Whiting defends Canada safety car decisions

2011 F1 season

Safety car, Montreal, 2011

Safety car, Montreal, 2011

FIA race director Charlie Whiting defended the extensive use of the safety car during the Canadian Grand Prix.

During the 70-lap race, 30 laps were run under caution, including four at the start of the race and 11 when it was restarted following the suspension.

In an FIA Q&A Whiting said: “We look at what the likelihood of bad visibility is. That’s the main thing. We have to make a call as to whether we think visibility is acceptable or not.

“[In Canada] we didn’t think it was. I think the conditions were quite bad and when we actually got the race underway it was on the limit for visibility. My personal view is that this was the right decision.

“I know we can all go back 25 years and remember worse conditions but I think we are expected to do things slightly differently these days.

“As far as the race resumption is concerned, I think we did eight laps behind the safety car. It’s always going to be a judgement call and we have to make that judgement but I think it’s better to err on the side of safety.

“I maintain that it was the right decision to start the race with the safety car. I’m not expecting everyone to agree.”

A poll of F1 Fanatic readers found 84% felt the safety car is used too much during wet races.

Whiting explained how the FIA take note of drivers’ views during severe weather conditions and added they do take the drivers’ race situation into consideration:

“We listen to all the drivers’ conversations [and consider] a selection of opinions from drivers’ whose opinions we think count. We also take account of what position they’re in.

“In Canada, we were listening and you get the odd driver, usually the same one or two, who say ‘come on let’s go, let’s go’, and then there are others who say it’s not ready yet. We usually take their advice. It’s very worthwhile listening to the drivers.

“A good example of that was in Korea last year, where it was getting dark towards the end of the race. We were listening to the top six drivers, only two of whom were complaining. One of those two, his rear tyres had completely gone, so he had another reason for wanting the race stopped.”

The Canadian Grand Prix was the second consecutive race to be suspended. Whiting said other changes were being considered following the interruption in Monaco:

“I think there are two things we’ve learned from suspending a race this year. One is we need to discuss with the teams whether or not working on cars should be allowed and whether a change of tyres should be allowed during a [race] suspension.

“Also ?ǣ and I never would have thought it ?ǣ we maybe need to think about a maximum time for the race. At the moment, as you know, the time for any suspension is added onto the two hours [maximum race time], that’s why we ran for four hours and four minutes. We’re going to discuss that with the teams.

“I think the procedures worked perfectly well. Unfortunately, quite a few spectators left. I don’t know what happened with television broadcasts, that must have been quite difficult for TV companies, to know when to cut to something else and how long it was going to be.

“It would be nice to have been able to say during the suspension how long it might be, but it was almost impossible to say, because apart from knowing when the rain was likely to stop there was the problem of clearing up water on the track, which was quite serious. I think the guys that did hang around got a good show.”

The Canadian Grand Prix set a new record for the longest ever F1 race at over four hours in duration, following an interruption of more than two hours due to heavy rain.

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43 comments on Whiting defends Canada safety car decisions

  1. Mike Griffin said on 25th June 2011, 19:43

    I reckon about 99% of the 84% who think the Safety Car is used to much in wet races have never raced in the wet in any type of Motorsport….

    • snowman said on 25th June 2011, 20:20

      I reckon 99% of the 16% who think the Safety Car wasn’t used to much have never raced in the wet in motorsport either never mind F1…

      What I do know is great drives in the wet highlight a legends ability like Senna Donington 93 and it would be a shame for them moments to be taken away from the future of the sport.

      • Fixy (@fixy) said on 25th June 2011, 21:16

        If the track was suitable for the intermediates that means the track could have been driveable in even wetter conditions.

        • Mike said on 26th June 2011, 7:37

          Fixy, did you acutally read the article?

          “We look at what the likelihood of bad visibility is. That’s the main thing. We have to make a call as to whether we think visibility is acceptable or not.

          Whiting isn’t talking about how much water is on the track, he is talking about visibility. It’s not the same. I agree that erring on the side of safety is the way to go, it has to be. So in this case, I can’t not agree with Whiting’s decision at the time.

