Risk-averse FIA shouldn't sacrifice exciting races over small safety concerns


The FIA is right to constantly push on F1 safety – but is it going too far sometimes at the expense of racing? asks Chris Medland

Broken front wing endplate on the Haas of Kevin Magnussen

Broken front endplate ruined Magnussen's race after black and orange flag

Lars Baron/F1 via Getty Images

The Canadian Grand Prix was hardly a classic until the late safety car, but it looked like it was going to be a slow burner as different strategies played out.

Unfortunately for Kevin Magnussen, even the interruption that bunched up the field and gave him a lap back wasn’t enough to relight his race, after a controversial decision in the opening laps.

For anyone who missed it, Magnussen and Lewis Hamilton had slight contact on the run to Turn 3 on the first lap, with the Haas driver having to yield as there was no space on the outside to get a move done.

The outcome was marginal damage to his front wing, that Haas noted and said wasn’t affecting the car’s performance at all, with Magnussen confirming that he couldn’t feel anything different in terms of its handling. But that message was all Alpine needed…

Soon, Esteban Ocon – by now running behind Magnussen who had been overtaken by George Russell – was told over the radio that the Dane had damage to his front wing, and his response was a canny one, as he claimed the front wing endplate that was sitting at an unusual angle could fly off and hurt him.

Haas F1 driver Kevin Magnussen watching on in the pits at the 2022 Canadian GP

Magnussen on front wing damage: “It’s nothing”


It’s a legitimate concern. Nobody wants debris flying around at 200mph towards the final chicane, especially when cars are following each other as closely as Ocon was following Magnussen. But the reality of the situation played out afterwards, as the Frenchman joked that he was the reason Magnussen was then given the black and orange flag and forced to pit.

“I just had a bit of contact, nothing serious,” Magnussen said after the race. “Scratched my front wing a little bit and then was told to pit.

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“I was just talking to Ocon now and he was just joking how he told the FIA that it was really bad.

“If you know you can influence the FIA like that, you’re going to do it, aren’t you? Which is what he did. Fair play. But you’ve got to let us drive with that s**t, it’s nothing.”

It’s a fine line that the FIA has to tread. As the porpoising row has shown all-too-clearly, teams sometimes need saving from themselves in order to ensure the safety of those involved, because it’s tempting to risk it if there’s a performance trade-off to be had.

Haas, understandably, is not going to pit Magnussen while the endplate stayed attached and he wasn’t losing performance to a level that would have made a front wing replacement a quicker route to the end of the race.

Alpine, understandably, is going to try and get a car out of its way to try and find its quickest way to the end of the race. And messages like Ocon’s are commonplace as drivers and teams try to find any competitive advantage.

But it was another one of Magnussen’s quotes that caught my attention, and does raise a valid point.

Esteban Ocon (Alpine-Renault) before the 2022 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Ocon made his feelings about Magnussen’s front wing known over the radio, as is common in F1

Grand Prix Photo

“I was keeping up, the car was fine. The front wing was safe, it was not broken off. Think back to Jeddah last year, Lewis Hamilton won the race with half a front wing… which I think is correct, you know, let us race if we can.

“It feels like suddenly it’s very different. Monaco they don’t start us because it starts drizzling. Here I’m called in because I have a scratch on my front wing…”

To debunk that slightly, Hamilton did not have the same size piece of wing that was coming loose while running, as the majority of debris broke off in his contact with Max Verstappen at the time. The FIA will have looked at it and decided the wing was not at risk of throwing bigger sections into the path of a following car.

And in Monaco, part of the delay was due to a power outage that affected the starting systems. But the initial delay was due to the potential for heavy rain to hit that could be difficult to handle, as the FIA guarded against an unpredictable issue.

With Magnussen’s wing, it was similar. It hadn’t gone anywhere in the three or four laps after contact, and it was hardly hanging by a thread. But because the risk was there, action was taken.

The FIA does an amazing job when it comes to improving the safety of the cars, but has been criticised at times for not always making the right calls with other aspects. And while it’s a tough job, I’m starting to feel like the inconsistency is an understandable bugbear for some drivers.

Monaco being the trigger here, where something the weather could do led to long delays that compounded, and made the sport look a bit silly. There needs to be quicker processes to get something started when there’s rain around, because as Spa last year highlighted, sometimes the window to get racing will close, and without cars circulating the track conditions have no hope of improving.

In Montreal, FP3 and qualifying ran safely in very wet conditions, and rightly so, even despite standing water in some places. The more running that took place in persistent rain, the better the track conditions were, and they then improved quickly when the rain stopped.

Damaged front wing of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes after the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Damaged but still good enough for racing: Hamilton’s front wing in Jeddah

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

But then in the race, the slightest out of position part draws a black and orange flag and ruins someone’s Sunday.

For Yuki Tsunoda, whose rear wing DRS flap failed in Baku, being summoned to the pits felt more understandable because of the size of the accident he would have if his damaged rear wing failed on such a circuit. But in Canada, where drivers are dodging groundhogs, it felt like the response to Magnussen’s car state was overly cautious.

I’m not belittling decisions made on safety grounds, far from it. But with the knowledge that life is never risk-free, there are times where just the fact that there is additional risk doesn’t mean a dramatic response is required.

Whether you deem the call with Magnussen’s car to be correct or not, there is still a difficult threshold that the FIA has to identify. But it shouldn’t be any small difference to the norm, otherwise the opportunities for impressive racing – and impressive racing feats – are going to shrink.