Charlie Whiting, FIA, Hockenheimring, 2016

Whiting explains decisions on Halo, track limits, Safety Car starts and radio ban

2016 German Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

FIA race director and safety delegate Charlie Whiting answered questions on yesterday’s decision by the Strategy Group not to introduce the Halo device next year.

He also addressed the relaxation of restrictions on radio communications and track limits, proposals to ensure wet races have standings starts and responses to queries over the double waved yellow flags and overtaking rules which arose after the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Charlie, the Halo decision, what is the objection from the FIA to just bringing it in on safety grounds?

CW: The FIA has decided that we would go through the governance procedure as has been well stated in the past. The first step was yesterday in the Strategy Group, so that is exactly what we did. The decision was taken, as I believe you know, that simply because only three drivers have ever tried it, and they have only done a total of four laps, this was something that everyone felt was quite a relevant thing and it wouldn’t really be feasible to expect, in the short term, to get the relevant number of laps with the Halo. That was the reason for introducing if for 2018 instead of 2017.

Was it yesterday an argument that in a worse-case scenario that if we have an accident that people will not say, ‘well, the FIA had the Halo but did not introduce it’? Are you not afraid of this?

CW: It was mentioned, of course. But I think, equally, it would be very difficult to roll these things out at the beginning of the year and then find you’ve got a fundamental visibility problem. They felt that that was a real possibility and until it has been tested properly in the right environment, everyone felt it was best to defer it.

As far as the decision or clarifications that were taken yesterday, we were talking about the Halo, we were talking about the radio, we were talking about track limits and talking, possibly I believe, starts in the rain under safety cars and I believe there was one other you can’t work under a red flag or something. Which of these has to go through the due process and which can be sorted out in a clarification?

CW: Let’s start with radios: that’s always been done under the heading of an interpretation of Article 27.1 and that is driver aids. What we decided was that we would be happy to take a more relaxed position on that provided that the full content of all the conversations was provided to the broadcaster with the sole intention of making sure spectators and fans get better content.

Then, track limits; it was proposed by some that we should take a completely relaxed view on track limits but I felt that was inappropriate and I think we should carry on doing what we do. My principal aim has always been to get the track to enforce the track limits, if you see what I mean. I think by and large we have done that, but there are certain corners on certain tracks that do present us with little problems but we are getting rid of them one by one. Here we have a similar position to Hungary – Turns 4 and 11 in Hungary – Turn 1 here appears to be a similar sort of thing, with 93 cars going across there today. So we have to think carefully about what to do for tomorrow. The difficulty of allowing complete freedom and letting them go very wide there and no longer taking any notice of it, is that simply there would be a different track fundamentally and it would be faster and there would be less run-off area – so we couldn’t possibly contemplate it. Safety Car starts, yes it was agreed that that should be done in the future, but that needs to be a proper rule change that goes through the process. But everyone seems to agree with that and we had a Sporting Working Group meeting on Wednesday afternoon in which the team managers also agreed with that. Red flags: a similar situation, the rules just need to be changed, but they agreed yesterday and that will have to go through the due process

Regarding the Halo, you mentioned that it has not been tested properly in the right environment, but from the moment we first saw it in pre-season to the Strategy Group meeting we’ve just had, there have been 11 grands prix. Why was the Halo not run more during practice sessions than the four laps we saw it over the course of that period of time?

CW: This is something that we had to leave to the teams because we couldn’t at that point feel as though we could actually insist upon trying to put it on one of the current cars. But there are also problems. If you talk to anybody from Red Bull, for example, they say they can’t run Halo for more than two laps before the air intakes for the cooling of the engine and cooling of the gearbox start to be affected. What we are looking to do is make it clear that every driver has to try it for a whole free practice session during the course of this year. That would give us a proper way of going forward, to make sure that we don’t get caught out by something that is very hard to change back. That’s really the idea.

A Halo that springs out when a danger is present, how technically feasible is that in your point of view and what type of time frame would we face there?

CW: Are you talking about a sort of airbag-style deployment of a Halo? I’ve seen someone has sent me one of these designs, but I think it would be wholly impractical personally. I can’t see how you would deploy it in the right period of time and the inventor, if we may call him that, misunderstands because the drivers are not going to see something coming and think ‘oh, my goodness! I know, I’ll push that button’. Honestly, I don’t think that’s feasible, but as you know we have tested extensively with the Halo and to a slightly lesser extent the Aeroscreen, but we think we are submitting those things to possibly the worst-case scenario and I think it is better to continue down that path and not try to do something completely new that might need another three years of development.

It’s likely that Halo is a structural element of the car, so how would it be possible to consider to use it on next year’s car if the monocoques of next year’s car need to be ready by this stage at the end of July?

CW: The Halo is going to be a structural part of the car, yes. It’s going to be the secondary roll structure which was formally, basically, the front roll hoop of the car, but I think now the teams have been designing the cars with Halo in mind but not with complete certainty. Now they have certainty about next year’s design and they can adapt accordingly. I think there are some fundamental decisions that need to be made: weight distribution, for example, would be dependent and wheel base would be dependent on whether or not the Halo is nine kilos up high and all those sorts of things. They would all need to be taken into account, so the designers needed some clarity as well. They know now that they don’t have to design for Halo for next year.

Are there any plans to have at least one or two cars run it in Spa because of the visibility in Eau Rouge, in Singapore at night time, in day and night in Abu Dhabi and whenever it is raining hard?

