The causes of the biggest crash of the 2020 Formula 1 season so far are now fully understood and shouldn’t be repeated after “polite” discussions between drivers and the FIA.
The massive restart pile-up that caused the first of the Tuscan Grand Prix’s red flags at Mugello earlier this month took Antonio Giovinazzi, Carlos Sainz Jr, Nicholas Latifi and Kevin Magnussen out of the race, led to 12 drivers receiving official warnings and prompted a disagreement between drivers and the FIA over the handling of restarts.
The drivers had written to FIA race director Michael Masi between the Mugello and Sochi events to raise concerns about the accident, which included their belief that the safety car lights had been turned off too late and contributed to the accident.
At the point the safety car lights go out, the leader no longer has to stay within 10 car lengths of it and can control the pace, but this didn’t happen until the final corner at Mugello.
While drivers would not reveal in detail what was decided when they were quizzed on the matter during the Sochi weekend, they did indicate they did not expect similar situations to arise again.
“I feel like we’ve addressed the main points, all the things that we had to talk about and clarify, together with drivers and the FIA,” said McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr, one of the drivers eliminated in the Mugello crash. “We’ve come to some really good conclusions.
“The FIA and the drivers will help each other to make sure it doesn’t repeat that same situation again. So I’m actually very pleased with the conversation we all had and the conclusions we took because it was nice and polite.”
Sainz said the onus was on the FIA to explain what the specific plans are, but he indicated both the drivers and the safety car behaviour would be part of the solution.
“I think you will hear soon from the FIA on it,” said Sainz. “There were things that some drivers could have helped to avoid the accident, either a combination of some driver errors and the FIA maybe helping us out with the safety car.
“I think the combination of those two things I think is going to make the situation a lot better – keeping in mind that Mugello is a very specific track, a very special restart, and that scenario normally wouldn’t repeat itself.
“So it was a very special case, which I feel like we all could have done a better job. We all realise how dangerous the situation was and I’m sure everyone will try and make sure it doesn’t repeat again.”
The safety car was again deployed at Sochi, with the pace car lights turning off at Turn 12 of the 18-turn layout and leaving ample time for race leader Lewis Hamilton to control the pace.
But Sochi is not a comparable circuit given the configuration of the final corners and the positioning of the timing line, so this is not necessarily reflective of any change in policy.
Central to the problem at Mugello was the long run from the last corner to the timing line that forced leader Valtteri Bottas to go as late as possible to prevent pursuers being able to tow past him.
Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo, who was one of 12 drivers warned for their part in the restart crash, did point to the timing of the safety car lights going off as part of the discussion.
He suggested that had this happened earlier at Mugello, this would have allowed time for the field to stabilise before leader Bottas got the hammer down at the timing line – a view shared by the majority of drivers.
“There was a little bit of discussion,” said Ricciardo. “One thing was when the lights go off, if the safety car lights go off earlier in the lap, typically then the leader will slow down earlier, create a gap and then the rest of the field can catch up.
“But then he has the option to go early or to go late but it felt like I think the general understanding was the safety car lights were off quite late so it kind of left Valtteri with not much of a choice other than to go at the very last minute.
“But there was a lot of back and forth.”
Italian Grand Prix winner Pierre Gasly also indicated the discussions were constructive and believes the situation would not be repeated on a return visit to Mugello.
“Obviously, it was something we discussed for quite a while,” said Gasly.
“All opinions have been heard, we know that Mugello was also the first time we went there in F1 so it was a particular situation and probably things will be slightly different if we are to go there again.
“Everyone understood pretty much what happened and on my side I’m fine with what was discussed.”
Responding to a question from The Race, FIA race director Michael Masi confirmed that the discussions had been productive but did not elaborate on how a repeat would be avoided.
After the Mugello race, Masi had railed against suggestions that the restart rule needed to be reviewed and that the lights had gone out too late.
“It was an extremely positive discussion with all of the drivers and a healthy discussion, as always,” said Masi at Sochi.
“There were various matters discussed and some of those we have agreed that collectively, as a group, with all of the key stakeholders. we will look at everything.
“There’s no kneejerk decisions about what will or won’t happen. We will look at it all from the various facets.”