F1 Drivers Say Officials Ignored Them Over Miami GP Safety
Two big crashes over the weekend went ignored, including a massive 51G impact.
Formula 1 drivers have started getting quite vocal this year about the way they think the championship—or its series officials—are acting towards them. After the missile strike in Jeddah failed to call the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix into question, drivers met for hours to debate their collective response. Now, at the recent Miami F1 Grand Prix, there was a risk they could involve the Grand Prix Drivers' Association after they felt they weren't listened to regarding the circuit's safety barriers, following two severe crashes.
Scuderia Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. was the first driver to meet the hefty concrete at Turn 14, which is the entry to a chicane under the overpass in Miami. The Ferrari driver lost grip, going off-line in second practice on Friday and ending up with a heavy impact, heading backward into the barrier. With no force-absorbing TecPro barriers there, which use layers of polystyrene to take the brunt of an impact, Sainz's car went straight into the concrete Geobrugg barrier.
By the end of the Grand Prix on Sunday, where Sainz placed third, he said that he had been struggling with the after-effects of the crash. In his pre-podium interview, he said that "I’ve been better, obviously after the crash from Friday I still had a neck pain going into the race but I had to manage it and I fought through it." For some sportspeople (football players, typically) that might seem like a way of talking up the heroics, but F1 drivers, like MotoGP riders, are often very reluctant to admit that they're injured to make sure that they can still be allowed to drive. Sying he was still feeling the effects talks to the scale of them, truly.
The second driver to meet the barriers was Alpine's Esteban Ocon, during the final practice session on Saturday. He had a near-identical crash to Sainz, recording a massive 51G impact. That's a heck of a lot, especially for a slow-speed section of the track. It was so heavy it cracked the chassis of his car, meaning he was excluded from qualifying.
Ocon had a very successful Sunday, climbing into the points from starting last but still described himself as having been at "50 percent physically" following the crash, which had led drivers to speak to race direction for a second time on Saturday night, requesting TecPro barriers to be put in front of the concrete. The Geobrugg barriers used in Miami are the same as around Sochi (which isn't exactly the gold standard of safety), and also get used at much-slower Formula E races.
After his crash, Ocon said: “Carlos complained to the race director, we are all there listening to it and nothing has been done. There was a discussion last night, Carlos said the impact was way too big for what it should have been and today it felt huge, it’s probably the biggest shunt of my career.
“So yesterday Carlos got hurt, I got hurt today as well," Ocon continued. "The FIA should push harder for our safety. But the important thing is that we are able to race.”
Although drivers were slightly mixed about how damning they wanted to be about the circuit, one thing all of them agreed on was that the chicane was a problem. Coming in a section of slow-speed corners, it was put in to make sure that drivers went even slower while passing under the overhead road. McLaren's Lando Norris said "I got told it's not possible because of the bridge that goes over the top, the cars are only allowed to have a certain speed so therefore they had to input a chicane. So I was told there was a reason they had to put it in so maybe we're stuck with it. I hope not."
Drivers' main area of concern, though, was that they'd asked for TecPro there to prevent such violent impacts and felt like they'd been ignored. In the meetings with organizers over the weekend, multiple drivers seem to have made it very clear what they wanted, with Lance Stroll calling it "ridiculous" that the change had not been made overnight and that he didn't "see what all the fuss was about" with the track refusing to put TecPro there.
The final option, when F1 drivers are really pissed off, is to unite as the Grand Prix Drivers' Association and threaten to not race unless their demands are met. They've done it before but not for four decades. The race went ahead on Sunday without TecPro being added to the corner.
Afterward, drivers remained critical of the chicane saying (not wrongly) it was more Formula E than F1. Shoehorning a track into a parking lot might create a unique atmosphere, but it seems only fair drivers ought to be listened to about safety concerns after big crashes.
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