CW: We asked the teams yesterday all to look at the possibilities of running a car in Spa and Monza but that was before the decision was taken to defer it until 2018. But now I think we should look towards a structured plan where all teams can run it at some point during the season at all tracks. But my aim would be to get every driver to try it.

If the plan is for all teams and drivers to run the Halo at some time, are they going to use a standard version of the Halo or will they all have to produce it themselves?

CW: It will be a standard version of the Halo. A standard shape, of course, but dummy versions. They wouldn’t be actual production Halos. They’ve all got the drawings, they all know exactly how big they have to be and where they have to mount, but they could make what is effectively a dummy one.

You keep talking about the Halo coming in in 2018; is the intention to introduce the Halo or is the intention to introduce frontal protection?

CW: At the moment it’s Halo, but there will be some form of additional frontal protection. If, for example, the Aeroscreen can be redesigned to fit the free head volume – which is one of the stumbling blocks at the moment – that might be the way to go. But I think we need to look at visibility first, because that is the thing that is a little bit of an unknown. So we really do need to make sure that is not a sort of showstopper. But it really would be similar between the Halo and the Aeroscreen, I would imagine.

The clarification of radio that we’ve got at the moment, does this mean driver coaching is back on the agenda?

CW: Yes.

Is that a good thing?

CW: Yes.

Do you have a long-term view on it?

CW: My view doesn’t actually matter, but being serious we have to look back to when the Strategy Group decided that there was too much radio traffic and it was detrimental to the sport. We were getting quite a few complaints, if I remember, from fans saying ‘Why are they being told all these things? They should be driving them for themselves’. In the August of 2014 the Strategy Group decided that we should cut out nearly all radio conversations. We issued a note reflecting those views and everyone said ‘Oh, it’s too much, it’s too much’. So we scaled it right back and we introduced bits and pieces and then we went to single clutch paddles and those sorts of things. Now the feedback is that we’ve gone too far and this actually has not been the best thing and the Commercial Rights Holder feels he can improve the content for the fans with the radio conversations. This is contingent upon the teams providing all the content from their discussions with the drivers, because before they had privacy buttons and they were chopping out great big chunks of it. So now they’ve got to provide everything to the broadcasters and this is seen as a way to improve the experience for the fans and spectators.

Charlie, is there no compromise with regards to the radio? As you said, initially it was cut out to get rid of things like driver coaching, lift and coast. Surely there must be some compromise solution that can be reached all round?

CW: There didn’t seem to be much stomach for that yesterday. The feeling was let’s keep it absolutely simple and as long as Bernie gets what he wants – the Commercial Rights Holder gets what he wants – for the show then I think we’ve done the right thing.

Looking purely at the safety research that has been done into the Halo, is it 100% proven it has a net safety gain or is there still the need to analyse for other unintended consequences in maybe other type of accidents where it can pose a safety risk?

CW: No, I think we’ve done a good enough risk assessment. The thing that is missing is the driver experience.

I think Niki [Lauda] expressed yesterday the concern for what happens if the car is lying upside down on fire, for obvious reasons. I know it’s a very unlikely scenario nowadays but the Halo protects against very unlikely scenarios, especially next year when the tyres will be tethered much stronger than now. So why do you neglect one concern over the other?

CW: We’re not neglecting it, it has been thought of. Now, for example, if a car turned over and was on fire I think it’s quite unlikely … if it has been in an accident big enough to cause a fire then the driver probably can’t get out by himself anyway. Then the first course of action will be for marshals to get there and turn the car over and this is the sort of thing you see quite regularly. So I have always felt that a car being upside down is always a worry, but the marshals are normally there very quickly and they would turn it back over. That’s the way we’ve always felt about that particular scenario.

Coming back to the radio if we can Charlie, Christian Horner was just saying he wants the messages allowed to be broadcast from team managers to you. Would you be happy for that to go out?

CW: No, I don’t think I would. I told him that yesterday, I think we need to sort this lot out first. We need to sort out all the team radio to the drivers before even contemplating something like that. We have private conversations with the teams and I don’t think it’s right… because the teams wouldn’t feel comfortable about asking us the sort of questions that we get asked in the race if they knew the rest of the teams could all actually listen, or anyone could listen in to that. So I think that’s a step too far.

I don’t understand how you can differentiate – obviously at the start of a race and the end of a race parc ferme is over and you can do whatever you want to the cars – you are going to suspend that when there is a red flag?

CW: I’m sorry I’m not quite with you…

What you said about the red flags is that you might be able to change whatever you want on the car…

CW: That’s right. Basically the principle is that when we suspend a race it is normally done after the safety car has been deployed – pick the cars up, then we bring them into the pit lane and we suspend the race, say after a couple of laps. If the safety car continued the teams would not be able to work on the car, they wouldn’t be able to change the tyres and they wouldn’t be able to do anything unless they came into the pits and suffered this time penalty concerned. So this is just the same thing. The timing doesn’t stop either, it is a stationary safety car if you like and that is what we want to try and achieve, to make sure it is exactly the same as leaving the safety car out, only it’s stopped. If you remember in Monaco in 2011, when we were building up to a great climax in that race with Vettel on very worn tyres and Jenson and Fernando had pulled right up and it was looking like a really good end. It was stopped, [they] changed tyres and the race fizzled out. That is what happened. I have been trying to talk them into it for 5 years.

