Crash analysis: Vettel and Karthikeyan at the Malaysian GP *update*

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    Undoubtedly the single most fiercely debated thing in Formula One for the past two weeks is the crash between Sebastian Vettel and Narain Karthikeyan on lap 46 of the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix. Both in the paddock, as well as in the online communities, no one seems to see eye-to-eye on anything, both regarding who’s at fault for the crash, and whether or not Vettel’s angry gestures and post-race comments were ‘champion-worthy’. The fact there was such a lack of consensus, with people apparantly seeing completely different things, I wanted to clear things up once and for all.

    In this article, I will answer three questions:
    1) Did Vettel move towards Karthikeyan?
    2) Did Karthikeyan move towards Vettel?
    3) Did Vettel leave Karthikeyan enough room?

    Analysis of the crash:
    The confusion for who’s at fault and what happened, seems to come from the fact that there are two camera angles from the crash, that each seem to tell a different story. The camera angle from the back makes it seem that Vettel cut across on Karthikeyan, while the camera angle from the front suggests it’s Karthikeyan who turns in to Vettel. Now the problem with the rear angle is that it’s an angled moving shot, with no static objects in the background to tell us their absolute positions. The front angle however, does provide a static background to analyse the driver’s movements.

    In the stills, the green line is a control line, following the second L of the blue Allianz board, as well as the border between the green and the white tire wall in the background. As the camera pans a little, we need to adjust the frames so that they still have the same background as a reference. The blue line indicates Vettel’s position out of the corner, while the pink line indicates Karthikeyan’s position out of the corner.

    Frames 1 to 3 show Vettel and Karthikeyan both going in a straight line. However, from frame 4 to frame 6, Karthikeyan clearly starts moving towards Vettel, who keeps going straight. In frame 7, Vettel actually moves away from Karthikeyan, who in turn keeps moving towards Vettel until they collide between frame 9 and frame 10.

    As far as Vettel leaving Karthikeyan enough room, it may seem in the first few frames that Karthikeyan will run out of road. However, in frame 5, if you draw the orange line from Karthikeyan’s outer tires forward, he has enough room. Between frame 5 and the collision between frame 9 and 10, Karthikeyan still moves over half a car length.

    So that answers the three questions:
    1) Did Vettel move towards Karthikeyan?
    No, from the moment both drivers were through the corner, Vettel kept going in a straight line. He did not move over.

    2) Did Karthikeyan move towards Vettel?
    Yes, as clearly shown, Karthikeyan actually moves over towards Vettel.

    3) Did Vettel leave Karthikeyan enough room?
    Yes. Although Karthikeyan was initially going to run out of road, in frame 5, he did not need to move over any further in order to have enough road. However, he still moved over another half car length towards Vettel until they collided.

    In conclusion:
    The camera angles made it a little unclear on which driver moved how, when and where. With apparant equal blame, the stewards’ decision to give Karthikeyan a penalty seemed very odd. While it can still be argued if the penalty was deserved or not, and while Karthikeyan no doubt did not hit Vettel on purpose, a factual analysis clearly shows that it was Narain Karthikeyan who was solely responsible for running into Sebastian Vettel.

    Some have argued that while Vettel technically left Karthikeyan enough room on the track, that he was still in the wrong because they believe he cut Karthikeyan on the racing line. There also appears to be some confusion on whether Karthikeyan was off the track/on the white line or not.

    Whose right is it to take the racing line?
    First of, as the car lapping the other driver, Vettel had the right to take whichever place he wanted on the track, as long as he leaves the backmarker enough room. At their positions in frame 5, Karthikeyan has enough room to continue on the track.

    At that point, Karthikeyan has the opportunity to let Vettel pass, which he needs to do as stipulated in the sporting regulations:
    “20.5 As soon as a car is caught by another car which is about to lap it during the race the driver must allow the faster driver past at the first available opportunity.”

    Did Karthikeyan turn in to take the racing line?
    However, there are still some that want to interprete that as not meaning Karthikeyan did not have the right to keep the racing line. So that beckons the question: was Karthikeyan turning in to take the normal racing line, as the Marussia is seen doing in front of them?

    Short answer: no. Although the camera pans, taking two static points allows us to compare the racing lines. The orange line shows where (the left rear wheel of) the Marussia starts moving right, away from the edge of the track. In the second frame, you see Karthikeyan starts moving right almost a full car length earlier, despite the fact Vettel is already mostly past him.

    Was Karthikeyan returning on the track, or on the white line?
    It happened quite fast, so I understand where that idea came from, but Karthikeyan actually went a little off just before the corner. He had already returned on track when going into the corner, and when Vettel was passing him, Karthikeyan was not on any white line.



