During the TJ 13 courtroom podcast the other night (link here) I mentioned furtively that I did not think the “pit lane limiter” solution was going to be viable.
This of course led to the inevitable question on Twitter as to why.
I’ll admit that my comment the other night stemmed more from an inchoate sense of non-feasability than from any thinking (at all). So the question this morning, plus the fantastic Belgian coffee, led me to put a bit of flesh on those bones. Let’s have a go.
First of all, I think in the pit lane things are quite controlled, with relatively few dynamic constraints on car or driver. Basically, “all” he has to do is hit the button at the right time, avoid killing anyone stepping in front of him (unless we take that responsibility away from them too!), and stop his car at the correct garage (ahem . . .).
On the other hand, the on-circuit situation is by definition uncontrolled. In the same area of the circuit at the same time cars will be subjected to variable loadings – think back marker lifting and going off line, guys battling for position, etc. Now I’ve seen first-hand how violent the deceleration from “just” the pit lane limiter is, and that’s going in a straight line with none of the above constraints. And remember, we need to add to the above situational factors things like the state of tire wear, the weather, and visibility.
The next issue, and THIS is where it gets complicated, is a bit less obvious.
If we think a bit further about an “external assumption (or assertion?) of responsibility” solution, suppose someone (driver or other) got hurt, either despite of or because of such a system. Who would then be responsible – humanly, morally, and last but surely not least, legally? Race control? The FIA? The CoC?
Under the current situation (and I’m speaking purely theoretically, not in reference to any particular case), in the absence of mitigating circumstances, it is the driver’s responsibility to obey safety rules and injunctions. As a corollary, it is the driver’s “fault” when bad things happen as a result of failure to abide by said rules and injunctions!
To my way of thinking, this eliminates any quick-fix response that’s as simplistic as the current button (no, not Jenson, go back and read the above!). Any “imposed” response required of the car/driver would therefore have to be quite sophisticated. Using “deltas” is unacceptably one-size-fits-all, and equally unadapted to any given situation. We all know that there are tons of extremely smart people in F1; I’m sure they’ll figure this out if they need/want to, but it will not happen fast.
(By the way, this also raises fascinating questions about what’s going to happen when you’ll be able to buy a Google smart car, or switch on “smart” mode in your Merc S-class. Who is responsible when you crash into someone or something? The manufacturer? The guy who wrote the code? Who operates the servers? Damn it’s time to be a liability lawyer!)
Getting back to racing, I’m starting to think that moving forward, a few issues need to be addressed in terms of ensuring the safety of trackside workers (paramount concern, let’s not forget) and drivers (secondary, given the willing and paid assumption of risk).
- Someone needs to gather statistics as to injuries in trackside personnel (including rallying, hill climb, drag racing, etc). The circumstances need to be elucidated as clearly as possible, in order to discern trends or patterns. Sid, Charlie and Max imposed this approach to safety improvement 20 years ago, and there’s no reason to change now.
- Strong consideration should be given to quickly developing a policy as to leaving cars on the track side of the Armco under certain conditions. This was standard practice some years ago, and I daresay close scrutiny of the stats will confirm that current “clear-all” policies are responsible for more mayhem than previous, selective “leave ’em and flag ’em” policies.
- For the future, very strong attention must be paid to reductions in trackside personnel to a strict minimum (it’s getting harder and harder to recruit anyway, never mind what’s going to happen to insurance rates!). There will always be a need for human eyes, ears and brains in the corners; that said, a fresh detailed analysis of roles and how to get them done with minimum risk is long overdue. I’m thinking that some of the FIA’s McLaren money (c’mon guys, it was £100 MILLION, surely there must be some left!) should be used to help to robotise a certain number of retrieval functions. This could almost be economically feasible at some point, with off-the-shelf solutions to piloting current retrieval equipment. Flagging is already somewhat, and can be further, “automated”. Again, competent human backup will of course always be necessary.
- And as mentioned previously, we need to pretty urgently consider how to improve compatibility between competition machines and retrieval machines.
This wound up longer than I thought it would be. Thanks for the patience!