Like in Australia this season?

CW: Yeah, but it is the same thing of course. They are allowed to change tyres and work on the car but now if the rule goes through next year we will not be allowed to work on the car or change tyres.

I believe there was a discussion about double yellows and potentially using a red flag to neutralise things and stop people improving. Is that correct?

CW: That is correct.

From this weekend?

CW: Yes. Ever since we had the Virtual Safety Car in 2015 and then this year we use it in free practice – well, we can use it in qualifying really but we tend now to stop if there is going to be a yellow flag for any length of time. The reason we didn’t show a red flag in Hungary was simply that session had ended but some cars were behind Alonso’s car and some in front, so I think the procedure would be to red flag it any time there is a double waved yellow flag. Then there will be no discussion.

Coming back to the Halo, are you happy as the FIA with the result of yesterday because there were some very good explanations to back it up but are you happy with that? And if so why did it go to the Strategy Group in the first place if you accept it wasn’t ready for implementation?

CW: I think you misunderstood things slightly. My opinion doesn’t matter when it comes to introducing something like that, it is a complete change of rules, a lot of rules had to be changed. We prepare the rules. We have done all of the testing and the only bit the Strategy Group felt was missing before they could finally confirm it was the drivers don’t have any experience of it. That is the point that they needed before it could be properly introduced that is it really.

If you are going to red flag a situation like the Alonso one in the last race, do you leave yourself open to any driver who mucks up sector one on his final run is going to spin his car and it is going to lead to a lot of Monaco 2006s?

CW: Quite possibly, but I think we would be able to see that happening and I don’t think that is any different to now because it could happen at any time, couldn’t it? If you see what I mean: just a yellow is normally enough to prevent a driver improving but what we saw in Hungary it wasn’t quite enough.

We saw Pierre Gasly trying a Halo during the test with special glasses and camera mounting. Did you get any pictures from that that would help you with the assessment?

CW: We got one image from it and if you compare it with an LMP1 car it is extremely good visibility, but Pierre’s comments were that it felt claustrophobic and the view wasn’t very nice. But that is only after two laps and I think with a lot of these things I would expect drivers to get completely used to it. But you don’t know that for certain, there may be some hidden problems there. It is the right thing to do to research that properly. The more drivers can get to do it the better, of course

When it comes to driver feedback, a lot of them said: ‘Oh, we’re not involved in the vote, we’re not involved in having our say’. Because they are going to be giving you specific feedback are they going to be more involved in the process before the Halo is implemented?

CW: We have involved them and tried to involve them anyway, but yes of course. Their feedback is key to this next stage.

Just stepping back a bit and leaving the Halo to one side, we’ve had the radio thing, which has got increasingly more and more complicated and difficult for us to follow let alone the public over the last 12 months. Australia, we had a complicated new qualifying format that was u-turned on and just looking back at to the last time we were here this race was the first one since FRIC was banned mid-season. It seems the last few years there have been quite a lot of this rule u-turn stuff, you having to explain things, things being complex for fans to follow. Do you regret this, not in terms of your part in it, but do you regret that we seem to be in the this situation where we are changing the rules half-way through the year?

CW: I think you can leave FRIC out of it, because that was a technical regulation and it was something that we felt had to be done at that time. But if you look at the qualifying procedure, I think everyone realise – I say everyone; I’m talking about the Strategy Group and the members of the F1 Commission, and they felt that this was a good idea. It didn’t work, I think we can all accept that, and we felt that the most grown-up thing to do would be to go back. I think that was that, really, with qualifying. It dragged on a little longer than it could have – sorry, than it need have – but there you go. I think someone asked me yesterday: ‘Do you remember that qualifying?’ I couldn’t actually remember what we did in Australia straight away. These things disappear. I don’t feel that the radio thing is a U-turn as such. It was done… The original things were requested of us for a good reason, and it kind of worked at the beginning but it’s beginning to mean that the spectators and the fans are not getting quite what they could. I think that that is why they thought it was a good idea to try and go back to something that gave them more. I think we have to respond to those sorts of things; I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.

The FIA is presenting the Halo decision as a purely practical issue, but it’s quite clear that some of the people on the Strategy Group had wider concerns – and more fundamental philosophical concerns – and already there’s talk about some kind of hybrid solution between Halo and Aeroscreen or what have you. Bearing that in mind, are you not concerned that you’ll get to a similar sort of position next year and they’ll vote against it again, presenting it as practical but actually what they’re doing is they just don’t like it, Bernie as well for example?

CW: I’m not concerned about that because it was clearly adopted for 2018. There is no question of it being deferred further unless there is a completely unknown at this point show-stopping thing about it that we don’t know about.

Clarity on a couple of bits: The red flag under double-yellows – is that only after we’ve seen the chequered flag end the session?

CW: No, no. As you know, we’ve been stopping qualifying more than we have done in the past, if there’s a tractor out and those sorts of things, especially in qualifying where obviously time is vital, and you don’t want to lose any time, so that’s the reason we do that. It will be done, routinely, if there’s a double-waved yellow flag.

And on the radios. Are teams still able to hear each other on team radio?

CW: Do you know, I’m not actually sure. That’s not our deal; that’s what Bernie’s people do. But my feeling is – and I expressed this to Bernie yesterday – I think it would be far better if teams can’t hear each other. I think they’ll say more, provide more. But that’s only my humble view.

