- The Inside Line
Them's the brakes?Kate Walker June 9, 2014
I am not an expert on driver safety, or on F1 braking systems. Let's just get that out of the way at the beginning. What I am is an opinionated journalist who was concerned by the outcome of the Canadian Grand Prix, a thrilling race that narrowly escaped being tarred by serious injury on the final lap.
Long before Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa collided with each other and with the wall at Turn One on the last lap of Sunday's race, Perez had been on the radio with his team complaining about the fact that he had lost his brakes.
Braking this season is a more complicated affair than it was in years past, thanks to the introduction of brake-by-wire systems that proved rather tricky to master for a lot of drivers earlier on in the season.
RacecarEngineering magazine has the clearest explanation I've seen of how the system works: "When the driver hits the brake it is not just the carbon brake discs and pads that slows the car down on a 2014 car; the energy recovery system also does a significant amount too, rather like engine braking but a much stronger effect. This means that the driver's left pedal (F1 cars have no clutch pedal) is no longer linked directly to the rear brakes; instead it is linked to a computer which then controls the rear brakes. The front brakes continue to operate in the same way as they always have done."
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has always been a track that puts particular pressure on the brakes as the collection of straights linked by jinks and hairpins means that drivers alternate between belting along at full pelt and braking as hard as they can for the corner before picking up speed again on the next straight and doing it all over again. As a result, it's a track where losing brakes is particularly perilous.
But there is no circumstance under which driving a high-speed machine with little to no braking ability is a safe thing to do. Motorsport may be inherently dangerous, but over the decades it has become a sport focussed on minimising risk as much as possible, on creating an environment where danger is as controlled as it can be.
Why then is it legal for a driver who has lost the ability to brake - to control his car, in essence - to carry on with the race?
If limping slowly around the track on three wheels after a faulty pit stop leads to automatic penalties for team and driver alike, why is there not a similar process in place for penalising those drivers who risk the safety of their colleagues (and the marshals and attendant fans) by continuing to race when they have lost confidence in their ability to safely slow or stop the car?
As I said at the beginning, I'm no expert. But I am worried that we had a very close call this weekend, and I think it is in the interests of the sport to reassess its position on drivers remaining on track when they're no longer in control of their cars.