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Whiting: If a move is wrong, it is wrong

13 June 2012

FIA safety delegate Charlie Whiting has attempted to explain the difficulty that comes with determining who is to blame for on-track incidents in motorsport's senior championships, but insists that he does not believe that drivers have lost respect for safety, either their own or that of their rivals.

Giving a rare interview to SpeedTV pit-lane reporter, and GP2/GP3 commentator, Will Buxton, Whiting was enticed into discussing a range of topics, varying from driving standards to safety provision at circuits, and provided an enlightening view on several incidents that have got tongues wagging during grands prix this season. Perhaps the most notable occurred at the Bahrain round where Nico Rosberg, just one week after he had won in China, was vilified for apparently forcing both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton to take evasive action with over-enthusiastic defensive tactics.

The stewards on the day decided not to penalise the Mercedes driver, and Whiting, having reviewed the footage, believes that the lack of action was correct.

"What Nico did was make one move," he explained, "He made it decisively, he didn't hesitate, he just made the move and went in one direction. Crucially, he moved before the driver behind him, so he started it.

"In Alonso's case, they probably decided together if you see what I mean, but it was much clearer in the case with Lewis. But, at no point when there was one car width left between Nico's car and the edge of the track, was no part of the car behind alongside him. That's what swayed it, just, in Nico's favour. Because, at that point, he's allowed to use the full width of the track to defend his position, and the rules say that specifically. He's allowed to use the full width of the track. He didn't force the driver off track, the other driver drove off the track.

"Fernando backed off, lost momentum, but Lewis decided he was going to go for it whatever and kept going, and that, for me, was the only contentious thing: did Lewis gain an advantage by going off the track?

"Since then, I have written a note to the teams and have said that, if there is any substantial part of the following car alongside, then you can't use the full width of the track."

Whiting even offered a tempered view of the infamous 2010 Hungarian GP incident involving former Ferrari team-mates Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, when the seven-time world champion appeared to leave precious little room for his rival as he edged him towards the pit-wall.

"Again, in that case, a part of Rubens' car was alongside Michael and Michael didn't leave Rubens the space he should have done and that's why he was penalised," he conceded, "However, if you analyse it - with a completely clear head, and don't look at the video and say 'wow, that was terrible' - in fact Michael's move wasn't that bad. It wasn't far off what Nico did. It was just that there was a wall there, so it looked a whole lot worse. Nico was right on the edge of acceptability, Michael was over the edge."

The point that there was a wall involved prompted the question as to whether circuits had become too safe, and were now encouraging drivers to take greater risks when it came to attacking or defending in overtaking manoeuvres, and Whiting accepted that, in some cases, that may be the case.

"Probably, but not consciously perhaps," he mused, "It's the same as the risks they take when they're driving. They probably do more because they know that the worst that could happen to them is to spin off into a vast expanse of asphalt.

"There are two things we need to think about there. Normally, and I think Bahrain is the exception to the rule, the track verges, as in the edges of the track, are grass. The run-off areas are the parts straight on around the outside of a corner. I think I'm right in saying that there are no other circuits [apart from Bahrain] with asphalt for verges. It would have been a whole different story if Lewis would have kept his foot in and used the grass instead of the asphalt in Bahrain. He would have lost downforce, grip, he would have lost everything on the grass. I don't think Nico would have done anything different had it been grass, I think it's the driver behind who would have done something different.

"There are lots of manoeuvres that drivers probably wouldn't contemplate if there weren't the big run-off areas. If we go back to [Alain] Prost and [Ayrton] Senna in Suzuka, there's no way they would have engaged in those things if there'd been a wall at that part of the track. That's an extreme, of course, but the principle is there in my opinion.

"It is, I suppose, an unintended consequence of having much safer cars and much safer tracks, but that's what the stewards are there for. If you think a driver has deliberately forced another driver off track, and we go back again to Nico and Lewis, that was a very close call for the stewards. Did he force him off or not? If he'd got halfway alongside and you'd forced the guy over, then you'd be nicked, despite how safe the track is or how safe the cars are.

"I'd like to think drivers didn't think that. I'm sure they take more risks when it comes to trying to do a quick lap, when they've got open expanses of run-off area. That's inevitable. I think lap times around Monaco would be a bit quicker if there was no guardrail there, you know? But I don't think that they do anything that they shouldn't do and, even if they did, they'd be nicked. It wouldn't matter how big the verges or the run-off areas are, whether it is grass, asphalt or gravel. If the move is wrong, it is wrong."


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