It seems that just about any discussion regarding Michael Schumacher’s career inevitably turns to the final race of 1994, where Schumacher won the title after a collision with Damon Hill took both drivers out of the race.
On lap 36, Schumacher ran wide on the exit of turn five and brushed the wall on the outside of the corner, which caused him to be slow on the approach to turn six. Damon Hill rounded turn five on the racing line, saw Schumacher rejoining the track at low speed and attempted to pass him into turn six. However, Schumacher turned in and the left front tyre of Hill’s Williams made contact with the side of Schumacher’s car, lifting the right hand side of Schumacher’s car into the air. Schumacher’s car hit the tyre barrier on the exit of turn six, eliminating him from the race on the spot. Hill attempted to continue, but the accident had caused damage to the front suspension of his Williams, and there was insufficient time to repair the car during the race.
In the aftermath of the incident Schumacher was widely criticised, particularly in the British press who felt that Schumacher had deliberately taken their hero, Hill, out of the race. Even now, 18 years later, the incident is still cited as an example of questionable behaviour by Schumacher, alongside incidents such as Jerez 1997 – where Schumacher turned in on Jacques Villeneuve in an unsuccessful attempt to take his rival out of the race – and Monaco 2006 – where Schumacher was found to have deliberately parked his car on the track in qualifying in order to cause yellow flags that would prevent his provisional pole position time from being beaten.
While Schumacher undoubtedly acted wrongly in the incident with Villeneuve in 1997 and the available evidence suggests that he was correctly punished in 2006, the 1994 incident is not nearly as incriminating as it is often made out to be. Schumacher was in front of Hill going into the corner. Hill’s attempt to pass was, at the point of entering the corner, obviously not going to succeed – he was driving into a closing gap. Schumacher was quite entitled to take the racing line, which he did. Hill did not back out of the passing attempt, and a collision was the result.
The behaviour of both drivers is completely understandable. Schumacher had a one point lead in the championship, which meant that the race was a straight fight for the title between the two drivers. He was leading and not about to give up his lead without a fight. Therefore he did not give way, and there is no reason that he should have. Hill knew that he had to pass Schumacher at some point to become World Champion. When he saw Schumacher rejoining the track slowly, he saw an opportunity and went for it. In hindsight, it’s easy to suggest that Hill should have waited for another chance to pass, particularly because Schumacher’s car may have been damaged in the previous corner when he hit the wall. But Hill could not have known at that point that Schumacher’s car was possibly damaged.
Hill had to go for the pass, and Schumacher had to cut him off. Any racing driver in either position would have done exactly the same thing. The stewards of the race examined the crash and declared it a racing incident, which is the only reasonable conclusion based on the evidence at hand.
Michael Schumacher’s Singapore Grand Prix came to an early end on Sunday when he crashed into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. The stewards investigated the incident, found that Schumacher was to blame – which he admitted – and handed him a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Japan.
The incident occurred under braking for turn 14. Schumacher was not particularly close to Vergne approaching the braking zone. He braked visibly later than Kimi Raikkonen behind him, but still seemed to be far away from Vergne in front. Realising that his car was not decelerating quickly enough, Schumacher braked harder and locked up all four tyres, which effectively ended his chances of avoiding the accident.
Two things seem strange about the crash. Firstly, the gap between Vergne and Schumacher was significant enough that even braking a bit late should not normally have caused Schumacher to run into the back of the Toro Rosso. Secondly, Schumacher’s outside front tyre was the first to lock up. Normally the inside front tyre is slightly unloaded on the approach to a corner, and so will lock up first.
Both issues can possibly be explained by cold tyres and brakes. The crash took place shortly after a Safety Car period, during which the cars run at significantly reduced speed and therefore tend to lose temperature in their tyres and brakes. It is normal to be cautious under braking for a lap or two after racing resumes in order to get the tyres and brakes back up to temperature.
Another possible explanation is an incorrect brake bias. The driver of an F1 car can change how much braking force is distributed to the front and rear axles using a lever in the cockpit. Schumacher himself is famous for adjusting his brake bias almost every corner. Perhaps he made an error with the bias and put too much of the braking force through the slightly cold front tyres. That would certainly cause the front tyres to lock up and prevent adequate deceleration.
