Apart from all the unofficial people who make pronouncements on motor racing safety, those people whose job it actually is, are always discussing the problem and after the big incident at the British Grand Prix and the catastrophe at the Dutch Grand Prix there was a meeting between the CSI, represented by Dean Delamont, the GPDA, represented by Denis Hulme and the Constructors Association, represented by Teddy Mayer. They decided that in future all Formula 1 starting grids will have a 2×2 layout, regardless of the circuit, and that a system of pace-car-control would be introduced when there was a serious accident
On the first point, the majority of Grand Prix races already have a 2×2 starting grid, but in future Silverstone and Brands Hatch will have to conform, which will mean at Silverstone that the tail-enders will be out of sight round Woodcote, and at Paul Ricard they will be running out of room, but it will all be safe. The time must surely be approaching for the single-file grid at Monaco, and the next step will be one car at a time on the circuit, to make it really safe. The introduction of a pace-car to control drivers when there is an accident is a much more serious affair, and a rather sad reflection on the calibre of the world’s best racing drivers, for that is what Formula One drivers are usually reckoned to be. This came about following the accident to Roger Williamson at Zandvoort, when the rest of the competitors had to drive through the smoke and dust. After the race Stewart told Peterson he thought he had gone through the smoke too quickly on each lap, while Cevert told Stewart that he was going too slowly.
Naturally it is all relative and is left to the driver’s discretion, so obviously Peterson’s idea of safe will differ from Stewart’s and Cevert’s from both of them. Hulme was all for having the race stopped, but neither Stewart nor Peterson agreed with this.
It has now been decided that if there is a serious accident and “the track is blocked or partially blocked”, or “a car appears to need help from marshals, fire or rescue equipment”, to quote the official rules, the official in charge at that sector of the circuit will decide whether to put the pace-car rule into operation. If he decides to do so then yellow and white flags will be shown and this signal will be passed all round the circuit in both directions by visual contact between marshals. This immediately “freezes” the race and stops all passing by competitors, and meanwhile the pace-car sets off from the pits, clearly recognisable by flashing lights and bright colours. It circulates round, the track at a nominal 60-70 mph and when the race leader catches it up he lines up behind it, the rest of the field catching up and falling in behind. The whole field continues to circulate at low speed behind the pace car until the accident has been attended to. When this is indicated to the pace-car driver he indicates to the race leader, who is immediately behind, that he is returning to the pits. Meanwhile the starter is on his rostrum and if the field looks orderly as they approach he will give a green flag, to indicate that the race is on again. If things do not look orderly he will not give any signal and everyone must follow the race-leader for another lap or until the green flag is waved. Then, like a lot of naughty boys being let out of school, they can start racing again. Anyone passing when they should not will forfeit a lap.
A reasonably workable idea, but what a sad reflection on the mentality of the world’s best drivers. If the Grand Prix elite need to be disciplined like this, what of the newcomer and novice driver? There is an interesting footnote to the official Pace Car Rules, which says, “This procedure is not applicable to Nurburgring”. During practice for the Austrian Grand Prix a couple of “dry runs” were made and in the first it was assumed that Emerson Fittipaldi was the race leader (someone remembered he was the reigning World Champion). It all worked smoothly enough, the most impressive part being the speed at which the whole circuit was “frozen” by the displaying of yellow and white flags, the signals going from marshal’s post to, marshal’s post in both directions from the point of the incident. In the second “dry-run” it was assumed that Stewart was the leader and this time the starter did not wave the green flag, so Stewart took his whole school round for another orderly lap, and then they were set free. Naturally there were carpings and criticisms, especially from those not directly involved, and someone suggested that dull processional races could be gingered-up a bit by slipping the pace-car in. A more intriguing question was what would happen if there was an accident in the last few laps of a race; would the pace-car receive the chequered flag and would the driver get championship points! The thought of the Grand Prix of Italy or the Grand Prix of France ending with a crocodile behind the pace-car was almost too much.
This CSI, GPDA, F1 Constructors group also discussed fire fighting and organisers were sent copies of the RAC Fire Fighting Manual, evolved after discussions with marshals and circuit owners and people closely associated with the problem. Unfortunately the RAC recommendations, based on practical experience at British circuits, clashes strongly with the recommendations suggested by an independent group of well-meaning people who have set themselves up as an Advisory Council. Even more unfortunate was the fact the the GPDA had been swept off its rather shaky feet by these people and had sent out a recommendation that all fire marshals should carry a “twin-pack”, which is a very heavy pair of fire extinguishers, mounted on a shoulder harness so that the marshal has these two cylinders “at the ready” on his back. This suggestion caused a certain amount of rudery, not to say ribaldry, from marshals who do firefighting jobs, so the GPDA backed hastily down and joined forces with the RAC.
Through all this came the realization within the GPDA that one of their major concerns should be Armco barriers and the way they are installed. They now realize that circuit inspection where Hulme or Stewart look at the Armco, or even push and pull it, is no criterion in places Where a car might hit it at 130 mph, as in the case of Roger Williamson. Their problem is how to find out how well the installation has been done without being there while the holes are being dug.
All the foregoing makes you realize that there is far more to Grand Prix racing than the Grand Prix cars, which is a pity, for a lot of people are getting so wound up with the administration and internal politics of Formula One that they hardly ever look at the racing cars themselves. If this group is not having a protest meeting, then that group is having an advisory meeting, or those over there are re-organising something, or this lot here is trying to get organised. At every Grand Prix there seem to be more and more union meetings, committee meetings, advisory meetings, protest meetings and so on. It is all too easy to get involved in all this and find you have spent a whole day and not looked closely at a racing car. To me this is defeating the whole object and enjoyment of Grand Prix racing and feeling that the “circus” is losing its sense of proportion. I opted out of the Italian Grand Prix, which is why the report in this issue is written by A.R.M.
When some semblance of a sense of proportion returns I shall be delighted and will enjoy the racing cars for themselves, for some of them are very ingenious and very intriguing, and Colin Chapman has now openly said the successor to the Lotus 72 is long overdue and it must be given a run before the end of the season. As the Lotus 72 is still way ahead of its rivals technically, and it is four years old, the new one has got to be exciting. D.S.J