    I hate blue flag’s telling back markers to move out the way. Surely these guys get paid enough and should have enough skill to get past back markers. I know there is a chance it may allow somone to be caught, or in fact allow somone to gain a greater lead, but so does the current blue flag system. And if a racing incident occurs then so be it – it adds more drama



    Having skipped most of this and reading the topic line I conclude that if Vettel had stayed right a bit longer or waited till in the straight to lap him he’d of been ok



    One thing you haven’t mentioned is the other drivers in shot. They both move just as much or more than NK, meaning that Vettel’s straight line is the abnormal line to take, suggesting it’s his fault, no?



    I hadn’t analysed it in this much detail, but these were broadly my thoughts prior to reading this. Vettel did give Karthikeyan enough room, albeit only just. The reason they collided was that Karthikeyan was too quick moving to the left, presumably to try and get in Vettel’s slipstream.

    To me it’s cut and dry. Okay Vettel could have given Karthikeyan a little more room, but crucially he still gave him enough space. The incident was therefore 100% Karthikeyan’s fault, and I don’t see how anybody could argue otherwise.



    Karthikeyan is the one being overtaken, thus he needs to give space to Vettel. Vettel has the right to the racing line as long as he leaves Karthikeyan enough space on the racing track, which he does.



    @jake It’s an abnormal line. But there’s no rule stating “thou shalt take the racing line.” Vettel could’ve chosen any line he wanted to as long as he gave others room.

    Had he taken a more “normal” diagonal line, the accident probably wouldn’t have happened. But he didn’t take that line. Karthikeyan probably could have stayed straight.



    As there seems some confusion still:

    In frames 1-3, Karthikeyan is going in a straight line. At this point, he was not one any white line anymore. At this point also, Vettel is already mostly past him, as the rear angle shows Vettel was already just past him when Karthikeyan rejoined the track. so he does not need to move to get off the white line; he’s not on it.

    Karthikeyan does however need to move slightly for the upcoming curving of the track, which he does in frames 3-5. In frame 5 however, you can see, that he is now at a point on the track that if he continued straight, he could have made the curve without touching the white line.

    The problem occurs that while in frame 5 he is in a good position on the track, Karthikeyan keeps moving over to the left from frame 5 to the collision in frame 9. It is that move that caused the problem. That is what the stewards deemed unnecessary and why they gave him a penalty. (not that I agree with the penalty, just explaining).

    Of course Vettel could have given him more space, but there was no reason for him to assume that was necessary, as there was plenty of space, certainly for the split-second it would have taken to get fully past.



    For me, whilst the incident was probably Karthikeyan’s fault technically, Vettel has himself to blame just as much as Karthikeyan. The images seem to clearly back up NK’s “bully” comments. There is absolutely no need whatsoever for Vettel to be taking the abnormal line that he is. He is past NK, if he stays on the normal line he gets a small slipstream from the Virgin, yet he chooses instead to give NK a little bit of a squeeze. It was stupid, arrogant, bully-like behaviour that makes me believe he got what he deserved even if the incident wasn’t strictly his fault.



    Vettel had a quick snap of oversteer as he exited 8. He dapped on opposite lock; the rear went back in line, and he was just settling himself for a split second. Hence the abnormal line.



    I don’t see how that is bullying.. They are racing, not doing the school run in their big family MPV.
    He left Karthikeyan ENOUGH space. How much more can he ask for?
    I really don’t get why the backmarkers are suddenly the victims of the bullying of the big teams.
    How much space does the backmarkers give the others when they have to lap them?
    How many times haven’t we seen backmarkers block the lapping cars? Plenty of times.
    But they need to race their race, just like the front runners need to race their race.
    As long as they give each other enough room I don’t see what the problem is…

    Is it because they are slow that we should feel sorry for them?



    @raymondu999 any evidence for that, or just wild speculation to support your driver?

    @mads in my view it’s bullying because it appears completely unnecessary, and seemingly the only reason he did it was to intimidate NK. Ofcourse, if @raymondu does have evidence I will take what I’ve said back and accept that I may be wrong.



    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but from my experience of motorsport in England, it is the car that is overtaking the back marker that is responsible for overtaking safely, and the lapped car should remain on the racing line. Clearly this very rarely happens due to the sportsmanship of the slower cars, but they do not have to go out of their way to slow down and let them pass



    This video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWgmeAmL8ig
    at 0:36 you can see the correction that @raymondu999 is talking about.



    @mads thanks for that. I’m actually not convinced that the oversteer moment had much affect, but what I did see from that video was that Vettel’s line was not as abnormal as I thought. I take back my bully comments, although I still feel he could/should have been a little more careful/given more space.

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