The German Grand Prix this past Sunday seen a freak accident occur in the pit lane. Thanks to problems in his pit stop, the right rear tyre of Mark Webber’s Red Bull car became unattached, with the tyre rolling down pit lane and hitting an Formula One Management (FOM) cameraman. In response to that, the FIA fined Red Bull €30,000 as well as making a few pit lane changes. FOM made the move to remove cameramen from the pit lane itself and for them instead to be position on the pit stands.
Does the punishment fit the crime? Not really. It is one thing time and time again with the FIA where teams are given an arbitrary financial punishment, which in reality is not a punishment. For a team who’s budget runs into the millions, a €30,000 fine is not a punishment in the slightest. Why not set a precedent? Dock them points? Make both drivers’ do stop and go penalties? I’m not saying that just because it is Red Bull, but because with every passing decision, FIA appears to be slowly losing its grip on the championship. Similar applies with the Mercedes decision, really. Do a test and the penalty in comparison, is rather weak (this being before Britain, things have changed since).
Onto the topic in hand, and I’m going to be honest here, but for me, it makes absolutely zero difference as to who the tyre hit. Yes, it did hit a cameraman. But that cameraman could have easily been a mechanic who had just finished a pit stop, or another team personnel member. Who it hit should make little difference here. Unfortunately it appears from the FIA and FOM’s perspective, it does. FOM and Bernie Ecclestone have decided that from the next round that their cameraman are banned from pit lane and will instead be based on the pit walls. The move does reduce the risk that cameramen face. But how does it remove the overall risk? It doesn’t. It feels like a knee-jerk reaction. Tyres will still roll, and they could, although we hope it doesn’t happen again, hit mechanics. I don’t understand it. If the wheel had hit a mechanic, would FIA decide to ban mechanics from pit lane? Don’t be stupid.
The problem is with the pit stops itself, which the FIA doesn’t appear to understand. Yes, they can change A, B or C, but they seem to be running around the centre point without actually hitting it. None of the changes hit the centre point. Amusingly their changes mean that the speed limit during the entire weekend is now 80km/h, so the speed has been increased during practice sessions. If FIA were really safety conscious, why not do what we see regularly in endurance racing? Four mechanics out in pit lane controlling four tyres. That’s it. None of this 2.5 second stops where the risk factor is multiplied dramatically as errors can be made more frequently due to the fast speed of the stops. Instead, a more controlled, but just as enticing stop for viewers where skill is still required for the car to get out of the pit lane before his rival. Such a move would require six mechanics around the car instead of the fifteen or so at the moment.
Finally, as I noted earlier, the changes don’t affect any TV crew in the slightest. FIA’s announcement makes it seem like some revolutionary change has just occurred. Not really. What went down at the last race in the pit lane will repeat itself in the future. The FIA’s changes do not reduce the risk. Although FIA really want you to think otherwise, the reality is that nothing in the pit lane has changed. – see the update I have made here.