Renowned Mercedes driver Russell hinted that similar circumstances to the 2021 racing day might well be repeated, with minimal to non-existent track running as a result of low visibility and challenging conditions. The safety of drivers in wet weather conditions at Spa has been a central point of discussion recently, due to the tragic demise of Dutch racer Dilano van ‘t Hoff while participating in a FRECA event at the venue earlier this month.
Post the accident, The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) penned a letter to the FIA, expressing their need for the results of the subsequent investigation and suggestions for enhancing safety at the venue for all categories of racing.
Russell, in a conversation with F1 Initiative, spoke about the GPDA’s ongoing dialogues with the governing body. He stated, “At the moment we’re in constant comms with the FIA following the tragic passing of Dilano in FRECA.” He added that the primary queries revolve around whether Spa is safe enough and the issues around the current conditions. Russell opined that while motorsport will always carry a degree of risk due to the high speeds, Spa, along with Jeddah, Monaco, and Suzuka to an extent, are most likely to be perceived as riskier circuits.
The combination of weather conditions and visibility challenges further add to the complexity of the situation. He explained, “It’s the visibility, we just have no visibility whatsoever, and the way I describe it to try and give some perspective is driving down the motorway in pouring rain and turning your windscreen wipers off, and that’s genuinely how it feels from the cockpit.” However, Russell affirmed his belief that Spa is safe enough, but underlined the need for solutions addressing poor visibility in the wet.
Talking about potential layout changes at Eau Rouge, Russell mentioned that the GPDA has broached the subject but concluded that such action is not required as the focus should be on improving the run-off areas.
With the weather forecast predicting disruptions to this weekend’s track action, Russell acknowledged that the FIA must make bold decisions when it comes to safety and visibility. He referred to a similar situation two years ago and asserted that we don’t want it to drag on like it did back then. He called for decisive judgement, saying, “We are going to need some bold decisions.”
He asserted the necessity of these decisions by highlighting the peril racers face navigating down the straight at over 200 miles per hour with only a 50 meters of visibility, potentially leading to significant incidents. “They’ve got a big responsibility this weekend,” he cautioned.
Russell further elaborated on the issue by detailing the difficulties faced by the drivers, especially from the third position onwards due to poor visibility. He stressed on the distinct possibility of fatal accidents due to drivers being unable to go full throttle on a straight due to the obscured view. While it’s not ideal to cancel a race, preventing another major incident like the recent FRECA accident is paramount.
The star Mercedes driver mentioned that the dialogue between the drivers and the FIA on safety matters is quite fruitful. After serving in his current role for about three years, he has seen a marked increase in the interaction levels between the drivers and FIA. Russell advocates the consideration of drivers’ perspective in not just improving F1 but motorsport as a whole.
“There’s definitely more interaction between us collectively as drivers and the FIA,” he stated. Furthermore, he mentioned that ongoing discussions about future AI technology may help reduce the occurrence of tragic accidents, but considerations need to be made for the lesser equipped lower formulas to similarly responsive actions.
Acknowledging the nature of the sport, Russell added, “it’s always going to be dangerous, but we just need to keep on work-in-progress.” He also expressed concerns for the junior categories recommending maximum restrictions on cars on track at one time, even in dry conditions.