Charlie, clarification on something you said just now. You said that when the red flags thing… in other words, no work under red flags comes in next year – and I would assume you’re looking at next year for the wet starts as well – how would you manage to achieve that unless you get unanimity, because we’ve passed the cut-off date? And if you can get it ahead of time, why can’t we do it for the five races this year that are going to happen in rainy territories?

CW: That’s a good point. It will need the unanimous support of all the teams; I’m expecting that to happen, I think they’re quite sensible things to do. But you’re right – I suppose that if we did try to rush things along a little bit, because there’s not that much to do – there are a few things to consider when we talk about having a standing restart. Because you need to think about race length, for example, and how many laps shorter it is; what happens if you suspend a race after the start; there are a few things that need to be thought through carefully so we don’t have any own goals.

We’ve got the Halo and we’ve got the Aeroscreen. They both seem to be trying to solve different scenarios and incidents. What scenarios are we trying to protect the driver from with this process and is there the possibility of some sort of hybrid Halo-Aeroscreen?

CW: I don’t think there’s any possibility at this stage of any hybrid, but we know that the Halo is being tested with a wheel being thrown at it – a wheel and upright assembly, which is 20kgs – at 225 kph, which is a pretty awesome thing to watch. So the Halo is there principally to look into the way drivers have been hit by wheels, but also where we’ve seen cars in contact with the environment, so to speak: walls, for example. Campos in Magny-Cours, Greg Moore in Fontana, was it? Those sorts of things as well. It can withstand a load 15 times the weight of the car, so that’s twice as strong as the current roll structure. It’s a very, very strong thing, but of course when you look at the small objects coming towards it, we’ve done a paper study to theoretically throw over a million angles and different scenarios, and we conclude that 17 per cent of the time, it will deflect something from the driver – as opposed to none without the Halo. So it stops 17 per cent of these things from hitting the driver, whereas before they would all hit the driver, if you see what I mean. But the Aeroscreen obviously offers the screen, which is in addition to the Halo, because it is like the Halo but with two bits here instead of a bit in the middle, and it’s got the… it’s called Perspex but it’s 10mm thick and that provides more or less complete protection from the front. But the downsides are that it gets dirty and needs to be cleaned; rain – we’re not sure what would happen in the rain, but there are coatings and treatments that can be done; and those are the sorts of things that have to be developed.

A vertical impact like [Henry] Surtees’ or…

CW: I think that’s a bit of a myth, because if a car’s travelling at great speed nothing’s going to actually drop vertically onto a driver. That’s the theory.

We’ve had situations in the past where decisions of the stewards of the meeting Formula One-wise came relatively late because I was told they were dealing with matters GP2, GP3. Was it never discussed to maybe put Formula One in front because more fans basically care whether Nico Rosberg is punished or not, loses his pole or not, than some matter in GP3? Was that ever discussed?

CW: That was going back a long time, when the Formula One stewards also did GP2. It doesn’t any more. GP2 and GP3 are separate from the Formula One stewards. If you’re referring to the length of time it took to get a decision on Nico’s flag in Hungary, then that was simply… We looked at it first off; the stewards said ‘we think that’s fine’. Then there was lots of discussion about the 107 per cent. And then we decided to have another look at it and the stewards felt, after looking at it from a different camera, that ‘maybe we do need to have a chat with Nico’, so we did. They accepted his explanation, and that was that. I don’t see a big issue there, personally – I’d rather they be thorough and get it right than not. Than rush it and get it wrong, that’s really what I’m saying.

The need for the change of the yellow-flag regulations would surely suggest that the decision reached in Hungary was not the appropriate one if then the next week it’s felt that you need to be clearer on what happens under double-waved yellows.

CW: It just removes the discussion about how much you’re slowing down. The stewards accepted Nico’s explanation, and looked at the data and felt that he had slowed down. But then the question is: ‘Did he slow down enough? What is enough?’. If you can’t set a time, then that’s that. It removes all that subjective discussion.

Charlie, to permit again a conversation between teams and drivers through the radio, is a clear simplification of the rule. Is it an isolated case or are the Strategy Group and the FIA planning to simplify some other areas of the regulations, which a necessity for the fans?

CW: That’s another reason exactly. Wherever we can we will try to simplify regulations, but you must remember that the reason the regulations appear complex to some is because the cars are complex and the sport is complex and whenever we try to write a simple rule, the teams say ‘ah, but what about this, what about that’ and we reply ‘OK, we’ll write that in’. The downside of having it completely simple is that then you don’t have complete clarity and hence the stewards would have to decide on a case by case basis and the teams would much rather it written down absolutely clearly, but that needs more words, the rule book gets fatter and that’s what people think leads to more complexity.

That 17% figure you gave for the Halo seems a bit too low to justify it at the moment, does it not? Given the Aeroscreen has the potential, if the other problems are solved, to have 100% protection, doesn’t that mean the Halo is very much an interim small step?

CW: You have to put it into context. It will stop a wheel. It will stop large objects and it will protect the driver against incursion from another car, walls, interaction with tyre barriers, all those things. We are only talking about small objects. One hundred per cent would hit him and this would reduce the likelihood of that happening. It’s a positive. OK, Aeroscreen might stop them all, but you have to look at the downsides of Aeroscreen as well.

