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Webber: F1 is not a finishing school

13 September 2012

F1 veteran Mark Webber has admitted that he still remains firmly on the fence when it comes to the discussions over possible protection measures that have arisen following this month's start-line accident at the Belgian Grand Prix, but insists that the drivers have a big role to play in making the sport safer.

Although he was not caught up in the mayhem at La Source, having made a bad start and slipped back down the field, the Australian admits that those who were involved were lucky not to have been seriously injured. He also admits, however, that he is not leading the call for drastic changes to be made to the way cars are designed in an effort to prevent similar accidents - and their possible repercussions - in future.

"There was a nasty accident at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix at the start of the month and it has brought the subject of driver safety in F1 to the fore again," the Red Bull driver wrote in his regular column for BBC Sport, "The FIA has been doing some research on driver head protection and, at the moment, it looks like some form of forward protection, probably a kind of roll-bar, is going to be introduced in the not-too-distant future.

"Head protection is a controversial subject and, unusually for me, I'm still on the fence on it. Open-wheel, open-cockpit, racing is what most racing drivers want to do - it requires incredible precision and they are the best racing cars in the world. You don't want to lose that, so we have to get this decision right. It's a big step for the sport. People are saying things like 'it's going to be ugly', but you have to park that stuff. The tricky thing is to decide what exactly you are protecting against.

"The Grosjean incident, and a similar one involving David Coulthard and Alexander Wurz in Australia in 2007, happened because of cars climbing over each other and being launched into the air. That also happened to me when I flipped in Valencia in 2010. So, should you shut off that option somehow by enclosing the wheels, but leave the cockpit open? Or leave the wheels open and create more cockpit protection? Personally, I feel stopping cars launching is a bigger priority, if only because I think that happens more often. Cockpit intrusion is rarer, but it still has to be taken seriously. In both cases, we have been lucky and we all know that luck will run out one day."

As well as the design of future F1 cars, however, Webber has added his voice to those calling for the drivers to take greater responsibility for their actions on track. Grosjean received a one-race ban for his role in instigating the Belgian accident, but others have been to blame for accidents this season and escaped with a series of drive-thru' or grid penalties. While the outcome of the stewards' deliberations at Spa have been seen as the start of a new clampdown on driving standards, Webber is keen to emphasise that it cannot start and finish with F1. Some of the driving in the GP2 and GP3 feeder series which support F1 week in week out have left a lot to be desired, and there is a growing wave of support for sanctions to be passed down through the ranks.

"In the last ten years, the level of aggressiveness has ramped up a bit, just because guys know that, usually, they'll be able to walk away from a crash," Webber explained, "But you can be aggressive and safe or aggressive and unsafe.

"I've always said F1 is not a finishing school when it comes to racing. Most of the youngsters who have come in have gone pretty well, [although], this year, Pastor Maldonado and Grosjean have both had a few incidents. If Grosjean's crash in Belgium had happened in open racing, it would have been fine. But there were lots of cars around, the track is narrow there and, very quickly, it became a nasty accident.

"The nature of F1 has changed with the Pirelli tyres and DRS. Overtaking is easier now, so you don't have to be so desperate at the start. That is why it is a surprise to see some of the things that are happening on the first lap. You do need to get involved, but some guys are having more incidents than the others and they need to take that on board. We should be the best at what we do, racing in all conditions on all kinds of tracks, and driver etiquette has to match that."

Grosjean, who had previously been involved in incidents of contact in five of the eleven races leading up to Belgium, served his one-race ban at last weekend's Italian Grand Prix, and Lotus team boss Eric Boullier believes that he will have taken notice of his punishment.

"He has definitely learned his lessons and I know he is eager to get back in the car in Singapore," the Frenchman told the BBC, "He will have learned a lot because, being in your car, you have only one radio in your head. When you are sitting in the garage and you have both cars then you can learn much more."


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