Our sport has dodged some bullets recently. Images of a SEAT somersaulting into a spectator area at Brands Hatch a fortnight ago, narrowly missing some marshals, were followed onto YouTube last weekend by Chris van der Drift's monumental Superleague Formula shunt at the same venue on Sunday.
Fortunately, given the violence of both events, that only van der Drift required hospital treatment is bordering on the miraculous. So what can we learn to avoid these incidents from happening this regularly again?
The first common denominator is the track: Brands is an old-school venue, 60 years old this year. It has constantly been revised and upgraded, with requisite FIA and MSA inspections, to move with the times.
How about the cars? Both stood up incredibly well to big, multiple impacts: SEAT Eurocup racer Francisco Carvalho was winded; van der Drift broke several bones that will take time to heal, but escaped any life-threatening injuries.
Van der Drift's rollhoop was partially torn-off and the right-side sidepod crash structure was totally ripped away, illustrating the amount of energy that had been dissipated. The carbonfibre monocoque was cracked, but intact. The Panoz tub had protected him just like its IndyCar forefather saved Ryan Briscoe at Chicago in 2005.
But what of the driving standards that led to both crashes? Now we're talking. In the SEAT case, it was deplorable. One car attempts to pass another with all four wheels on the grass and gives him another punt for good measure on the exit. That sort of move that belongs in the video-game domain; it was utterly reckless.
In the Superleague case, at first glance it appears that Jousse moved over on van der Drift, sparking the collision that had such devastating consequences. At least there are extenuating circumstances to consider.
Jousse, the grip from his tyres fading badly, had already been passed by Davide Rigon (on his left-hand side exiting Surtees) and Duncan Tappy (an impressively brave move around the outside, Jousse's left, at Hawthorn). Alvaro Parente was next past him, again on his left-hand side, at Pilgrim's Drop. At no time does Jousse do anything to block either move.
When van der Drift hit his last push-to-pass exiting Surtees to line-up Jousse, you can understand the Frenchman's assumption that he'd also pass on the left. In fact, van der Drift had been granted a great view of Parente's previous move; he was behind him as it happened.
Re-examining the on-board footage shows that Jousse, on the right after exiting Surtees, wanders towards the middle of the track after the kink before Pilgrim's Drop. Van der Drift takes this as his cue to pass on the gap that has marginally opened on the right. But Jousse's midset was always to let him go by on the left he vigorously denied he was attempting to block him.
Van der Drift's extra 1000rpm from his push-to-pass was really kicking in just before they touched, giving him massive momentum just as Jousse moved again to the right of the track. Given the speed differential between the two cars, poor Chris had nowhere to go but over his rear wheel.
I don't want to vilify Jousse - I believe this was a genuine misunderstanding, to which van der Drift himself concurs, but I do want to highlight a couple of issues.
First, Michael Schumacher's blatant blocking of Rubens Barrichello in the Hungarian Grand Prix was as crass a tactic as wayward SEAT driver Ricardo Bravo. It could have led to an outcome far worse than van der Drift's accident and if Formula 1's most successful driver of all-time is pulling stunts like this, it sends out the wrong message to everyone.
Even in Formula Ford that would have been dangerous, but we're talking speeds of 150mph and beyond. David Coulthard calls it the 'plane-crash scenario', and he should know because he's survived one. These blocking moves need to be stamped out; race bans are the only way to do it. But where are they?
Third, Superleague's rolling starts have become very lairy and need better policing. Cars in the midfield are hitting their push-to-pass while the red light is still on, and while this is fine at a track where there is plenty of width - the sanitised Nurburging was spectacular - at classics like Brands or Zolder it is a multiple pile-up waiting to happen.
In this YouTube age, incidents like this are quickly beamed into living rooms around the world, and mainstream media outlets are swift to latch onto any 'amazing escape' story, which gives a brief burst of publicity. The flipside of this is when the next time life, or lives, is/are lost.
Not only will that moment be horrible, but the media backlash of 'ban this madness' will be quickly unleashed and kneejerk reactions will be likely.
It's time for race stewards across the board to read the riot act to drivers before the next 'big one' happens. Let's draw some distinctions between defending and blocking, well-executed outbraking moves and reckless lunges.
Is it time for a racing 'code of conduct' to allow racers and stewards to know what is and isn't acceptable? As the FIA now uses ex-grand prix racers to help make the calls on dubious on-track issues, perhaps they might be the suitable authorities to write such a document?
If track and car safety have improved, surely driving standards should too.
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