October 7, 2014

On Flags, Speed and Canopies

As it always seems to be the case, in the hours since Jules Bianchi's accident in Japan, the number of safety and marshaling experts has increased exponentially.

There have been calls for closed cockpits, for immediate deployment of safety car whenever a car leaves the track.  There have been indictments of Race Direction, of the use of tractors and an incredible number of people blaming a Japanese marshal for waving, in their opinion, the wrong flags.

The FIA and F1 will no doubt do a full investigation of the accident, that will not stop conspiracy theorists who will claim a whitewash but it might be useful to look at some of the available documentation.

Could Bianchi see the flags?

In the final laps before the accident, Bianchi was fighting for position with Adrian Sutil. The German had been behind for a number pf laps when he lost it and went off in sector 7 after the Dunlop curve.  While it's possible that with the spray Bianchi might not have seen Sutil go off, it's not plausible the team would not have informed him during the remainder of the lap.     Yellow flags go up immediately for sector 7.   It takes Bianchi 1:45 seconds or so to get back to the same spot on the track.

A reader,  Elbert Cuenca, was kind enough to send this screen grab of the moment before the accident.  Double yellows can be seen at post 12 and yellow lights in sector 7.  A green light is seen beyond the accident area.    Even in the pouring rain and fading light, a driver cannot miss a warning light, a light which is also on his steering wheel.  So, yes, Bianchi was aware of the yellow.

On the subject of flags, it's amazing how many commenting about racing online seem to be completely unaware of how flags work.  Flags and lights always pertain to the section beyond where they are displayed.   You are not clear of a yellow until you pass a green signal, that you may see it down the track is inconsequential.   So all this talk of the marshal waving green at station 12 when Bianchi goes off is ludicrous.  The marshall was doing precisely what he was supposed to as the track beyond him was clear.

What about speed?

This is the most troubling aspect.   While the F1 app is fairly crude, it does provide a sense of what happened.

On lap 42, when Sutil went off behind him , Bianchi's speed mid-corner is around 202 km/h.  On lap 43, just before leaving the track his speed in the same spot was 206 km/h.    Based on this evidence it seems fairly clear Bianchi did not significantly slow in sector 7 compared to previous laps. But,  while conditions seemed to deteriorate, drivers themselves (except for Massa it seems) did not complain much on the radio and very few came in the pits for full wets.

All drivers went by that spot at about the same speed they did on previous laps.

The conclusion is that it's just one of those things, a series of coincidences that added up to a bad outcome.  It's possible it will be revealed that the Marussia had a mechanical issue but I think the sensible thing is for the FIA to have a stern talk with the drivers about speed limits for double yellow situations.    Perhaps something akin to the pit speed limiter,  something that would be the same for all.

We obviously need canopies don't we?

Well no, a canopy in this case would have done diddly squat to protect the driver.    On the other side, imagine these driver being stuffed inside a canopy in Singapore,  what's more likely to cause a problem?

The news from Japan about Bianchi's condition is not good.  The family's statement mentions a diffuse axonal injury which is a general term with a broad range of outcomes but most not too good.  For more insight, please check in with Dr. Hartstein.

Jules is getting the best care possible, all anyone can do is hope for the best for him.


  1. As a motorsport enthusiast in general I've been reading all over the web about this horrific accident. You post is BY FAR the best analysis I could find, appreciate your blog and enjoy it every week for my dose of racing news. Thank you!

  2. Nice explanation for flags rules, but l still insist... There was a tractor working in the track area, turn 7 is a fast corner, eventhough a double yellow flag warns you to reduce speed, what would be safe speed to avoid aquaplain ? remind that similar incident happened few years ago in Interlagos where Schumi almost hit the tractor
    So in my "opinion" a safety car should be deployed until they remove Sutil's car

  3. Agreed that the primary cause of this accident was Jules ignoring yellow flags, as most F1 drivers do. Two things need to happen as a result of this incident: yellow flags need to be more strictly enforced, and race control needs to take into account the fact that drivers often ignore yellows and deploy the safety car when a JCB is on the outside of a high speed corner in poor conditions.

  4. Of course yellow flags do little if drivers don't respect them. "A single waved yellow flag warns drivers to slow down, while two waved yellow flags at the same post means that drivers must slow down and be prepared to stop if necessary. Overtaking is prohibited."

  5. "what would be safe speed to avoid aquaplane ?" They leave this in the hands of the professional driver who has just driven 47 laps in similar conditions, which I'm okay with, as that's their job.

