernando is a double world champion and Massa’s true ability is still doubted… ;)

  2. Cooperman said on 3rd August 2007, 16:35

    From what I saw Massa aqua-planed into Alonso in a Ferrari that didn’t handle well in the wet. To my mind this is acceptable (and probably unavoidable).

    At the other end of the scale Schumcher-Hill and Prost-Senna collisions aren’t acceptable.

    If a driver can ‘get away with’ colliding with a competitor, making it look as though it wasn’t intentional and then also ensure that his car survives the race then good on him!!

  3. wow, so many anti Ferrari posts altogether,

    Brits really adore Mclaren dont they ???>??? , although take this with a pinch of salt, your recent posts are highly biased against Ferrari, just something i noticed.

    i too sometimes go overboard in praising Ferrari ;)

  4. Holds hand up as anti-Ferrari (although less so, now that Schumacher has gone). But I’m not pro-McLaren, Ankit. If anything, I support BMW.

    It’s true that the way we see things will be affected to a greater or lesser degree by our existing sympathies – I will even admit to having gone slightly overboard in my defence of Scott Speed over the last couple of weeks or so. But only slightly; I try to remain as objective as I can but I’m sure my preferences show through quite often. No doubt Keith is the same – he seems very fair to me (of course, that’s said from my point of view too!).

    I’ve admitted in my post that my views have changed as more evidence comes to light. Have yours ever done the same? ;)

    And finally, yes, Brits tend to adore McLaren. Almost as much as Italians worship Ferrari… :D

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd August 2007, 19:39

    I don’t agree with the claims that I’m biased against Ferrari. I don’t think it’s possible to be completely unbiased, but I haven’t got an agenda against anyone.

    I enjoy debates about the facts of the stories – but not slanging matches about who likes who. There are plenty of other places on the internet where I can have tedious rows like that.

    I outlined in detail what Massa said (using the entire quote and not just the bit I thought was important). I questioned whether I was interpreting his words correctly. I posted a video of what happened and a deconstruction of my interpretation of every move. Never mind that the article is about Massa, and not his team.

    Similarly with the pieces I have written on the espionage affair (which I can only assume are the articles Ankit is referring to) I’ve tried to include as much detail as possible while linking directly to other sources that can supply more information.

    I even went so far in one of my more contentious pieces recently to acknowledge the possibility that people might think I am biased:

    Of course, I’m British and McLaren are a British team. But believe me when I say that has nothing to do with why I agree with the FIA’s decision.

    I do as much as I can to separate fact from opinion, and explain what I think as clearly as possible. I therefore find it very disappointing to get responses that just say “you’re biaised because you’re British” without trying to start a discussion based on the facts.

  6. Wesley said on 3rd August 2007, 23:53

    I read every article daily and I have to say I don’t believe this site is biased.There has been alot of negative press with Ferrari and McLaren lately and I think all the facts have been presented for each to make their own conclusion.If anyone thinks this site is biased they should surf some other sites,I am not a Ferrari fan but,just like the other F1 fans on this site I don’t come here and slam them.That is why I come here,to read what level headed THINKERS have to say.

  7. Bias aside, I always believed the reason why contact is faux pas in single-seat open wheel is because the cars are too delicate and expensive to go through it.

    We can’t generalize that all contact is wrong; some accidental contact will happen, but of course, deliberate contact is dangerous. We can’t have drivers breaking each others’ cars on purpose.

  8. SoLiD said on 4th August 2007, 2:23

    Alonso was the better driver in the wet and Massa couldn’t admit it… he just tried to be hard but fair in the battle … he tried to squeeze Alonso into braking and lose his momentum … and yes this is hard (but fair) racing … they made slight contact. If you do want to blame anyone ‘for sure’ it was Massa.
    But it’s been blown out of proportion… the comments made by Alonso are probably more a war of words, wich worked, then a real attack on Massa.
    This is part of F1 and is what makes F1 so great … hate it or love it :)

  9. I am not sure Massa or Alonso are better in the wet. The fact that Massa lost the position to Alonso this time was more down to the car and tyre performance.

    To touch another car on purpose should not be OK, for sure. But if there is to be some proper racing and fighting for positions, the occasional conctact between cars will always be on the cards. None of the drivers involved can predict every single next move of the other guy.

    You know what is great? That we are discussing here actual on track fight and overtaking maneuvre between top 2 cars …

    And no, this site is not biased, and I think that is why all of us keep coming back. The other reason for me is the inteligent discussion, unlike some forums :-)

  10. Hi

    I am sorry, but i think you took it in the wrong sense, its ok to be biased sometimes, atleast thats what i feel. I guess it was my own disappointment, that i wrote that comment. Basically i read that post in which you say the FIA is right.

    Now you say it was Massa’s fault, IMHO one cant pass such statements in places where doubts exist.

    Sorry for the inconvenience ! I will be more careful in the future.

    @clive – I can never be anti-ferrari, so you may be right there ! , read the last line of my previous comment, i admit it ;)

  11. There was a time when I, too, was a Ferrari fan, Ankit. But we all see the error of our ways eventually… ;)

    But surely doubt is the essence of discussion. If we all know something as established fact, what is the point of debating it?

  12. Journeyer said on 4th August 2007, 6:35

    I think what Massa was trying to say was that it was OK for F1 cars to make contact, as long as it wasn’t to push anyone off the track.

    And that’s in agreement with what we’ve been seeing here.

    Now was it deliberate? No, I don’t think so. Massa never drove into Alonso at any point. In fact, Alonso practically forced his way through. But for me, it’s a completely acceptable move by Fernando. Massa’s car did look like it was sliding because it was badly struggling for grip. Nothing deliberate there for me.

    Milos, I absolutely agree with you. It’s not often we see any passing between Ferrari and McLaren, particularly this year.

  13. Nathan Jones said on 4th August 2007, 11:21

    for mine, it was a hard but fair battle! the way it should be.
    sadly we don’t get enough of it!

  14. Tommy B said on 4th August 2007, 11:26

    “Video: Is contact between F1 cars OK?”

    Of course, just see the battle between Villenueve and Arnoux and you cant say its not OK. Briatore did say though it was ridculous how cars now just fall apart in contact, they need to be built like the old cars so they can have good battles and it wont matter about little niggles

  15. Massa’s move was fine. It just looked like he was sliding. However his weaving to hold Alonso behind on the previous lap or so wasn’t okay.

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