Mercedes’ Formula 1 drivers led an assertion that restarts are being handled differently this year and this led to the heavy startline crash in the Tuscan Grand Prix.
A multi-car accident occurred at an early restart following a safety car as leader Valtteri Bottas maintained a slow pace coming up to the startline and Antonio Giovinazzi, Carlos Sainz Jr, Nicholas Latifi and Kevin Magnussen collided heavily.
“They’re trying to make the show better by turning the lights later so you can’t build the gap early” :: Valtteri Bottas
Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat were summoned to the stewards for allegedly breaching restart rules, and ultimately over half the grid have been given warnings over the incident.
Several drivers have said the restart procedure is different this year, with the safety car turning its lights off later to give the leading car less time to build a gap before the restart.
Both Bottas and team-mate Lewis Hamilton believe this is a deliberate effort to invite more action and that overstepped the mark at Mugello because it resulted in a crash.
Bottas said Mercedes had raised a concern about the restart procedure given Mugello’s layout before the race but “they said basically they’re going to keep doing it because it’s better for the show, I think that was the reply”.
“The FIA or FOM, I don’t know who decides what’s happening with the safety cars, but they’re trying to make the show better by turning the lights later so you can’t build the gap early and then go like the corner before the main straight,” said Bottas.
“Maybe it’s time to think if that’s right and safe to do so.”
Some drivers in the pack accused the leaders of backing the pack up too much but Bottas insisted that was not the case and was supported in this by Hamilton.
“This year it has been that on the safety car they’re putting the lights off quite late, so you can only build the gap pretty late on,” said Bottas.
“So of course, when you’re in the lead you try to maximise your chances.
“And I’m not at all to blame for that, everyone can think everything they want for it.
“I was doing consistent speeds until I went, yes I went late, but we start racing from the control line, not before that.
“So, the guys behind who crashed because of that, they can look in the mirror. There’s no point whining about it.”
Hamilton added: “Well firstly it’s absolutely not Valtteri’s fault at all. It’s the decision makers, don’t know who, but they’re obviously trying to make it more exciting.
“But ultimately today you’ve seen that it puts people at risk. So perhaps they need to rethink that.
“It seemed like if there’s a piece of paper on the track they’re going to put the red flag out and do a restart!” :: Lewis Hamilton
“They’ve been moving the switching off the safety car light later and later and later.
“We’re out there fighting for position, especially when you earn a position like Valtteri earned the position of being in the lead.
“And then obviously they are trying to make it more exciting but today was probably a little bit over the limit perhaps.
“But he did exactly what anyone would do.”
Hamilton said he understood the appeal of using in-race restarts to inject more action into races that can risk becoming sterile as cars space out.
The grand prix was red-flagged as a result of that crash and then again later on, which Hamilton compared to NASCAR’s liberal use of caution periods.
He even joked that after excitement of the restarted Italian Grand Prix last weekend “it seemed like if there’s a piece of paper on the track they’re going to put the red flag out and do a restart!”.
“I can understand why, and that is exciting,” he said. “Ultimately these races can get boring when everyone strings out, and there’s such big gaps between everyone.
“And so this does bring it back in, they do it in NASCAR. They pull out the yellow flag all the time and safety cars all the time, to keep the race exciting.
“They definitely need to really take into account the safety aspect. Today wasn’t particularly safe with the restart.
“You could almost see that coming. I’m sure they’ll learn from it, and we’ll move forward as a sport together.”
The Mercedes drivers were not the only ones who felt the circumstances around the restart contributed to the contact.
Podium finisher Alex Albon said having the start-finish line so far down the straight at Mugello, and restricting when Bottas was able to build a gap, made it “pretty obvious” he would “take off as late as he can”.
Albon added that the drivers behind would then try to pre-empt the start based on that to try to “get a slingshot”.
“Then if Valtteri doesn’t go when they think he’s going to go that’s when the concertina happens,” said Albon.
“It’s dangerous, but it’s predictable as well in that sense. The top five were almost doing like a double formation start because we’re all just waiting for the take off.
“It’s a bit like when you come up to a traffic jam on the motorway looking in your mirrors to see if the car behind hasn’t noticed” :: George Russell
“Tracks like this are always going to be difficult as well with long straights. But definitely something could have been done better.”
Williams driver George Russell escaped the chaos and was adamant it “could have been avoided if the safety car had turned its lights off earlier”.
He supported the Mercedes’ drivers position that this year “the safety car’s been turning its lights off so late” and “that’s the whole issue”.
However, he also made it clear that he believed drivers were at fault for accelerating and then braking, even if the original cause was an external variable.
“It was sort of inevitable when I saw people going quicker around the last corner then slow down then accelerate and slow down again,” said Russell.
“I was very lucky to miss the incident. As soon as everyone braked I looked in my mirrors, I saw a little bit of chaos and I just put my foot down to avoid it.
“It’s a bit like when you come up to a traffic jam on the motorway looking in your mirrors to see if the car behind hasn’t noticed and being ready to put your foot down and avoid.
“This stopping and starting is unacceptable really.”
“Safety is paramount. Anyone that says anything otherwise is quite offensive personally” :: Michael Masi
When drivers’ complaints about the procedure were put to FIA race director Michael Masi, he replied “I don’t think there is any need to review the safety car restart rule”, insisting that safety was “paramount” and that “anyone that says anything otherwise is quite offensive personally”.
He added: “They can criticise all they want. If we have a look at a distance perspective from where the lights were extinguished to the control line, it’s probably not dissimilar if not longer than at a number of other venues.
“So, at the end of the day, the safety car lights go out where they do. The safety car is in pitlane.
“We have the 20 best drivers in the world. In the Formula 3 race, those drivers in the junior category had a very, very similar restart to what was occurring in the F1 race and navigated it quite well without incident.”