Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

A modest proposal on F1 safety (with apologies to Jonathan Swift) - Saving the drivers, by killing the sport

Published by Jordan F1

When it comes to F1 safety, we are going about it completely wrong. It is our fellow humans that we either care, or should care about when it comes to racing safety. Instead it is the circuits and cars that we try to make safer. But to what end? Glorious, awesome tracks that put the fear of God into me - that put the concept of mortality in a kid barely learning to ride a tricycle properly - have disappeared or become boring in comparison to their former selves.

We had awesome cars, cars that you see how much the drivers were struggling to keep pointing somewhere in the general direction of the track by the way their arms would move from the seven to twelve and twelve to five positions of the steering wheel while the car was moving straight ahead. You also had F1 cars that were faster, yes faster, than road cars back then. Nowadays, only common sense and a lottery win is preventing me, you or even the youngest driving age Sidepodcast reader from going faster than Button has dreamt about (Bonneville Speed Test aside).

And even if we attempt to prevent a possible occurrence from happening, like something impaling a driver's helmet, we might end up increasing the risk of a different danger - the first closed cockpit F1 car that comes under fire while upside down is sure to be one hairy moment, and is more likely to happen than drivers being impaled, if we are honest about it. As to the drivers themselves - well, driving headfirst into a wall was a thing to be avoided at all costs in the 1960's, as it meant certain death. Now that the cars are so safe, you have such a good chance of walking away without a bruise on your body that crashing in to a wall is now a successful Renault F1 race tactic!

Keep your distance

My idea to make F1 completely safe to humans is to remove the driver from the scene of the accident. Since we have no idea as to when and to who an accident is going to happen, but we do know that the car is going be involved in the accident at some point, it follows that if we remove the driver from the car and have him drive the car remotely from say, his transporter or hotel room - then you can almost make the car make a right turn at Massenet in Monaco, have it fall off the cliff, explode into a trillion pieces, and hey, the driver is still safe and sound (remember, the car is driven by remote control.)

Hamilton demos the latest innovation in car control
Hamilton demos the latest innovation in car controlCredit: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

It follows then that the marshals need to be protected as well, as we can not have car shrapnel flying through marshals now can we? But since under my idea there is no driver to rescue I fail to see why we need to have marshals stationed everywhere there is a danger zone on the circuit. Far better to have a team of marshals be stationed in the middle of the circuit, outside of any conceivable shrapnel zone, and ride a truck or a lorry to hook up the car's remains and pick up any pieces that can be found under a yellow or red flag that has been flashed to the drivers steering their remote-controlled cars like a Playstation 3.

But what if the car catches fire you ask? Well again, there's still no driver to save, so there is no reason to risk the lives of the marshals or fire-fighters in this fashion. After a red flag, any fire marshals can be sent out to the scene of the fire and douse the fire from the safety of the fire truck, perhaps using a foam truck like the ones that are used to fight airplane fires at airports. I realize that there is the chance of an explosion, which is why I mention an airport fire truck. I imagine that an explosion of an aircraft on fire is a possibility that was more designed for airport fire trucks than most other fire trucks, and it is infinitely more safer than a marshal running up to a car on fire with just an extinguisher.


As Nakajima has shown us, the pit crews are also in danger. Well, my idea of removing the driver from the car still stands, as the cockpit space where the driver used to sit can now be taken up by the remote controlled electronics and maybe an enlarged fuel tank. Once we find a set of tyres that can last an entire race distance, then pit stops themselves become unnecessary. And get rid of the qualifying session too! Find the fastest time of the three practice sessions for each driver to determine the grid order and make it a rule that the races can be refueled and re-tired only before each day's session.

Also in danger's way that can be easily removed are the cameramen. Surely in this day and age where aircraft can fly and sometimes land themselves we can find a decent remote controlled camera that can zoom fast enough to keep up with F1 cars? The boom camera operators, located high above and behind the grandstand should be quite safe.

Finally there are the fans. There's really not that much more that can be done to protect the fans other than moving the grandstand and standing room areas further away from the circuit and charge the fans more money for their safety - if anything just to pay off the increased rent that the circuit will incur for moving the grandstands back. But really that's the only thing that counts right? To be safe? Just think of how much money the track organizer can make renting 5-inch telescopes so that the fans can see the pixelboard.

There you go. Make the people safe, and you do not have to make the circuits nor the cars safe. By having the drivers drive the cars remotely, you can race on "dangerous" circuits like Imola, Mosport Park, The Northern loop Nürburgring instead of the junk we have today. Of course with no driver to save if the car is in an accident, the marshals can take their time to arrive safely at an accident, maybe putting out a fire from say 50 yards away inside the comfort of a fire truck, while the fans can spot the black plume of smoke from a grandstand somewhere in the next time zone from the circuit in question. The Pit crew will be sleeping in their hotel rooms as there is absolutely nothing for them to do while the car is on the circuit. Completely eliminate the human from the question of safety, and you will have a safe race, and the question of open / closed cockpits becomes mute as now we can jam other stuff where the driver used to be.

That is my position on safety. Not doing this idea exposes everyone to an unnecessary level of risk. But hey, another SAFE Grand Prix, barring the poor person watching on T.V. who pulled his back while swatting a fly...

I wish I could come up with some method of bringing this idea about. Please discuss this amongst yourselves while I play F1 2012 on my PC.