Charlie, on the Verstappen-Raikkonen incident in Hungary, particularly the one down to Turn Two, while he was obviously within the rules to do with crowding off the track, some of the drivers feel that those moves were too late and too sudden in the braking zone. I know they’re going to raise it with you later, as I’m sure you do too. What’s your view on that situation?

CW: A lot of people, including the teams concerned, felt that Max had moved more than once to defend his position, which we don’t believe he did. There’s no actual rule about moving in the braking zone, although it’s a fairly undesirable thing according to most drivers. Obviously we will discuss this later. I think it was on the edge of being fair. But I asked the stewards to look at both incidents during the race and I asked them to review it again after the race and they felt it was firm but fair. ‘Robust defence’ I think was the expression they used.

Going back to the yellow flag. Can I ask you about the degree of lobbying you’ve had from the drivers in one direction or another since Sunday night on the waved double yellows and the severity of the reaction?

CW: None. I’m sure we’ll get a little bit of discussion this evening but I’ve had no lobbying from drivers. I’ve read a few bits and pieces from them but no, nothing.

And it’s coming in from the start of next year?

CW: No it will be with immediate effect. It’s just another way of applying those same rules.

Just coming back to the Hungary incident with Fernando: with the new regulations you would have put out red flags, correct?

CW: That’s what I intend to do in the future, yes. Just to remove any discussion about whether a driver slowed down or not. I think you would have noticed that most drivers decided to call it a day; they stopped their attempt at qualifying. But in Nico’s defence, he had only one yellow sector to go through and that was a short one, whereas the other drivers had two yellow sectors to go through, so there is a difference. But I just don’t want to get into these discussions where you need to try and decide whether a driver has slowed down enough and if you applied the double-waved yellow flag rule absolutely to the letter, it says you must be prepared to stop and I think that is a difficulty one to call really and if we just say ‘red flag’… it’s a little unfair to those who are in front of Fernando and were trying to complete a lap, but that’s what happens when a red flag goes out anytime. I don’t know if any of you saw but Pascal Wehrlein was caught out by the third red flag in Q1. He was about to set a time but the red flag came out less than a second before he crossed the line, but his time didn’t count and that’s what happens unfortunately when a red flag is shown.

If it’s enough just to spin, not to crash, just a spin, don’t you fear that drivers will do this on purpose just to avoid others setting a fast time?

CW: If we had any suspicions that a driver had done it on purpose that would be quite a serious offence. But Fernando spun, as you know, he was across the kerb, half on the track, half on the kerb, so it was without any doubt a double waved yellow flag scenario. So I think it was all done correctly. At the time you don’t know when he’s going to get going again. You listen on the radio but they’re not saying anything. The team says ‘Fernando?’ but he doesn’t say anything, so you don’t know what’s going to happen, so you have to wait a little bit. But then all of a sudden he’s going. If we knew that he had stopped, that the engine had stopped, then it would have been a red flag immediately, but you have to wait a few seconds to find out what’s going to happen next.

Has there been any discussion about any potential alternative in that situation. Say the incident is in Sector Two and the guys following, say they all had a power cutting solution when you came through that sector, so they are affected the same and they were say credited with their previous sector best in sector two, they could then go on and finish the lap, or do people say they’ve lost too much tyre temperature or brake temperature, that kind of thing.

CW: I should think it’s too complicated. This is racing. I think when there’s a dangerous situation on the track, you need to attend to it. There could have been marshals there for example, and that would have been a double waved yellow flag in that second sector. I think if we just saw that under those circumstances we’re going to in future stop the session and make sure that the driver and the car can be recovered in complete safety then that’s what we will do.

You’re talking about red flags in qualifying, but what about practice and the race,. Or will there always be a VSC covering that?

CW: That’s what VSC is for. In free practice that doesn’t matter because it’s only free practice for a start and the time isn’t so important. Whereas in qualifying… although they are fixed duration sessions, not fixed end sessions – that’s why we differentiate between the two.

There have been complaints that Halo will affect the purity of formula racing. Do you think it’s acceptable to hold back certain technical developments, most notably for safety, for the sake of purity?

CW: Purity is a matter of opinion. My opinion doesn’t matter. It’s what the decision-makers think. The reason they deferred the Halo is purely because the drivers haven’t had a good chance to assess what they can see out of the car with it on – that’s fundamentally it. I know that some people have said they don’t like the look of it, but it’s never come across as being the reason for not having Halo, which is I think what you were asking.

I have been reading since a long time complaints from the fans concerning the start procedures behind the Safety Car under the rain. Is there any plan to rethink this rule?

CW: Well, as far as starting the race because the track is in a bad condition is concerned, then no. The only thing that we’re thinking of changing is having a standing re-start when it’s safe to have a re-start. It will always be a matter of opinion. We listen to the drivers. We know that in Silverstone, for example, all the cars were set up for dry conditions. We know that the drivers don’t like driving on the wet weather tyres, they don’t have such a tread depth and then they start aquaplaning – these are all the things we had to take into account. We know that driving in the wet is not easy, but it never has been and there is no suggestion that we’re doing it for any other reason than to try and make sure that the drivers don’t aquaplane. In Silverstone for instance, even the Safety Car was aquaplaning, that’s not safe, it’s as simple as that. If the cars can drive on full throttle on a straight then that normally is an indication that it’s safe to continue.

Is it your feeling that as the Race Director that some kind of cockpit defence is inevitable in the long run?

