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The FIA Response to Suzuka’s Trackside Recovery Truck Is Disturbing

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Image for article titled The FIA Response to Suzuka's Trackside Recovery Truck Is Disturbing

Screenshot: F1TV via YouTube

The 2022 Japanese Grand Prix started under rainy conditions and resulted in multiple crashes and collisions on the first lap that ultimately resulted in a red flag. But just as the red flag flew, a recovery tractor had entered the track while cars were still circuiting Suzuka. And so far, the response has been miserable, with AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly taking most of the current blame.

The recovery vehicle was responding to Carlos Sainz’s abandoned Ferrari, but the response came extremely early. Recovery vehicles are allowed to enter the track under safety car conditions, which was the case at Suzuka — but the extremely poor weather conditions also made it impossible to see the tractor until drivers were almost upon it.

It can be difficult to make out the tractor in screenshots due to poor visibility and driver speeds, but the truck is obvious as you re-watch clips of Gasly driving past it:

A tractor on track with Gasly flying by | #Japanegp OMG

I don’t think it really needs to be stated out loud, but having a recovery vehicle on a race circuit around which F1 cars are still circling is extremely dangerous — even if the race has technically already been red-flagged. If cars are still on the track, the presence of a recovery vehicle presents a massive hazard.

And we’ve seen the absolute worst outcome from this situation before. During the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, Marussia driver Jules Bianchi lost control of his car during wet conditions and crashed into a recovery vehicle that was parked well off the track. His car effectively wedged underneath the truck, and Bianchi died due to head injuries sustained in that event.

During the broadcast, it took a while before commentators understood just what had happened; most people missed the presence of the recovery vehicle on Gasly’s onboards. All they saw, then, was an irate Gasly storming through the paddock.

While the FIA has launched a “thorough review” of the incident, the delayed response hasn’t exactly been promising.

“While it is normal practice to recover cars under Safety Car and Red Flag conditions, due to the particular circumstances and also taking into account feedback from of a number of drivers, the FIA has launched a thorough review of the events involving the deployment of recovery vehicles during the Japanese Grand Prix,” an FIA statement read. “This is part of the common practice of debrief and analysis of all race incidents to ensure continual improvements of processes and procedures.”

As it currently stands, blame for the incident was placed on Gasly. Gasly had pitted after early race damage and was trying to catch up to the field in the hope that he’d be on the lead lap during a restart. Essentially, the argument is that Gasly was speeding during safety car — and then red-flag — conditions, which he shouldn’t have been doing. For all that, Gasly was handed a 20-second time penalty and two penalty points on his super license. Per race officials, via Motorsport.com:

“After passing the scene of the incident, car 10 continued under the red flag situation, at speeds which exceeded 200 km/h on multiple occasions, and which reached 251 km/h at one point,” said the stewards.

“The driver conceded that he now understood that there could have been marshals or obstacles on the track, and admitted that he was too fast.

“However, in mitigation of penalty, we take into account that although the speed could not by any measure be regarded as ‘slow’ as required in the regulations, it was slower than the maximum speed that could be achieved under these conditions.

“We also take into account the shock the driver experienced on seeing a truck on the racing line in the corner of the incident.”

All of that misses the point, though: There was a recovery vehicle on the racing line while cars were on track. Even if Gasly had been driving at a slow speed, a collision would have been disastrous. The field of drivers still circuiting the track also passed the tractor, which was parked just off the racing line.

And, just to remove any doubt that this is coming from a place of favoritism for Gasly, here’s a quote from Red Bull driver Sergio Perez on the incident, as quoted in Motorsport.com:

“In any conditions which should never see a crane on track while the cars are out there,” said Perez. “You do not really know what can happen there.

“It doesn’t matter [about] the conditions; it should just never happen and I really hope that this is the last time we get to see in any category the recovery vehicles on track while there are cars out there.

“I think the first time, when we were on laps to the grid, the track was looking alright, even for inters, but I think it picked up before the race start and especially, I think, during the first lap it picked up even more.

“So yeah, I think in that regard it was right to stop the race, to start the race at the times we did, but what is really low and was the lowest thing I’ve seen in years was two crane vehicles out there.”

Fernando Alonso, in that same article, agreed: “I didn’t see the tractor either. There is no visibility. Behind the safety car I could not see the tractor and I didn’t see Carlos, so obviously this is the low point of the race. We need to understand that.”

And Daniel Ricciardo admitted that he only saw the tractor “after the fact.”

“I saw replays when I got back to the box, and I was like, ‘Ah, maybe I think I saw it, but no, even that, you struggle to see,” he said.

To say that that’s a black mark on the race would be an understatement, and the FIA’s handling of the situation is even more upsetting. It seems as if there are still many lessons to be learned from Jules Bianchi’s death.

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