This, of course, was meant to be an analysis of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend but since that race, sad to say, we have had the news first of the injury to Justin Wilson and subsequently he has succumbed to his injuries sustained in an IndyCar race in the USA.
This has been immensely sad news. Justin was not only a tremendously talented driver but also a thoroughly nice bloke to go with it. He comes from a family involved in the sport with his brother Stefan following him to the United States to pursue his fortunes and Justin, of course, involved in many different aspects of the sport. It’s ironic that I remember him finally getting into the F1 paddock at Spa after winning the 2001 F3000 championship; up until that race where he clinched the championship, he hadn’t been seen in the F1 paddock and finally manager Jonathan Palmer was introducing him to F1 teams.
His height, at 6ft 4in, proved to be a disadvantage in single-seater racing and F1 in particular, but even so he did make it into F1 and deservedly so, even if it was all too brief. After that he set off for the USA and it was a relief to many of those of us who knew him that he secured good drives across the Atlantic.
In case you didn’t know, Justin hit debris from another driver’s crashed car. The nose section hit is helmet and it was from this contact and the subsequent head injury that he died. Perhaps one of the outstanding matters from last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix were the two tyre failures – for whatever reasons – that occurred during that race. No reason has been given for those failures – outside influences are said to be to blame – but like all matters of safety they are of considerable concern.
As you may know, there has been a bit of a blame game taking place here. Initially Nico Rosberg got out of the car that he had thankfully kept out of the barriers and seemed very relaxed, but subsequently he seemed pretty vitriolic. Interestingly, Mercedes technical director Paddy Lowe said that the team had seen pieces of rubber coming off the tyre for a minute beforehand. It was not something he had seen before. Curiously, it was the right rear which wasn’t the loaded tyre
In the race, Sebastian Vettel changed his tyres on lap 14 and suffered a puncture after completing 42 laps, so he was on the final lap of the race. He was three quarters of a lap from being a hero for getting a set of tyres to last that long but instead, it could be said that it was a foolhardy move. Just as Nico had had his failure at a critical point of the track, but got away with it, so too did Sebastian and again didn’t hit anything. How different it might have been if their failures had happened moments before or later.
After Sebastian’s race failure, he was particularly vitriolic as was Nico, saying that this was unacceptable. Pirelli countered that they had sought a ruling preventing teams from doing more than a specific mileage on a set of tyres but had never gained that ruling. Drivers were asking for reassurances that this wouldn’t happen again, and particularly were looking for changes for Monza, a race where top speeds could break all-time records.
So safety once again comes under the spotlight, how can we make the sport safer. Three big high speed incidents, one fatality where unacceptably there might have been more. After a positive weekend in Belgium, it was a shame to come away with such a sour taste in the mouth.
It had been a very open race, as was almost expected. Eight out of the top teams scored points in Belgium with only Mercedes and Williams scoring points with both cars and neither Manor nor McLaren scoring points. But everyone else had at least one car in the points and that was no surprise really, given the open nature of the field during practice and qualifying.
It was very good to see Lotus in third spot on the grid, particularly as their future immediately after the race was in some doubt as former test driver Charles Pic had served an injunction on the team because he hadn’t tested. Indeed, the team’s future as a whole is threatened, because in spite of the possibility of Renault taking control of the team again, the threat of further actions will no doubt make the Regie more cautious of taking over just in case there are more skeletons in the cupboard.
All in all, it was a more positive weekend than for some races when the atmosphere has been negative. One felt that we were moving forward, that the competition was hotting up and that teams like Force India and particularly Lotus were realising their potential. A good crowd in good weather increased that feeling, but the safety issues since have rather poured a dampener on those positive vibes. Let’s hope they can be restored in Italy – but it’s another very quick circuit which can bite when things go wrong.
By Bob Constanduros