          • John H said on 26th June 2011, 9:03

            I agree that erring on the side of safety is the way to go, it has to be

            No it doesn’t ‘have to be’! This is Formula One, part of the lure is the danger of it and always has been. To start to erode this is a bad thing IMHO, although admittedly very easy to say from the armchair. This has been debated on this website a few years back with Sutil saying F1 had become ‘too safe’.

            However, I have to applaud Whiting in being so open about how decisions are made in such situations. Really refreshing and I’m pleased to hear he take on board that some drivers may have ulterior motives!

    • Todfod (@todfod) said on 25th June 2011, 20:30

      I would say 99% of the people who voted for either decision have never raced in the wet in any type of Motorsport. But I’m pretty sure that they have seen races where drivers were racing in similar conditions instead of following a safety car around.

      During the Canadian GP, all the drivers switched to inters after the safety car left the track. That was just ridiculous.

    • Dave Waters (@dave-waters) said on 25th June 2011, 22:39

      I have raced karts for many yeears and have raced in countless races in which conditions have been just as bad if not worse than what we saw in Canada, and no matter what the conditions, none of those races were stopped at any time just because of the weather.

      Now I know that in F1 the speeds are much higher, the visibility is worse, the danger is greater etc. but these are supposed to be the best drivers in the world. If an average kart racer like me can put up with monsoon conditions, then I think the least they can do is allow F1 drivers to race before the conditions allow them to switch to inters.

      • jake said on 25th June 2011, 22:52

        I’ve also done a few races in heavy heavy rain, with slick tyres on!

      • Mike said on 26th June 2011, 7:38

        Well if it was that wet wouldn’t you get water in the intakes?

        • Dave Waters (@dave-waters) said on 27th June 2011, 12:24

          A fair few karts have had problems with stalling in the slow corners, particularly when it’s very cold, yes. But we do have ‘hoods’ which are placed over the carbs in wet conditions to try and prevent this, and even when karts were stalled on track the races always carried on. We have even raced under floodlights in these conditions. At Buckmore Park, if the track is flooded they simply cut out the bottom part of the track where the flooding is worse and carry on.

          Here is a good example taken onboard from a friend of mine:
          http://www.youtube.com/user/Andy2010kart#p/u/52/GRyy9LmN-9g

  2. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 25th June 2011, 19:43

    What concerns me is this bit:

    Also – and I never would have thought it – we maybe need to think about a maximum time for the race. At the moment, as you know, the time for any suspension is added onto the two hours [maximum race time], that’s why we ran for four hours and four minutes. We’re going to discuss that with the teams.

    So if a different rule had been in place we would have been robbed of a great race and gone home with half-points and a barely-challenged victor, after spending almost half the half-race behind the Safety Car.

    So he’s basically saying the solution to people leaving and TVs switching to scheduled programming…is to finish the race? What?

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 25th June 2011, 20:03

      I agree, I know how much I disliked the Malaysian race having been cut short in 2009. I know the light would not allow to go on later, but still.
      In Canada there was no concern other than the TV schedules and fans getting unnerved because of not knowing when it would go or if it would even go to the finish.

      • snowman said on 25th June 2011, 20:34

        yep agree, hope they don’t change anything there with the time allowed cause that really would be a disaster.

        With the TV scheduling the GP viewing audience usually dwarfs the program they are cancelling so don’t see much of a problem and it rarely needs to over run anyway.

        With the so called “fans” leaving, does it really matter unless they have to give refunds.

        • Leon said on 25th June 2011, 22:03

          And as Mr Whiting gets older he seems to be getting more risk averse. Removing all the risks involved in racing open wheeled cars
          in very wet conditions will effectively neuter the sport. That cannot be the right way to go.

          All the very best F1 drivers are extremely competent wet weather racers…with a few notable exceptions.

          Phrases including words like ‘men’ and ‘sorting’ and ‘boys’ do come to mind when you hear the driver leading a race in very wet weather pleading not to have his advantage over the rest of the field compromised by taking his safety car away.

