Sports writer Thomas Jackson reports on the most recent F1 race.
After a difficult start to the season, 25 -year-old Dutch Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen has sealed his status as the F1 champion this year. This is the second year in a row that the driver for the Austrian team Red Bull Racing has won the F1 World Championship. This comes after estimations had been made that the point gap between Verstappen and Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez, who also races for Red Bull, were so vast that it would likely be impossible for Perez to catch up in the last four races. As of now, the point total stands at 366 points for Verstappen and 252 points for Perez, who is in second place.
However, this victory came on the heels of some rather controversial behavior by the FIA, the governing body of F1 and many other major international auto racing events across the world.
During the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit in Japan on Oct. 9, Pierre Gasly, a 26-year-old French driver for the Italian F1 team Scuderia AlphaTauri, or AlphaTauri for short, had been forced to head into the pit lanes after his car was damaged by debris from an advertising board, which had been caused by a crash involving another driver earlier in the race. As he came out of the pit lanes and attempted to catch up to the rest of the pack under a safety car, he came within a couple of meters of striking a tractor that was on the racetrack without any warning lights visible on it. This tractor was on the track to recover the vehicle of Carlos Sainz, the 28-year-old driver for Scuderia Ferrari, who had crashed early on in the race.
Given the rainy conditions and extremely poor visibility, it was likely impossible for Gasly to see the tractor until he was practically able to touch it, leading to some rather angry comments from Gasly. “This is unacceptable!” he could be heard saying to his crew over his headset.
Indeed, although Gasly’s actions of racing so quick to catch up to the rest of the pack despite the rainy conditions and poor visibility have drawn some backlash from commenters online, many have shown their support for Gasly, stating that the tractor should not have been allowed on the track while cars were out, given the conditions.
George Russell, a British driver currently driving for Mercedes’ team and a director for the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, commented on this when speaking to Motorsport.com: “We’re all going to speak to the FIA. In our view, it’s pretty straightforward. No tractors on track, and if you need a tractor on track, red flag it.” A red flag, in this case, means that the marshals of the race believe it’s unsafe to continue a race due to bad conditions on the track, and upon receiving it, racers are to slowly proceed back to the pit lane while the race is halted.
Lando Norris, the 22 -year-old British driver for the McLaren F1 team, also commented on his Twitter. “Wtf. How’s this happened!? We lost a life in this situation years ago. We risk our lives, especially in conditions like this. We wanna race. But this… Unacceptable.”
Indeed, this incident has given many drivers a rather poor opinion of the FIA as some believe the FIA has completely failed to learn its lesson after an incident in 2014 on the same track at Suzuka, where Jules Bianchi, the then-25 -year-old French driver for the Marussia F1 team, lost control due to the rain on the 43rd lap of the race and collided with a tractor crane that was removing a vehicle that had crashed earlier. Bianchi sadly later died from the injuries he sustained in the accident.
For many, this incident at Suzuka has brought back painful memories of the 2014 incident and shown just how close Pierre Gasly came to potentially dying. This day should have been a day of celebration for a new F1 World Champion, but is now marred by this. Now it’s up to the FIA to try and win back the public’s trust, and the trust of their drivers.