Formula 1 and motor sport in general has made huge strides in the right direction in terms of safety over the years, and it continues to be a key factor defining technical regulations at the top level.
The low noses that current F1 cars have caused much consternation upon their introduction, at least from an aesthetic point of view. But they were in fact brought in for safety reasons. The lowering of the front bulkhead, brought in to the technical regulations for the 2012 season was an attempt to prevent cars being launched into the air of the back wheel of another, as previously seen with Mark Webber at Valencia. It was also the first phase leading to the ultimate lowering of the whole nose section that we see currently in F1. This was brought in to prevent the possibility of a nose section coming into contact with a driver in the event of a jack knife accident.
Notable safety changes preceding these in F1 were the increased strength and size of side impact structures, mandatory wheel tethers to prevent wheels coming loose in an impact and a larger rear crash structure. These changes to the cars themselves show that safety is still rightly taken very seriously.
As far as circuits go, they have to comply with strict assessment from the FIA before being passed safe to use. Tarmac run off area’s have recently been on the agenda as there were some opinions expressed at Monza that the addition of a run off area on the outside of the famous parabolica turn was uncalled for, and has taken some of the edge away from this fast right hander. Whether you agree or disagree with this viewpoint, there has been a worrying increase of another, previously unmentioned danger on racetracks that needs looking into.
This is the sausage curb.
You will recognise these as the larger often orange painted curbs put on the inside of bends, often at a chicane or a bend where there is a large open space on the inside. The idea of these is to try to prevent drivers cutting corners, and slowing them down considerably if they do have to run off the track. While in principle this idea is fine, the problem now has become one of safety, highlighted over the last two weeks especially.
These curbs are substantially higher than the ones adorning the inside and outside of the track, and have a worrying tendency to send cars skywards.
Max Chilton was eliminated from the grand prix at Monza after taking to the run off at the rettifilo chicane, hitting a sausage curb that lifted his Marussia in to the air, across the track and into the gravel on the other side of the road. If another car had been passing at that point, he would have been in danger of spearing into it at the height of the drivers helmet. Anyone who has watched a lot of motor racing over the years will be able to recount an instance where a driver has lost control, hit one of these curbs and been sent into the air.
The opening race of the Formula E championship at the weekend provided as much proof as any as to why these curbs need to be banned. On the last bend of the last lap, Nick Heidfeld attempted to pass Nico Prost, who turned into him, damaging Heidfeld’s suspension and sending him straight on, out of control. Heidfeld’s car then hit one of the sausage curbs, which catapulted him into the air, and straight into the catch fencing opposite. The car hit the fence in such a way that had it not been for the roll hoop Heidfeld’s head would have made direct contact with the fencing. He was extremely lucky to survive the crash.
Amlin driver Katherine Legge had commented in practice that the curbs were " like a launch pad for cars".
After the FIA have gone to such lengths to lower F1 noses to prevent drivers being speared side on, it seems ludicrous that they can race on circuits with these curbs that have the potential to launch cars to driver head height or worse. I fear that unless these curbs are banned, it won’t be long until they cause a serious incident.
Polystyrene boards could easily serve the purpose for which these curbs are positioned on the track, or plain old gravel traps, which seem to be a dying breed. With penalties dished out by race stewards for not obeying track limits, you could even have none of the above and let the stewards issue punishment in the way of a time penalty. Whatever the solution, these curbs must be banned as soon as possible by the FIA.