F1 frontline with Mark Hughes

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

In a perfect illustration of how solutions often bring problems of unintended consequence, the British Grand Prix’s safety car start – which caused such a fan outcry – actually has its roots in the 1994 San Marino GP.

It was in reaction to the tragedies of that weekend that a raft of safety measures was rushed in – one of which was the stipulation of the underbody plank defining a minimum ride height. A possible contributory cause of the Senna accident was his car grounding out over the bumps preceding Tamburello, suddenly stalling the downforce generated from the underbody. The plank was to prevent cars running low enough for this to happen. 

But in conditions of heavy standing water the plank brings hazards of its own. It isn’t so much aquaplaning of the tyres that is the biggest problem, but that of the plank. Once the car gets lifted above the surface of the water by that big flat surface area, the driver is effectively in a fast-moving, non-steering, non-braking sled. This is also the case with tyre aquaplaning of course, but the recovery from that tends to be rather quicker. 

That in itself needn’t be a deal-breaker. In extreme weather the cars could be set up with whatever ride height is needed to keep the plank from behaving in this way. But that would require the set-up to be changed – which cannot happen under the current parc fermé regulations, introduced in 2003. Stipulating that the car has to start the race as it began qualifying has been a very effective cost-saving measure, preventing the construction of special qualifying engines
and chassis. 

But understandably, at Silverstone many felt denied the drama of arguably the most exciting part of a Grand Prix weekend: the standing start and the wheel-to-wheel dicing that invariably follows for a few corners. The length of the safety car period only intensified the fans’ ire. The apparently ludicrous situation of cars pitting immediately for intermediate tyres, as soon as the safety car released the pack, seemed to confirm an excessively high level of caution in race control. But even that is not straightforward and has a historical regulatory background. Conditions at Fuji in 2007 were so appalling that not to have started the race behind the safety car would probably have wiped most of the grid out in very short order, so Charlie Whiting issued a technical directive that subsequently became enshrined in regulation: that teams could not fit anything other than full wet tyres for the safety car start. It was forbidden, in other words, to fit intermediates in the knowledge that the safety car would guide you through the worst of the weather – and then burst free in the lead as all those who’d more conscientiously fitted full wets were forced to pit as the track began to dry. 

The deeper the tread, the more water the tyre can clear but also the more those tread blocks bend and overheat as soon as they sniff a dry surface. So once Whiting’s Fuji race directive became a regulation, from the perspective of the supplier designing its tyre range – deciding the ideal changeover points from wets to inters to slicks – it became obvious that the wet no longer needed to be very resistant to overheating on a drying track. It could therefore be made full-extreme, with very deep treads, because it was effectively no longer required for actual racing (though Lewis Hamilton showed at Monaco this year that it is still possible to use it this way). Unburdened of the requirement of having to deal with much in the way of standing water, the intermediate could therefore be made usable into much drier conditions – and become a more flexible, usable race tyre. 

So although the safety car probably did stay out a couple of laps longer than was strictly necessary, cars peeling immediately in for inters wasn’t so much to do with that as it was to do with the fact that the wet really has become not much more than just a safety car start tyre. 

What I’m suggesting here is we don’t automatically come down too hard on the decisions made on the day by race control. We should recognise instead that it was forced into this narrow window by years of accumulated regulation forcing development in a certain direction, which has had unintended consequences. Probably the simplest – and therefore likely the best – idea to come out of this is that of a safety car-led reconnaissance period, with the field circulating for a few laps then, when deemed no longer a plank-floating hazard, the grid lines up still on wet tyres and has the standing start everyone wants to see.