Another possibility, which Schumacher suggested when he was interviewed after the crash, is a technical failure on the car. But exactly what that could be is mystifying. His brakes worked. That much is evidenced by the plumes of tyre smoke generated by his four locked-up tyres. The only other obvious failure that could cause his car to brake inefficiently would be suspension-related. The car can only slow down if the tyres are rotating and in contact with the track. If he had a suspension failure that caused the front tyres to have limited grip with the track surface, that would explain the locking brakes and lack of deceleration.
What is most likely is that it was a simple driver error. On slightly cold tyres and with slightly cold brakes, Schumacher probably just braked too late and then found himself a passenger in a car that would not slow down enough. At least he had the experience to hit the middle of the back of Vergne’s car, thereby reducing the chances of become airborne.
At the start of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, Romain Grosjean veered sharply to the right-hand side of the track, pushing Lewis Hamilton onto the grass and triggering an accident that saw Grosjean’s Lotus launch over the back of Sergio Perez’s Sauber and very nearly connect with Fernando Alonso’s head. The stewards handed Grosjean a one-race ban and a hefty fine, which he accepted without argument.
From a spectator point of view, the incident was terrifying. It looked at first glance as though Alonso had taken a blow to the helmet, which would almost certainly have been fatal. Fortunately, that was not the case and everyone walked away from the crash apparently uninjured. But the crash highlighted the dangers involved in single-seater racing, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of irresponsible driving.
The greatest safety risk in open-cockpit racing is the driver’s head, as it is exposed and therefore vulnerable to direct impact. In 2009, Felipe Massa suffered a near-fatal accident in which a spring from another car hit his helmet. Massa was in critical condition for some time and spent the second half of the season recovering before returning to Formula One in 2010. Also in 2009, Henry Surtees was killed in a Formula Two race when a wheel from another crashed car hit him on the head.
Considering the dangers involved, a certain amount of caution is required from drivers. Races are not generally won and lost in the first corner (except perhaps at Monaco, as David Coulthard pointed out during his BBC commentary on Sunday), and so it is fairly obvious that surviving the start should be a priority to any driver.
Grosjean’s aggressive move across the track was anything but cautious. It was also unnecessary. A more gradual move across the track would have given Hamilton more time to react, and Grosjean could have made the corner in a good position. In Grosjean’s defense, it must be admitted that the drivers have limited peripheral vision, due to high cockpit sides that assist in driver head and neck protection. He claimed that he thought he was already completely past Hamilton. He was not, but perhaps he could not see that. In any event, if he thought he was that far ahead, then why the aggressive move?
Considering the potentially disastrous consequences of his on-track conduct, Grosjean’s one-race ban is certainly appropriate. There are also likely to be consequences within the team, as he caused an enormous amount of costly damage to the car and is now unable to race at the next round, which will affect his team’s efforts in the Constructors’ Championship.
Grosjean will now have some time on the sidelines to reflect on the incident. He has an opportunity to show his maturity by returning to the grid in Singapore more composed and controlled. In any event, he will certainly be sorry to be sitting out the next race at Monza. No racing driver likes to watch his car get raced by someone else.
Marussia F1 team have released the following update on their injured test driver Maria De Villota:
It is now eight days since Maria De Villota’s accident at Duxford Airfield in her debut test for the Team.
Despite severe injuries, Maria’s recovery during that time has been remarkable.
Following two successful surgical procedures in the days following the accident, last Saturday the medical team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital began to gradually reduce the level of Maria’s sedation. By Sunday morning, Maria was awake and able to speak to her family, which provided a very important – albeit early – indication that there were positive signs for Maria’s recovery.
Since that time, Maria has been making small but significant steps. She was moved out of the Neurological Critical Care Unit on Monday and is no longer receiving sedation. Her family remain by her side and she is communicating freely with them and the medical team. Medical assessments are ongoing to monitor Maria’s improving condition.
We have provided this update with the consent and support of the De Villota family who, whilst keen to ensure Maria’s care remains the priority, are understanding and appreciative of the concern for her wellbeing.