          When a driver does that, it should be the cue for immediate removal of the safety car no matter what the conditions.

          • laird18 said on 26th June 2011, 10:11

            Agree 100%.

            It is sad how F1 has lost so much of its ‘spirit’ within just the last few years.

            The sad news:

            1. Wet races are no longer permitted. If conditions merit anything greater than intermediate tyres then the Safety Car (or Red Flag) will be deployed.

            2. Overtaking should only take place at FIA sanctioned positions on the race track, using the magic FIA-enabled ‘slam-dunk’/DRS button.

            3. To discourage racing even more, if you are foolish enough to attempt an overtake in a braking zone (heaven forbid!) – and there is contact with your competitor of any description – you will receive an automatic ‘drive-through penalty’.

            DRS will be the death of F1. I truly hope we will look back on this season in the future and cringe.

    • Herman (@herman) said on 25th June 2011, 21:56

      I think instead of a maximum race time, perhaps a maximum red flag time would be better. Sure, it’s never good to cut a race, but you can’t have a seemingly endless red flag period either. A maximum red flag period would mean that the race would be cancelled if you went over the red flag time, but if the race restarts, they carry on until like as normal, until the race ends or 2 hrs elapses.

    • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 26th June 2011, 4:35

      Very good point Icthyes. I agree entirely.

  3. glue said on 25th June 2011, 19:58

    it’s a bit more to i than than safety, I think..many cameras are set a low angle from a distant point, in order to have as much exposure of trackside advertising banners as possible..standing water means higher, denser spray, which obscure those banners

    I might come across as being a bit paranoid, but I constantly find myself noticing all those boring, static, distant camera angles, the small number of on-board shots (or any other shots which prevent banners coming on-screen), and the low quality of the FOM coverage as a whole..
    It might not be inconceivable that the paid advertising demands a certain level of exposure within the transmission, which the coverage must abide by, of course at the expense of adequate immersion in the racing environment, as the cameras do increasingly little justice to the cars’ speed

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 25th June 2011, 20:04

      Fascinating thought. Not sure its really of influence, but you never know in this sport.

    • John said on 25th June 2011, 21:00

      You’re a cynical person, but I can just imagine that being a factor. Notice how onboard is hardly used at all in the wet and the same goes for the kerb cameras (for obvious reasons).

      That said, the high, expensive adverts generally stay clear, so maybe not.

    • laird18 said on 26th June 2011, 0:54

      Very interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest.

  4. David said on 25th June 2011, 20:01

    I know we can all go back 25 years and remember worse conditions but I think we are expected to do things slightly differently these days.

    So how about launching an investigation as to why marshals were allowed to cross the circuit before all the cars had even gathered in a united queue?

    • Adrian Morse said on 25th June 2011, 20:11

      Waiting for all to queue up is made more difficult by the rule that requires you to do a minimum lap time (has that been increased for this year?). Certainly in Canada we saw a situation in which this rule can lead to dangerous situations. Was it really unsafer in the days when each driver could determine his own pace under safety?

      • David said on 25th June 2011, 20:30

        It will take more time, that’s exactly the connection to Whiting’s answer. If they want to be on the safe side, waiting a few more minutes before clearing the track is a very small price to pay.
        If it wasn’t the marshal tripping, it could have been a surprised driver or a puncture causing a slide (the conditions were bad enough…) and allowing the driver to score a strike of 3 or 4 marshals…
        These incidents are never investigated and punishments never imposed, unless there’s blood.

      • OldIron said on 25th June 2011, 20:34

        The main motivation was likely to make it less of a lottery rather than safer.

        As to the pace car – sorry, but when cars are waiting for it to get out of the way so they can switch to more appropriate tyres, its been trundling around for too long.

        Hmm.. (loony theory follows) Actually, I wonder if the poor guy who took the penalty was actually a sacrifical lamb to drop a less subtle hint to race control.

  5. Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 25th June 2011, 21:41

    In fairness to Charlie, he’s got a difficult job and if anything were to happen, the buck would stop with him. But I really feel that Race Control needs to stop mollycoddling the drivers. They are supposedly the best at their job in the world, and surely can be trusted to drive according to the conditions.