CW: It’s been agreed. It’s going to be adopted in 2018, that was a decision made yesterday so…

I got the impression it’s about to get kicked into the long grass, because they could have just said yesterday.

CW: Absolutely not, not. It’s been adopted for 2018.

2016 F1 season

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43 comments on “Whiting explains decisions on Halo, track limits, Safety Car starts and radio ban”

  1. Thanks for typing this up @Keithcollantine I bet it took a while but it’s nice to see see some honest and interesting answers.

    1. @glynh Happily the FIA issued a copy of the document as it’s six thousand words and would indeed have taken ages! And as you say there’s a lot of revealing stuff in there so I though it deserved to be shared in full.

      1. @keithcollantine The six thousand words might be a result of Whiting taking 80 words to say something that only needs six.
        “The first step was … instead of 2017.” — 89 words
        “We need to do more testing.” — 6 words
        Some of this is unbearably prolix.

  2. I have to admit, I was losing faith in Charlie Whiting and then he said this:

    CW: There didn’t seem to be much stomach for that yesterday. The feeling was let’s keep it absolutely simple and as long as Bernie gets what he wants – the Commercial Rights Holder gets what he wants – for the show then I think we’ve done the right thing.

    I’m lost for words.

    1. “CW: There didn’t seem to be much stomach for that yesterday. The feeling was let’s keep it absolutely simple and as long as Bernie gets what he wants – the Commercial Rights Holder gets what he wants – for the show then I think we’ve done the right thing.”

      Astonishing.

      I don’t watch racing to listen to drivers having conversations with their engineers. I also don’t want to listen to drivers being told to brake later in Turn 6.

      There’s no radio chatter in MotoGP and the ‘show’ is awesome. They are not coached on riding matters and you don’t hear drivel about PU settings. If the car has an issue, fair enough, tell them how to fix it. I don’t know how this balance cannot be found.

      1. The balance can be found. Easily. Prescribed list of instructions that can be given to the driver, but anything non-instructional (solely informational) can’t be. Easy peasy.

        The problem is that Charlie doesn’t actually *want* to find the balance.

    2. I’m not clear on whether Bernie was against lifting the radio ban. In this article from Autosport he is definitely pro-free-communication – http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/125502.

    3. I’m not. Charlie needs to go: That simple. He is no longer doing his job. He is beholden to Ecclestone and sees his job as to spice up the show, not to enforce sporting fairness and safety. Get rid of him and put in someone who isn’t afraid to do the actual job, and who doesn’t constantly flip-flop on what the rules should be and whether to bother enforcing them.

    4. It’s the orders like “push” or “save tyres” (wait for the stops, don’t race each other on the track whatever you do) that have made me lose interest in watching F1.
      As for Charlie’s credibility, just substitute “Bernie” for “Putin”…

  3. Wow, long article. I’ll read it fully later.

    I want to go further with the track limits issue. What’s the intention of the teams to lobby for fully relaxed track limits? I don’t understand. What do they want? to reshape the tracks F1 visit?

    The more you go off track, the less run-off there is. Not to mention they paint a white line for a reason. Everyone’s saying new kerbs take the character off some tracks, which were previously unique in that way. Or the bumpiness of the Hungaroring. Yet teams want their drivers to be allowed to completely run off the track, no penalties given.

    I just don’t get it. I wish they tried to come up with a solution that fixed the issue on track limits. Eliminating every limit isn’t the answer to that. Sure it’d not create confusion, but I don’t see how I can explain to someone unfamiliar with motor racing that going off line is perfectly legal.

    It’d be like eliminating the offside rule in football because it’s proven to be too difficult for referees to police. That controversy is part of the game. We only need the same rule to apply to every case, regardless of the difficulty in controlling it…

    I’m so with Charlie on this one. I hope he doesn’t surrender to the pressure.

    1. The ruling should be “leaving the track with 4 wheels regardless of circumstance will result in a stop and go penalty” simple, clear and fair… And I’d guarantee the drivers would work a hell of a lot harder to stay on the track then.

      1. Jonathan Parkin
        30th July 2016, 17:01

        Or they could just bring back real grass, gravel traps and have kerbs that at most cover half the width of an F1 car.

  4. I’m not sure what’s more confusing: Formula 1’s rules, or Formula 1’s rulemaking process.

    1. none of it is confusing, it is simply prestige before safety or reason :) The irony and comedy of the whole affair is the FIA pretending to be something it’s not.

  5. The problem with the Halo is it looks naff; however there are good reasons to have this device. How about a compromise solution where they design a device that deploys when it is needed? It could be stored in the engine air-box or just ahead of the steering wheel. It would definitely be amusing to see the device activate during a spin etc.

    1. Surely if the halo was redesigned to have two struts, one each behind either mirror, or even incorporated into mirrors in itself, it will not only strengthen the structure but also eliminate the loss or vision problem.

  6. I know that many fans are likely going to be happy about the standing starts after running the SC for a few laps in the rain but I don’t think they should have that as the blanket rule because it needs to be remembered why they started looking at SC starts to begin with….. That been visibility.

    Having a standing start where well over half the grid are completely blind in the spray is unnecessarily dangerous not just in terms of cars stalling but also if somebody spins towards the front like Coulthard back in Spa 1998 when you then half a situation where cars behind can’t see & just pile into them.

