In a traditional column, former Formula 1 driver Jolyon Palmer talked about the reasons for the massive accident at the restart of the Tuscany Grand Prix …
The first ever Grand Prix in Mugello turned out to be eventful. The race was stopped twice with red flags, and only 12 riders finished. First, red flags appeared after a massive collision at the restart, after which four riders dropped out of the fight at once. But what was the reason? Consider three factors that led to Carlos Sainz, Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen and Nicholas Latifi colliding …
The safety car turned out the lights late
When the safety car turns off the lights, the race leader is able to set the pace at the restart. This rule has existed for many years.
But in Mugello, the safety car turned out the lights very late – and that’s the problem. Valtteri Bottas was informed by radio that the safety car would return to the pits for this lap when it was in the second sector and was passing the 10th and 11th turns. He could not let him go more than 10 bodies of the car until he turned off the lights – this happened more than 30 seconds later, as the cars were approaching the last turn.
As a result, Bottas lost the chance to let go of the safety car and surprise Hamilton, driving the segment before the final corner and even the final corner itself at the same pace as Lewis in the last race, when he accelerated before Parabolic at the restart after the safety car in Monza.
Bottas did not have time to attack in the last corner – otherwise he would accelerate and outrun the safety car, receiving a fine. If he had let go of the safety car earlier, he would have broken the rule of ten car bodies – and he would have received a fine too. Having received a serious penalty in the last race, when Hamilton was in the lead, Mercedes followed the rules very closely in Mugello.
It is very strange that the safety car turned off the lights much later than it became known that it would return to the pits on this lap. After the race, Michael Masi explained that this depended on the distance to the reference line, but this distance should vary depending on the track configuration. Obviously, on tracks with a long stretch to the start-finish line, this warning should be earlier than on narrow tracks, where the section is slow and winding.
Before the appearance of radio traffic, it was possible to find out that the safety car was going to return to the pits only at the moment when it turned off the lights. However, he would never turn them off so late, because the riders at the end of the peloton did not have time to see it.
Now we have a radio, everyone knows when the safety car will return to the pits – and the extinguished lights become less relevant. But in Mugello it was again relevant, because it happened rather late.
Mugello has experienced one of the most potentially dangerous mass crashes we’ve seen in recent memory. The features of the track played a role, but this incident is not unique to Mugello.
Since the main straight is long, Valtteri Bottas was absolutely right when he decided not to accelerate as long as possible, because he could not play on surprises – he did not have the opportunity to raise the pace before or in the last turn. If he had picked up the pace earlier, it is highly likely that on such a long straight line, Hamiton would have outstripped him thanks to the slipstream. Lewis almost did it as Bottas drove slowly towards the starting line.
Bottas did nothing reprehensible. Moreover, he chose the most reasonable approach to restart. He rode at a steady pace to the starting line.
Racers were eager to use their chance
The riders in the second half of the peloton were either overly optimistic, or overslept the restart, leaving too much distance to the rivals – or both. This is what led to the accident.
Apparently, it started with Daniil Kvyat, who was in ninth place at the time. He more than usual let go of Lando Norris for a chance to attack the McLaren rider. He had to predict when Bottas would accelerate in order to choose the right moment to attack. His prediction turned out to be wrong, he had to slow down so as not to overtake Norris before it was allowed. Norris also accelerated and slowed down, but not as sharply as Kvyat, who left more distance to the opponent.
There was a “chain reaction” for those who were driving behind and saw that Kvyat was accelerating. They decided that the race was resumed – and also accelerated, and then slowed down again. Each car behind them approached the group of rivals faster than the one in front.
This resulted in Antonio Giovinazzi, who had no vision at all as Nicolas Latifi shifted to the left to dodge Kevin Magnussen, crashing into the Haas car from behind. If not Giovinazzi, then Sainz or someone else who was driving behind would have done it – the difference in speed between the riders who were already accelerating and those who were still driving slowly was too big.
I am sure that at the next pilots’ briefing in Sochi, the drivers will discuss what can be done to prevent this situation from happening again.