Video: Is contact between F1 cars OK?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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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