GULFWEEKLY: The recently-held Formula 1 double-header in Bahrain has led to significant changes in rules and safety regulations at the FIA, the motorsport’s parent organisation.
The F1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix and the F1 Rolex Sakhir Grand Prix might have been exciting from the side-lines, as Haas driver Romain Grosjean was rescued from a fiery crash during the first grand prix, and constructors’ champions Mercedes struggled with tyre changes in the second one, but the two incidents marked a need for smarter regulations in the sport.
During the second grand prix, George Russell, Mercedes’ stand-in after Lewis Hamilton tested positive for Covid-19, had his car accidentally fitted with the front two mediums from a set of team mate Valtteri Bottas’s tyres.
Subsequently, Bottas had to go out on his previous tyres. The team brought Russell in on the next lap to move him back onto a set of his own tyres, but it also sparked a stewards’ investigation for mixing up tyre sets.
In addition to a paltry 8-9 finish after a stellar weekend of racing, the mix-up cost the Mercedes team a fine of €20,000 (BD9,218), after the stewards accepted that a radio glitch caused the error.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director explained: “Half of the tyre collectors didn’t get the message. And it looks like half of them did. Therefore we had cars coming in, and tyres were not ready in the pit lane.”
The fine however seems minor, now that the FIA has updated the regulations related to tyre usage, after the unprecedented incident.
Any driver who uses a set of tyres of differing specifications or tyres not allocated to him during the race may not cross the line on the track more than twice before returning to the pits and changing them for a set of tyres of the same specification, according to the updated regulation.
There was previously no clarity for incidents where a driver used tyres that were allocated to another car, putting Russell at risk of disqualification.
The regulation still states that any driver who does not change the tyres back within three laps would receive a 10-second stop/go penalty.
A 10-second stop-go penalty that late in the race would have probably cost Russell his ninth place finish.
“These changes emanate from a request from the stewards in Bahrain which is unprecedented,” a marshal at the Bahrain International Circuit who requested anonymity, told GulfWeekly.
“There is still a possibility that they could “get away” with an error should there be a safety car within this period although the chances of this are slim and unpredictable.”
The marshals’ team has also been told that Mercedes is taking steps with its communications to prevent a repeat of the incident in Bahrain and are making their overall procedures more robust.
Meanwhile, investigations continue to ascertain the cause of the fire during the first grand prix.
After clipping Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri, Grosjean speared into the barriers during the opening lap of the Bahrain GP, and upon impact his Haas split into two and went up in the flames, while Grosjean in the cockpit actually went through the barrier.
The rapid response of medical personnel meant Grosjean was able to escape the wreckage with only burns to his hands.
As the FIA recognised the officials and personnel who rescued Grosjean, the organisation’s president Jean Todt told reporters: “We need to understand why the car was cut in two pieces, why the fuel tank probably exploded. Every accident which happens in motor racing is carefully studied in order to learn from it.”
According to sources, the likely culprits for scorching Grosjean’s hands and feet costing the Frenchman possibly his last two F1 races, were the FIA-regulated gloves and shoes which could only withstand 10 seconds of flames, while the rest of his gear could withstand 20 seconds.
As for the barrier he crashed into, the FIA is looking closely at the barrier and will decide whether guardrail is the right type of barrier for the location and if another barrier could have been better at dissipating the energy from a high-speed crash, according to Mark Hughes, who previously worked as the operations director at the Bahrain International Circuit.