The Weekly Grapevine

*The Grim Reaper Looks On

There's a lot to be said about Spa. It's one of the ultimate tests of skill for drivers, and it has an impressive history of testing them to the limit, even on the current, shortened track. It has never been noted for its safety, though the marshalls and administrators have conspired effectively to prevent Villeneuve killing himself at Eau Rouge year on year.

Luciano Burti's Prost-Acer AP04 on it's way back to the garage Every time the Formula One circus goes there, fans gather in the expectation of a spectacle. Whether they witness Villeneuve failing to take Eau Rouge flat, or the formation of the worlds most expensive car scrap yard, like at the race start of 1998 when David Coulthard speared across the starting pack, causing mayhem and carnage, if a season is to see something big, odds are this is the place it will happen. And without doubt, Burti's trip into the barriers falls into that category so far this year...

Now, in light of yet another potentially life-threatening accident, it seems the FIA are considering a knee jerk reaction, and could remove or neuter the circuit for future visits. Some pressure is coming from drivers Ralf Schumacher makes no bones of his dislike for the place but there is far more due to ever prevent the image of the sport being damaged by the actual death of a driver, on top of the loss of two marshalls in two years.

As things stand, there are two ways to improve safety at Spa. One is to take further measures with the cars themselves for example, by making the HANS device, which almost certainly saved Burti's life, compulsory. The other is to continue efforts aimed at eliminating dangerous situations from the race track. And in both cases, there are limits as to what can be done.

The basic problem is speed. The faster a car is travelling, the more the energy that must be dissipated in an accident, and the more danger of injury to the driver, and those around him. So, safety is oriented towards controlling the dissipation of energies hence the FIA's impact tests and limiting the accumulation of energy.

At Spa, the current combination of corners gives the FIA something of a headache. No matter what restrictions are placed on the cars themselves, the fast corners will remain amongst the fastest in the world. Setting up cars for the relatively long straights and fast corners means that taking Eau Rouge fast will continue to be a key challenge, and any driver getting it wrong will still make a big excursion off the track. Similarly, tangling with another car on the entry to Blanchimont would still yield the same result.

In recent years, due largely to Villeneuve's spectacular antics, there has been an aura around Spa that, despite its dangerous history, the beast had been tamed: the safety of the modern car, combined with large run off areas and serious tyre walls apparently enough to produce a safe environment for racing. No more: the minutes ticking by as Burti's Prost was dug out of the tyre wall ensured that aura was thoroughly shattered.

The mystique of the sport is based on its image of skills being stretched to the limit in a dangerous environment. In the modern age, most of the drivers relish this circuit alongside Monaco as the one to win: a real test of man and machinery. The likes of Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard would not see anything changed: danger is, and must remain, a facet of the sport if it is to retain the claim as the world's top motorsport category.

The FIA's quandary is clear. If they change the circuit, then yet another classic test of driver skill will be ruined, and the sport will lose. And if they don't, then sooner or later one of the drivers will succeed in killing themselves, and again, the sport will be the poorer.

*Head ringing the changes

Following the debacle of Ralf Schumacher sitting on jacks as the field streamed past in Spa, Patrick Head is set to shake up the scene, as he tries to re-instil the ethos that made Williams the most successful team of the 1990s.

Williams-BMW upper management meeting at the 2001 Monaco GPFrom his viewpoint, the problems are largely attitude based. Each member of the team knows their role, and is perfectly capable of performing it; but there are times when they fail to do so. Some of it can be eliminated through practice: pitstops are all about procedure. Do it often enough, and come race day, the body knows what's required and, like clockwork, it all happens. Handling the exceptions is where the attitude change is important: thinking like Champions means more than just believing the team can do it.

On the grid, what went wrong was simple. The team went through the motions on the grid but automatic pilot is insufficient, and so mistakes can and did creep in. The attitude he requires now is different: each and every person on the restart grid should have been thinking three times. Once to complete their job, once to see where they can improve what they do, and once to see that the guys on either side are on the case.

For the remainder of the season, Head is on a mission to get the team thinking again. They are all highly trained, experienced and competent individuals. Head thinks they have the makings of greatness, and just as vital a component of the team's 2002 challenge as any mechanical component of the car or engine.

At Monza and Indianapolis, a review process with a difference is to take place. The mechanics are to be asked to review themselves and their colleagues, looking for areas which can be improved. The idea is that if anyone can see something which will make their job easier to accomplish, or harder to get wrong, then Head wants to know.

Over the off season, every process and procedure will be reviewed, and where possible, improved. Through January and February, the revised processes will be tried and proven in testing, further revised, and drilled into the team members. By the time the team arrive in Melbourne next year, every process and action will be reviewed, and where possible improved. In fact, the whole idea is, next year, there will be no excuses. Indeed, there should be no need for excuses.

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Print Version

Volume 7, Issue 36
September 5th 2001

Atlas F1 Exclusive

Bobby's Bad Joke: How Irvine and Lauda Got the Last Laugh
by Biranit Goren

Belgian GP Review

The Belgian GP Review
by Pablo Elizalde

The Red Sea Saga
by Richard Barnes

Plain Speaking
by Karl Ludvigsen


Qualifying Differentials
by Marcel Borsboom

The F1 Insider
by Mitch McCann

Season Strokes - the GP Cartoon
by Bruce Thomson

The Weekly Grapevine
by the F1 Rumors Team

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