After a dramatic Australian Grand Prix laden with crashes and red flags, Formula One takes a three-week break from racing but debate over the balance between safety and entertainment may rage through to the next stop in Baku.
Eight cars failed to finish Sunday’s race and four crashed out within seconds of a standing restart as stewards failed to produce a winner from a two-lap sprint.
Organisers also came under fire for security and safety failures at Albert Park after fans poured onto the track before the race was completed, while a spectator was struck by a piece of debris from a crash.
Several of the F1 teams will be busy during the break as they count the cost of cars wrecked in Australia and scramble to secure spare parts.
“It will be costly. Getting parts ready for the next race, I don’t know yet,” said Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer.
Alpine’s drivers Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon collided in the chaos after the late restart and missed out on championship points.
Stewards had hoped racing would decide the winner but the carnage only served to trigger a third red flag and a processional win behind a safety car for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Though victorious, the reigning champion was scathing of the second red flag that brought the restart, saying it had confused the drivers and caused unnecessary crashes.
“So they created the problems themselves,” he said.
McLaren driver Lando Norris was also sceptical of the motivations behind the decision.
“It feels like it was just to put on a show. Someone does something stupid at turn one, locks up and your race is over because they just want to make the show more exciting,” said the Briton.
The governing FIA were not able to provide immediate comment.
Striking the right balance between safety and sport has long challenged Formula One, which moved to tighten its safety car rules after controversy hit the title-deciding 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Michael Masi was replaced as race director after his decision to tweak the safety car rules late in the race, which helped Verstappen win his first championship and denied Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton a record eighth.
Officials no longer have such discretion but the application of safety car rules continues to flummox drivers and team bosses alike.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he was not sure when to expect a standard safety car versus a virtual one or a red flag after incidents.
The application of standing restarts from the grid versus relatively safe rolling restarts is also under the microscope.
Standing starts entail greater risk as cars accelerate and jostle for position.
“Standing starts are the most vulnerable part of any grand prix and we did three of them,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
“So there’s always that concern. It’s never ideal.”
After lining up parts for Baku, Alpine’s Szafnauer might want to keep his suppliers on call.
Baku is the first of the season’s six sprint races.
Horner has labelled the decision to pick Baku’s street circuit as a venue for a sprint race as “absolutely ludicrous” and likely to bring teams’ big damage bills.
The “show” of Formula One has found a huge new audience with the support of Netflix docu-series “Drive to Survive”, and the championship’s popularity was underlined by record crowds at Albert Park, where some 440,000 attended through the week.
Organisers trumpeted the crowd on social media on Sunday but were embarrassed when a large number of fans invaded the track, and said they had failed security and safety protocols.
A local man in the crowd was left bleeding from a cut on his arm after a large piece of debris from Kevin Magnussen’s smashed car flew over the fence and struck him.
Having come for the show, Will Sweet was rocked by how close he had come to disaster.
“If it hit me in a different angle, it could’ve been horrendous,” he told radio station 3AW.
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