Following last week’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix video footage appeared showing several drivers passing by a group of marshals who were standing on or near the track during a Safety Car period.
The six drivers had been waved past the Safety Car in order to re-join the lead lap. They passed the marshals on the approach to Acque Minerale, where the track was still being cleaned following George Russell’s crash earlier.
The last of the six, Lance Stroll, passed close by the marshals at speed. Sebastian Vettel, who was ahead of Stroll at the time, warned the presence of marshals on the track was “very dangerous”.
The incident followed another near-miss in Monaco last year, where Sergio Perez encountered two marshals on the track in Monaco during a Safety Car period.
RaceFans approached a marshal who was not involved with either race to examine the onboard videos of the Imola incident and offer their perspective on how the situation was handled. They shared their opinion of the incident based on over 20 years’ experience ranging from minor local events to multiple F1 races. Here’s what they told us:
Marshal procedures and policies vary from country to country. One point which isn’t clear in what happened during the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix is what kind of prior warning the marshals had that cars were approaching.
At some races there will be a senior marshal trackside, in radio contact with race control, who stands watch and acts as a ‘spotter’, giving an audible warning (e.g. a whistle) every time a car is approaching the scene to alert the working marshals. Some workers may have their backs turned to oncoming traffic, so a spotter is key to ensure safety.
When the drivers passed the crash scene at Imola, after being released from behind the Safety Car, you can see there were double yellow flags shown on the digital flag panel (instead of the Safety Car on the others) from the turn before the marshals were cleaning. Double yellows flash up the diagonal top half of the board, then the opposite bottom half of the board, the single yellow just blinks the whole board on and off, while the Safety Car board displays a giant ‘SC’ on the screen.
Double yellows implies a partial blockage at least on the track. Raikkonen noticed this and backed off accordingly, which slowed down the other drivers immediately behind him.
Grosjean, the last of those, was warned about the flags by his engineer, but seemed unhappy about the marshals on track. I can understand why. The drop down towards where the marshals was working is blind in an F1 car. To emerge from the corner and find yourself upon a group of orange people sweeping a track would have taken him by surprise, but that’s why the double yellows are there.
Vettel was further behind the initial pack of drivers who passed by and was travelling quicker, but he did back off with the marshals out there and clearly warned his team about the situation.
But the most concerning one was really Stroll. I was quite concerned with his speeding past the marshals, changing up gears as he did so. He appeared to have no warning from his engineer and apparently little regard for the marshals cleaning the track.
Yes, these are all supposedly the best drivers in the world and driving in a straight line should be easy. But a couple of laps earlier Russell had stuck his car into a wall at the same place under the Safety Car (before the marshals entered the track). It’s hard to have full confidence in the safety of the marshals when mistakes like this can happen at any time.
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The timing of the decision to release the drivers from behind the Safety Car – before the track clearing had finished – is another area which requires consideration. I believe they usually wait for the track to be clear of all marshals before they let the lapped cars past.
On this occasion it seems that, with the end of the race just a few laps away, race control wanted to expedite the process, in the trust the drivers would obey the double yellows at that sector.
It’s hard to have an opinion on the actions of my fellow marshals, what they were doing and the processes they follow when on the track. The marshals were cleaning the track and should only have been there if they were given permission. This was the issue at stake in Monaco last year, following which marshals were reminded they must not enter the track without authorisation from race control.
To me, it’s the response of some drivers to the double yellow flags that brought this concern forward. Perhaps a discussion, at least, needs to happen to remind them all of the importance of these flags.
F1 is attending a lot of unfamiliar and little-used tracks this year like Imola, Algarve, Mugello and so on. We just aren’t 100% sure how an F1 car will react around the track under different conditions until it happens, throwing a lot of unknowns in the air all at the same time.
Under these circumstances mistakes are more likely to happen, and it’s vital all steps are taken to ensure lessons are learned from cases like this.
The FIA said last week it will “evaluate whether any changes can be made to the procedures currently in place to further protect the marshals and officials and minimise the likelihood of a reoccurrence in the future”.
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