F1 Midweek: Why Are Unsafe Releases More Frequent in F1?

It would seem like the simplest of things, as a Formula 1 car approaches the pits, the car is serviced quickly. If it is a good stop, it could very well win the race for the driver and his team.

Unfortunately, last week, the idea of pitstops in the racing world has been very controversial as two Indy car drivers were penalized for striking one of their pit crew members. Even worse, Kimi Raikkonen of the Ferrari F1 team misread a failure in the team’s light system, thinking he could re-enter the race. The failure in this communication resulted in the Finn being released far too soon, and in the chaos, with just three wheels attached, ran over the legs of one of his mechanics, Francesco Cigarini. The team radio forcibly told Raikkonen to stop immediately and shut off the car. Raikkonen stopped a few feet away and then realized what had happened.

In the aftermath, the Raikkonen got out of the car, flung his steering wheel, stormed back to his garage, while the injured mechanic was treated by the Ferrari team before being transported to the circuit hospital, where it was discovered that he had a double leg fracture. Raikkonen did not even manage to look at the injured Cigarini afterward.

In a post-race interview with journalists afterward, he remarked, “I go when the light is green. I don’t see what happens behind and unfortunately, he got hurt. My job is to go when the light is green, I don’t know more than that and hopefully, he is OK.”

The Ferrari team was fined about $62, 000 for their actions by the F.I.A. The federation is now investigating the incident to see if such if they can be better avoided.

In a meeting this week before the Chinese Grand Prix, F.I.A. Race Director Charlie Whiting is beginning to realize “That some of these incidents are not just a coincidence.”

For Raikkonen, maybe his actions showcase his frustration with unsafe releases that has occurred three times over the last four seasons, plus another incident happened last week in Bahrain when he was forced to stop in the second Friday practice session with a loose wheel.

To add importance to the matter, the American Haas F1 Team had a problem in the opening race in Australia when they suffered two unsafe releases, forcing both their drivers to retire almost at the same time. This cost them a fine and a loss of what could have been 22 points.

This brings things back for Whiting, who must make a crucial decision to change this problem.

“It’s looking like less and less like a coincidence but the two incidences in Melbourne were quite clearly wheel gun operator error,” said Whiting. “They cross threaded the nuts and thought it was tight, came off and then realized a little too late it wasn’t. [With the incident in Bahrain], the guy hadn’t even taken the wheel off, which is slightly perplexing.”

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Mark is a motorsports journalist specializing in the field for the last 16 years in Formula 1 with experience in covering team launches, feature stories and race weekends during the season. In addition, Mark covers the World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Lemans. He also speaks French up to an intermediate level, with a basic understanding of German. Have worked for agencies as Racing Information Service News, Racing Nation, Fansided, the Munich Eye Newspaper in Munich, Germany, and Autoweek magazine. Mark is also a knowledgeable Formula 1 driver after graduating from both the F1 International and AGS racing academies.

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2 comments

  1. Avatar

    Certainly a tragedy in the Ferrari pit in Bahrain. I look forward to seeing what the working group comes up with to prevent it happening again.

  2. Avatar

    There’s not enough time to react to a problem. By the time it’s realized it’s already too late to prevent the escalation of the problem.