    Yes in some cases a standing start will be perfectly fine, But in other instances it simply won’t be the safe thing to do so there should be something that lets them run a SC start if they absolutely need to.

    1. well they could always run half a race under the safety car or red flag it for how ever long it takes. Comedy hour over at the FIA. It’s like they skip to C before even thinking about B, and pretend A was always the reason why.

    2. Well said @gt-racer, I don’t want a SC to stay out longer so that afterwards it is safe to do a standing restart.

      Also, thanks @keithcollantine for getting this on here, having sat at the track rather than in front of a set of screens, I’d have missed it otherwise. Maybe for some parts that might have been a pleasant ignorance, but at least now I do know!

      1. Jonathan Parkin
        30th July 2016, 16:41

        I don’t mind a Safety Car start, but in my opinion the high volume of such starts came into being because of parc ferme conditions. If we return to the days when we had morning warm-up, then an acclimisation practice so the teams can adjust the cars for the wet conditions if need be, then the need for a SC start will reduce for wet races so the only time it is required is like in Silverstone this year or Belgium in 1997. Namely it chucked it down shortly before the start. A delayed start can also be used if it is necessary

  7. Whew, a lot to take in there! Thanks so much for posting this, Keith.

  8. The rate at which they keep changing rules back and forth I preferred to ignore this interview as in a few weeks, they might change again!

    Formula 1 is a sport and not a laboratory for experimenting with rules!

  9. Gotta love this level of transparency. Some interesting quotes. Calling VES on RAI a “robust defense” certainly sets an interesting precedent. Admittedly he didn’t go fully off his line, only feinted it, but still, there was definitely a move in one direction and a return to the other. Actually hoping to see more of this more modern racecraft. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in iRacing.

    Not sure about the red flag thing, as much as they say they can detect someone deliberately having an accident. How could you ever really? They say they can look at the data but you can’t get data from someones brain. Applying too much throttle is just that, deliberate or not.

    On the radio; it all makes sense really. Fans say “nobody listens, they don’t care!” but they obviously do. Do they make mistakes? Sure, but that’s human. The only thing that annoys me a bit was when he talks about how there was “no stomach” for continuing to tweak the rules. Why not work at getting the rule solid and right, that can last forever, rather than going completely back to square one and opening up the old driver coaching can of worms? Which as he said will continue to be looked at.

    It will be interesting to see how the feedback from the Halo continues and hopefully more development of the Aeroscreen. He says the Halo will definitely be introduced in 2018 but, that obviously can’t happen if the response is negative from the drivers re: visibility etc… Good to know that aesthetics is not being regarded and it’s simply a matter of safety, takes one discussion had here regularly off the table.

    Halo only preventing 17% of debris is laughable. I wonder if that’s counting debris which would otherwise be a near-miss being deflected in to the path of the driver with these calculations as well? Could end up being a percentage in the other direction.

  10. I’m against standing restarts because they take up too much time. Just call the Safety Car in and get the race on again.

    1. Or just don’t have the safety car out on track at every sign of moisture in the first place.

  11. “Not sure about the red flag thing, as much as they say they can detect someone deliberately having an accident. How could you ever really? They say they can look at the data but you can’t get data from someones brain. Applying too much throttle is just that, deliberate or not.”

    Piquet Jr. already proved they can’t detect someone deliberately having an accident.

  12. Cockpits should simply be closed. This entire discussion of cockpit defense is so strange and pointless. The main “problem” with the solutions is that they do what they are supposed to do—obstruct the opening in which the driver sits. The “problem” being address is that the driver is exposed, so the solution has to be to not expose him. Not to simultaneously expose and not expose him, which doesn’t even make sense. It’s like trying to solve a paradox or a riddle technologically.

    It’s not a new insight but it bears repeating that open cockpits exist because engineers of a prior era determined that the weight and drag of an enclosure hurt performance more than an open cockpit. That idea is now positively quaint now. There is no reason to respect it now. Indeed, it is glaring anachronism in a sport that is supposed to be about innovation and science. Innumerable racing series have closed cockpits of various kinds and they get along just fine, including on safety terms.

    1. The argument against closed cockpits is that it’s hard to get the driver out. I’m not going to give the “tradition” arguments any attention because they’re garbage.

      1. @mbr-9, well, perhaps the traditions do not matter to you because you started following Formula One in 2011.

        I have been watching F1 for a longer time and, among other things which are now gone, I miss gravel run-offs, which leave no chance for errors, racing flat-out in torrential rain, and beautiful cars.

        1. @serg33 Oh, you got me there.

          It’s not like I like V10s, rain racing, and gravel or anything like that.

  13. I’m pleased the plan for Halo is every driver will be given the opportunity to trial it (or a dummy version) before it becomes mandatory in 2018. While Charlie didn’t say it, I think the thing to avoid is doing a U turn on this, as happened with Qualifying this year and what can be said over the RT. It is a bit surprising to find Halo has only been used for 4 laps, I’d have expected a lot more laps than that. So it is on the drawing board, every driver will be expected to test it, and cars in the future will be designed for it.
    While this isn’t ideal, it is better to get this right than to have to do a U turn on it.

  14. Black n Blue
    29th July 2016, 20:59

    Driver coaching is only needed because the current crop of drivers have a lesser understanding of the complexity of their own cars than the guys behind the pitwall.

    1. They have a lesser understanding of where to brake than their engineer? Well why have a driver at all then? Just control the cars remotely!