    The Safety Car should be used to neutralise the race following an accident or when there is debris on the track, so that the track can be cleared. It should not be used in place of a standing start, and it should not be used just because it’s raining.

  6. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 25th June 2011, 21:56

    Well, I was in the other 16%. We got a good race out of it. But that’s not the point.

    I am not going to judge what’s safe and what’s not. For a start, I wasn’t in Canada and I wasn’t driving.

    The worst thing that can happen in the rain in Formula 1 is a driver gets killed.

    Perhaps i’m being a little melodramatic, but we all know that motorsport is dangerous.

    Had the race restarted earlier and there been a dangerous crash people would be crying out about the lack of safety.

    Long story short, you can’t win with F1 fans!

    But, that’s half the charm ;)

  7. For CW anything that works for a Macca win is a correct decision. Then he’s thrown a few bananas and is happy with that.

  8. Huron (@huron) said on 26th June 2011, 0:53

    Considering it was the first time using the Pirelli wet tyres, I think Charlie Whiting made the right call.

    I’m not sure why he has to defend himself. Fans should have absolutely no say when it comes to questions of safety, since history shows that fans would likely be ok with drivers getting killed.

  9. Simon said on 26th June 2011, 9:07

    We don’t need to go back 25 years – I just watched the highlights of Fuji 07. They spent some time behind the safety car but I don’t think there would have been any racing at all if they had applied the same standards as they did in Canada – we would have missed out on a fantastic race and it would have completely changed the dynamics of an amazing championship battle.

    Webber truly showing his racing spirit as well, I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to have food poisoning, vomit in your helmet and still drive at high speed in appalling conditions.

  10. Steve said on 26th June 2011, 9:38

    does Charlie still want racing on the wet tires or are they just there to parade on behind the SC? Button came in for inters already 4-5 laps after the race start. Then the whole field pitted for inters right as the SC went in after the restart.

    That to me shows the SC was without doubt out for too long. Will we still see racing on the extreme wets? Will we see the next Senna (Monaco 84), Vettel (Monza 08) put themselves firmly on the map and outperform their car in wet conditions or will he never get the chance?

  11. Robert McKay said on 26th June 2011, 15:15

    I don’t mind the SC start but I do mind 8 laps behind it before the race starts. That suggests to me it was too wet to start with in the first place – but the pressure of TV means they want to be seen to get things moving.

    If you need the SC for any more than a couple of laps then I’d argue you started/restarted too soon.

    The restart SC was out too long as well, if everyone is jumping for inters. I’m all for caution but I think the caution is being misdirected in places.

  12. Lee said on 26th June 2011, 19:12

    Over in America in Indycar and Nascar they address the situation very differently. On Ovals, if it rains the race is delayed either until the weather improves and the oval dries out, or in worse conditions they postpone the race until the monday. This is seen as a very sensible solution as no one thinks racing on an oval between concrete walls on banking in the wet at over 200mp is a good idea.

    On road, or street courses they have available what we might call “Intermediate” tyres, for lighter rain. There are no wet tyres, primarily due to cost of productions. The inters are good upto a certain point as in F1 but if it gets too wet they take the same approach as with the ovals. Again this is seen as sensible especially since there are no full wet tyres.

    It would “seem” that F1 is going down a route whereby racing under full wet conditions is no longer acceptable, this is the impression that has been given over the last couple of years and more and more racing laps are being lost while conditions are assessed behind a safety car.

    In my opinion that is wrong. Losing RACE laps behind a safety car because of the weather is not the way things should be done. F1 needs to come up with a policy that works and does not involve wasting a race while the FIA listen to the opinions of drivers, all of whom as Charlie states have a different agenda to either keep going or stopping.

    The idea of delaying a race for 24 hours should be explored, and before you say it would affect travel schedules i will point out that it happened in Brazil this year in the Brazilian round of the Indycar Championship, too much rain meant the race happened on the Monday after they tried to race on the Sunday afternoon.

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