Driver safety has become political this season.
At the beginning of the year, new aerodynamic regulations were introduced, which were intended to make the cars follow more closely and help overtaking, making the races more interesting.
A side effect is ruts, a violent up-and-down movement caused by stopping airflow under the cars, which can also be affected by bouncing when they hit the ground repeatedly.
It was tough on the drivers. Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri said he feared he would “end up with a cane at the age of 30” if changes were not made.
“It’s not healthy, it really is,” he said. “Literally without stopping, it goes through your spine. At the end of the day, my team says we can compromise the configuration or compromise my health to work.”
Mercedes was more affected than other teams and the rules and therefore the cars had to be changed for safety reasons. Its driver, seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton, suffered back pain so bad during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix last month that he had to be helped out of his car after the race.
“We want to do our job, put on a great show and race as safely as possible. We don’t need to have long-term injuries, so we just need to work closely with the FIA,” Hamilton said of the sport’s governing body, “and not take it lightly, which I don’t think they are, and get on with it.”
Mercedes is third and Hamilton sixth in the championship standings ahead of Sunday’s British Grand Prix. Red Bull and Ferrari, who are first and second in the title hunt, haven’t fared too badly and it’s no wonder they don’t want changes.
“The political maneuvering that took place does not take into account what is at the heart of this issue,” said Toto Wolff, Mercedes team principal.
“I mean, since the beginning of the season, racers have been complaining of pain when driving these cars,” he said. “Back pain, blurred vision – we’re talking microcontusions.”
Wolff said he heard complaints from almost every driver and a solution was needed.
“This is a common problem we have in Formula 1,” he said. “It’s a design issue and a fundamental design issue that needs to be addressed.”
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, said after the race in Azerbaijan that the Mercedes drivers were being disingenuous about their pain levels.
“What’s the easiest thing to do?” Horner said. “They complain about safety, but each team has a choice.
Read more about Formula 1
The 2022 season of global motorsport, which is growing in popularity and looking to expand its appeal, is underway.
“If it was a true security issue across the entire network, then that’s something to look at, but if it’s only affecting isolated people or teams, then that’s something that team potentially has to deal with.”
At the final race in Canada on June 19, the jump was less pronounced and in fact Hamilton finished third, only the second time he had finished on the podium this year. Jumping depends on the bumpiness of the track surface and the track was less bumpy than in Azerbaijan.
Wolff said the reasons for requesting the changes were genuine and that the FIA should intervene.
“Team principals trying to manipulate what is being said to maintain a competitive edge and trying to play political games when the FIA is trying to find a quick fix to at least put the cars in a better position is dishonest,” he said. .
“Cars are stiff, or cars fall, it doesn’t matter what you call it. We have long-term effects that we can’t judge, but at any time, it’s a safety risk and to come out on the back of minor manipulations’ or to brief drivers on what to say is ‘just disgraceful’.
Before the race in Canada, Hamilton underwent cryotherapy treatment and acupuncture for back pain.
“I can’t stress enough how important health is to us,” Hamilton said. “We have an amazing sport, but safety must come first.”
Dr Adrian Casey, past president of the Association of British Spine Surgeons, said drivers would suffer if the problem was not addressed.
“Obviously, Lewis and the other race drivers are very strong athletes,” Casey said in an interview. “But having these recurring forces where you see them bouncing up and down isn’t going to do anything to anybody’s back. There is a danger that they will either destroy or slip the disc.
“Because they are elite athletes, worth millions, paid millions, then it would be foolish of Formula 1 not to look after them and it looks like they will have to change something.” Jumping, he said, can cause brain damage from “repetitive trauma like Muhammad Ali and other boxers.”
“It’s uncharted territory,” Casey said, “but it seems to me like unnecessary uncharted territory. There is a duty of care. “
Max Verstappen of Red Bull, the defending champion who leads the standings this season, said there are risks in any sport.
“You can always judge and ask, is what we’re doing the safest thing? No, but we are ready to take risks,” he said. “This is our sport. This is what I love to do.
“Of course, the ruts we have at the moment are not good and I don’t think it’s right, but some teams can handle it much better than others, so it’s possible to get rid of it and I don’t think that We must overestimate what is happening at the moment.
Verstappen said the jumping cars were “a bit too much”, but he felt the ingenuity of each team’s engineers would solve the problem.
Horner said Formula 1 has some of the brightest engineering talent in the world. “I doubt we’ll be sitting here next year talking about a jump, even if the regulations are left alone.”
Before the Canadian Grand Prix, the FIA intervened. He said that “after consultation with doctors and in the interest of driver safety, he is looking for ways for teams to “make the necessary adjustments to reduce or eliminate” the bumps.
The changes were detailed in the technical directive. Papers are issued throughout the season to guide teams on technical matters.
The FIA proposed a solution which the teams said was not enforceable and which required a rule change.
Mercedes was the only team to have a change for Friday’s practice sessions in Canada, adding a metal support between the floor and the chassis, but it was removed before Sunday’s race.
The FIA continues to investigate the deviation issue.
“Potential health and safety issues for drivers have been identified and we are taking steps to analyze and understand the extent of the problem and are working with teams to find a solution,” the spokesperson said. “This analysis is ongoing.”
Mattia Binotto, Ferrari’s team principal, said the sport needed to find a solution.
“Porpoising is something we have to deal with for the future, and we may need to do that with technical changes,” he said.
“In Canada, scumbags weren’t such a problem. It is connected to the track. As the cars develop, so will the development.”
Horner said the rules should not change this year. If problems persist, the FIA can always suspend the team’s cars from competition.
“You can’t suddenly change the technical rules halfway through the season,” he said. “If the car is dangerous, the team should not run it. He has a choice or the FIA, if they feel an individual car is dangerous, they always have the black flag at their disposal. “