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Formula 1 United States GP

Gasly "reckless" but FIA also shoulders blame: the Suzuka F1 report's key findings

The key detail in the FIA’s investigation of the crane incident during Formula 1’s 2022 Japanese Grand Prix reveals that race control missed Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri in the pitlane while permitting the Suzuka marshals to take recovery vehicles on track.

The car of Carlos Sainz, Ferrari F1-75, is recovered with a truck

The report from motorsport’s governing body also highlights major flaws in F1’s safety car and virtual safety car delta time procedures, as well as stating Gasly “drove in a reckless manner” during his part of the controversy.

It also suggests officials made the wrong call in sending recovery cranes onto the track when they did.

The wet race was stopped after just one racing lap following Carlos Sainz crashing his Ferrari on the run from the hairpin and Alex Albon pulling over his damaged Williams car a short distance further down the track from the Sainz crash site.

The incidents were initially covered with a safety car before being upgraded to a race stoppage three minutes later.

At this point, Gasly passed two cranes sent to recover the two stopped cars while running adrift of the pack. That shocked and angered both the Frenchman at the time and his colleagues once they had exited their cars during the lengthy red flag that cut short the event.

Race control misses Gasly in the pitlane

With the pack running behind the safety car, the FIA officials permitted the Suzuka marshals to send two cranes onto the fast, curving run between the Hairpin and Spoon corners to recover the stricken cars.

But Gasly was missing from the snake as he had pitted to get an advertising board – ripped from the wall lining the track by Sainz’s crash and then left in the path of on-coming cars – removed from the front of his AlphaTauri.

As he did so, the FIA report states that “as efforts were focused on safe recovery, the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly in the pitlane was not immediately detected”.

It continues: “Race control do not necessarily monitor all cars that may pit during safety car periods as they are more concerned about any area containing an incident and neutralising the field behind the safety car.”

Gasly entered the pitlane seven seconds before race control permitted the marshals near the Sainz crash site to enter the track, with those near Albon’s car already working to remove it.

The order to allow the crane to move Sainz’s car came 14s before Gasly exited the pits, which was also the exact point permission was granted for a crane to be sent on track to move Albon’s car too.

The FIA report states that “having recovery cranes on track at Suzuka during the weather conditions is a sensitive matter in view of the tragic incidents of the past”, referencing Jules Bianchi's ultimately fatal accident in 2014 when he hit a similar vehicle.

It adds: “The panel determined that, in hindsight, as the weather conditions were changing, it would have been prudent to have delayed the deployment of the recovery vehicles on track.

“It was acknowledged that every effort should be made to perform an efficient and safe recovery of cars. A longer recovery period, in conditions such as those which prevailed in Suzuka, may result in a race suspension.

“It was also acknowledged that, while the safety car is used to neutralise a race, the FIA has control over the cars directly behind the safety car, but it does not have sufficient control over the cars that are elsewhere around the track.”

Pierre Gasly was catching up in Suzuka after collecting an advertising board

Pierre Gasly was catching up in Suzuka after collecting an advertising board

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Gasly’s driving scrutinised and criticised

At the following stage in the FIA report, it discusses “drivers’ obligations” in such circumstances, where it outlines Gasly’s post-pitstop out-lap and his near-miss with the crane.

The FIA press release outlining the report’s findings states the following: “It was also acknowledged that in accordance with the applicable regulations, drivers have an obligation to limit their speed accordingly under yellow flag, safety car and red flag conditions. The drivers are further obliged to apply common sense at all times.

“In the case of Gasly, data showed that in an effort to close the delta time to the safety car he had been travelling at speeds which exceeded 200km/h before the scene of the Sainz incident – and after passing the stricken Ferrari of Sainz under a red flag.

“It should be noted that after the event he expressed his regret during a stewards’ hearing which resulted in a penalty.”

The report states that Gasly passed the Sainz crash site at 189km/h – 67km/h quicker than the fastest car running behind the safety car, which was Haas’s Kevin Magnussen at 122km/h.

Six seconds later, Gasly passes the Albon car recovery at a slower 163km/h, but then accelerates back up and reaches a maximum speed of 250km/h during the rest of his lap back to the pits, for which he was hit with a 20s penalty after the Suzuka race had finished, which dropped him from 17th to 18th in the final classification.

In a ‘comments and analysis’ section of the report, the FIA states the following: “Having recovery cranes on track at Suzuka during these weather conditions is an extremely sensitive matter.

“Nevertheless, and without undermining responsibilities regarding safety on track, we must also consider as detailed above that Gasly drove in a reckless manner by not respecting the flags, thereby ignoring the basic safety rules.”