    I suppose my only problem with the current set up is the incentive to drive faster through areas of double yellows. It shouldn't be a race to see who can push it the hardest without attracting a drive through, those flags are there for safety and there shouldn't be an opportunity to gain an advantage in these sections, like any professional athlete they will push every rule to gain an advantage, This shouldn't include sections where Marshals and equipment are inside the barriers.

  6. Thanks for the explanaition. it's the most sensible think i 've read since sunday.
    I'm just a fan of driving and f1 it's SO complicated with their decisions that its always a new lesson.
    Let me ask you a question, Drivers have to slow down in the double yellow flag sector time ?
    I thaught if they improve last lap time of the sector, they have any kind of sanction, thats right for f1? thanks
    (Just asking for learning,it's clear for the speed on the corner, that all drivers "ignored" flags)
    Don't get angry, you're very instructive.Getting a reliable source it's not easy.

  7. Funny enough I just went to replay my F1 App to watch the sequence of events too . As we TV viewers were oblivious . I was shocked to see that sutil and bianchi had been locked in a battle split by the smallest margins up until lap 42 when sutil went off. Bianchi of all people would have known of the accident regardless of flags. And I too noticed on lap 43 bianchi barely slowed when entering Dunlop curve. Lastly Ericsson navigated just fine few seconds later , albeit I believe he had fresh rubber .... Net net an unfortunate accident , but I don't think the safety car would have helped either as the tail Enders race to close up to the front runners. New rule ... Must not exceed 70 percent of best time with yellow in that sector

  8. Indeed your analysis and in general your articles are very interesting. Your knowledge and objective opinion is nice to read.
    Regarding this incident, my only disagreement is that a canopy would not do 'diddly squat' to protect a driver. I assume that if such structure would be applied it would be supported by some kind of roll bar to provide some protection in similar events. In any case the head is still too exposed and in order to protect it they have reached the limit of peripheral vision. So they need to come up with a different concept.
    Autosport has a nice article.
    There is no one to blame in this incident other than maybe the driver himself who did not slow down. But in any case FIA has done an incredible job to limit the injuries of the drivers and maybe something can be learned and improved from this unfortunate crash.
    On the other hand maybe a simple solution, like you already mentioned, such as a speed limit button, similar to that used in the pitlane, during yellow flags maybe a good idea.

  9. Just a note on the screen grab, that light in sector 7 labeled 'solid yellow' I believe is a double yellow light. The light system for double yellow means that half the light (along the diagonal) flashes in turn with the other half. In that screen grab it looks to me like only half the light is lit

  10. I have the doubt that a compromise setup might have a role in this. It
    may be also that Massa was complaing because he had a too dry-oriented
    car, fast during the qualifying but too twitchy in the rain.
    By the
    way, wasn't it ankward in the beginnig of the race passing directly from
    safety car to intermediate tyres? To me the park fermè rule is
    dangerous when weather conditions differ between quali and race, and we
    had a few cases of that in recent years.

  11. Thanks for the article. The data from the app is very telling and
    confirms what most of us have seen over the years. Drivers rarely lift
    in sectors under a yellow. Probably a decade ago you would see some
    drop in lap times to demonstrate that drivers did lift appropriately,
    but over the last few years I've noticed that overall lap times barely
    changed when a yellow sector was track.

  12. Bianchi, as well as all the other drivers (and I said drivers, not passengers) should be the 1st ones to assess the conditions in which they are driving, and drive within their limits, particularly if yellows are waved. In this case, I am absolutely sure that those on intermediate tires where taking a huge gamble. I am also sure that by now, all drivers in F1, and especially in F1, know, that yellow flags mean that it is possible that a crane or any other vehicle is in a dangerous position on or off the track. The problem with the whole thing of this blame game, are the precedent (luckily without other consequences) that the race control has opened with the Hockenheim incident.

  13. The double yellow waved marshal flags in the image you've used is misleading. The video screengrab shows "Marshal waving double yellow flags" a moment before the crash but in the same video the screengrab was taken from you can see that at the time Bianch crashed and for 13 seconds before that the same marshal was actually waving a green flag. The screengrabs that show this are here: imgur.com/Sl7PAUg and attached to this post. There was also one marshal in front of the barriers beyond his marshal station - you can see his legs behind Sutil's raised front wheel in the 3rd image. You're right that shouldn't matter for Bianchi because Bianchi wasn't past that position but if it doesn't matter then why are you giving the impression that the marshal station was waving double yellow flags just before Bianchi crashed when in fact the very video that image is taken from easily shows that for all the time Bianchi could view that marshal position it was showing a green flag?

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