  15. Robert McKay
    29th July 2016, 21:00

    That was a really interesting read. I know a lot of people (myself included) get annoyed by Whiting and though I don’t necessarily think that will ever totally go away, getting his thoughts and feedback on stuff does help to understand some aspects. I particularly like that he’s looking at ways to do stuff better.

    I don’t know who asked the question below but “chapeau” to that person!:

    “Just stepping back a bit and leaving the Halo to one side, we’ve had the radio thing, which has got increasingly more and more complicated and difficult for us to follow let alone the public over the last 12 months. Australia, we had a complicated new qualifying format that was u-turned on and just looking back at to the last time we were here this race was the first one since FRIC was banned mid-season. It seems the last few years there have been quite a lot of this rule u-turn stuff, you having to explain things, things being complex for fans to follow. Do you regret this, not in terms of your part in it, but do you regret that we seem to be in the this situation where we are changing the rules half-way through the year?”

  16. Regarding the halo, the general vibe that I get from it is the halo was set to be introduced in 2017, however the Strategy Group felt there wasn’t enough on-track testing to make such a significant change to the technical regulations on such short notice, so they pushed it back to 2018. But it again highlights how broken the rule-making process in F1 is. The way Whiting presents it, the technical documents of the halo, including technical drawings and all (“they’ve all got the drawings, they all know exactly how big they have to be and where they have to mount”), were ready for the WMSC’s seal of approval.

    My question is: how on Earth is it possible that a technical regulation can be in such an advanced state and still be rejected on something as trivial as ‘it hasn’t been tested enough’?

    In my humble view, it should not be possible. As mentioned in the press conference, it has a fundamental influence on the monocoque and suspension design, things that should ideally be finalised around this time of year. Why couldn’t the Strategy Group’s concerns be heard earlier? If the FIA had picked up on this in April or so, they could have asked a team like Mercedes to modify their 2014 car and run the halo for an entire day (similar to Pirelli’s tyre compound test). And where is Todt in all this anyway?

    A lot of people have said it before, but the FIA should reconsider its rule-making process. I think everyone (including its members) agrees that the Strategy Group, who agreed to abortions like elimination qualifying and Abu Double, is not functioning as intended. I would love to see a single rule-making body with a much stronger role for the FIA, and with the teams and commercial rights holder purely in an advisory role.

  17. i hope they will get some head protection for 2018 which doesn’t look like a wannabe toilet seat

  18. Sorry if this seems a bit ‘naive’ but an idea for enforcing track limits I had is.. Why not add a strip of grass maybe a meter wide on the outside of the kerb and then the usual Tarmac run off area.

    This way it would be enough to stop the cars abusing the kerb limits as going into the grass patch would cost them time but it also wouldn’t risk a nasty accident by having too much grass. Make sense to anyone or is it just me haha!

    1. @nemo87 Bike racing happened. A strip of grass or gravel makes uneven and sudden change of elevation which is more dangerous to bikes. That’s why many tracks using astroturfs few years ago, but we all saw that it also present its own problems.

  19. nemo, grass or slippery surface can cause a spin and a crash like erricsons at silverstones.

    No one picked up on the most amazing bit – no over head protection isnt something to worry about. “its a myth”

    i just watched justin wilsons crash again, and jeez its hard to tell if halo would of been enough, certainly close enough you wouldn’t put a loved one in that position with a halo :(

  20. Oldcartoons
    31st July 2016, 4:45

    Seems to me the dang interviewer is just as daft as the FIA’s rule making process. One second he is asking about Halo and then the next he talks about safety car and then back to Halo again. Over and over. Why not just stay on one topic instead of repeatedly going from one to the other and then back again?

  21. CW “There’s no actual rule about moving in the braking zone, although it’s a fairly undesirable thing according to most drivers.”

    I believe he is incorrect. Sporting Regs 27.8 or 27.5 mention maneuvers “likely to hinder” or “deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers” which can certainly be cited by Stewards to penalize changing direction in braking zones.

    If the FIA wanted to regulate against moving in the braking zone they would, so something isn’t genuine here.

  22. @coldfly – I thought I would cc’ you here as we have discussed CW before.

    I think this was an excellent and very open interview by Charlie and one that he probably doesn’t need to disclose as much info as he does as much as opened him up to the pressure and criticism he gets. I think FIA have been bagged so much of late he thought the need to go so public in this – well played.

    People that know what they are talking about (F1F’s) will look into his every comment, agree or pick it to pieces, based on an opinion – and that is our prerogative.

    But this man has been in charge as race director for ages (1991 maybe??) so people need to respect that he has seen and done all! Ol’ Herbie Blash is the same (pity to see him move on this year- what a legend of F1 Herb is) but when Charlie starts the race Herbie has 3 laps when he is in charge of Race Control- when most crashes happen!!

    So I certainly don’t always agree with Charlie and Herb I DO ALWAYS respect what they say (over 1200 GP between them- not bad), see how they have so much pressure from BE, FT, team managers and drivers but also keeping the TV viewers happy! Its not all beer & skittles for those guys really! They can never keep everyone happy can they!!

    1. Thanks @evilhomer.
      Agree it is really good to see such an extensive interview with CW.
      Like you, I don’t agree with everything. But he’s the expert and all in all I trust the guy.
      It’s also obvious that he’s in the middle of this political hornets nest; many decisions will not be easy nor popular.

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