The report notes that “this was the second time that Gasly had passed in front of the incidents. So, he was aware that a car had crashed and that marshals might be clearing the track”. One second before Gasly reached the Sainz crash, the track marker boards displayed red flags as the order had been given to stop the race. The report states that “supposing that Gasly couldn’t see the red panels, he was nevertheless supposed to respect the yellow flags and SC boards, which, in accordance with the applicable regulations, require drivers to prepare to slow down and potentially stop the car.”

It continues: “Gasly’s speed was at 189km/h on arrival at Incident 1 (Sainz) and 163km/h at Incident 2 (Albon recovery car) while under red flags. In neither of these two cases were Gasly’s car speeds compatible with the obligation to slow down and be able to stop his car.”

But, as he stressed at the time in Japan, Gasly was following the limited speed delta drivers must follow under VSC and full safety car periods.

In dry conditions, this is 40% slower than a typical race dry lap time, and 50% slower in wet conditions, as was the case at Suzuka.

But, because Gasly had picked up the advertising board and therefore toured even more slowly back to the pits than the pack up ahead under the initial safety car activation, “his delta time grew increasingly more positive”, per the report.

He was therefore 18s slower than his targeted delta time when he reached the pits and, as the delta times do not reset when cars enter the pits, he could “drive at a pace that was 18s faster per lap than the specified SC delta lap time without triggering the delta time alarm”.

Teams are permitted to have flashing dash lights and give audio warnings to tell drivers they are exceeding the delta time and therefore speed.

The FIA report states that: “Consequently, for the lap that Gasly drove after pitting, despite driving considerably faster than what would be expected under these circumstances, he was still in conformity with the requirements of the SC delta controls that were in place.”

It’s worth noting here that, although Gasly was circulating quicker than deemed appropriate for the circumstances by the FIA investigation, he was still going slower than he might’ve been given F1 top speeds – albeit in the dry – can reach 360km/h. 

Plus, the tricky nature of the tyres means that, if temperature is lost while circulating at slower speeds, F1 cars become much harder to control. 

Red Bull's Max Verstappen won a shortened Japanese Grand Prix, securing his second world title

Red Bull's Max Verstappen won a shortened Japanese Grand Prix, securing his second world title

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

What the FIA will do next

The report also includes an actions list that will be implemented to cover the specific failings regarding the Suzuka incidents outlined above.

As well as other measures including keeping the same race director for the rest of the 2022 season, from this weekend’s US Grand Prix, all teams will receive a message from race control telling them recovery vehicles are on the track so they can warn their drivers via team radio.

“Development of a live VSC/SC monitoring window to display the status of all cars, on track, behind SC [and] in pits” will be used by race control at F1 events and the FIA’s Remote Operations Centre at its Geneva base.

The FIA will also implement a “Race Control Procedure Update to better define the allocation of tasks across the Race Control team (including delegation of monitoring tasks to ROC, if required and if deemed robust) under SC or VSC procedure”.

This means “in specific relation to this review, the delegation of monitoring of cars entering the pitlane under SC conditions and the consequent length of the SC train”.

At the Austin drivers’ briefing later on Friday, the FIA will explain these new procedures to the drivers and remind them to stick to the rules already in place and respecting flags and marker boards.

Penalty precedents for drivers not respecting flags and safety car rules are also being reviewed by officials at Austin, with guidelines to be drawn up to implement punishments for any future transgressions of this nature.

For 2023, a ‘Dynamic VSC’ will be implemented, which would mean changing “the delta speed required for the driver to follow before and in the sectors where there is an incident, this would aid the drivers to know where incidents have been declared” – per the FIA report.

Also coming for next year will be a rule change meaning the pit exit is closed during any safety car period and only reopening it for a short period each time the safety car snake passes by.

This would have a major impact on safety car periods influencing race strategies if racing is set to begin again after a short interruption.

It is noted in the FIA report that this change “could be implemented at the discretion of race control dependent upon track condition and/or the specific requirements of an intervention”.

The placement and construction of advertising boards used at F1 events is also being assessed – with Formula E-style adhesive banners an alternative F1 event organisers could consider using in the future.

Suzuka drainage improvements will also be assessed, as well as adding more powerful lights to recovery vehicles given Gasly was initially unaware of his close encounter in Japan.

The FIA report states that the governing body is conducting an “investigation of new technology (Artificial Intelligence) to help manage difficult situations on track better, including under severe weather conditions”.

And it will work with Pirelli over the characteristics of tyres required for “extreme wet track conditions” over the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

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