Discussion: Who was at fault for the Mugello restart crash?
Perhaps it was a racing incident?
One of the biggest talking points of yesterday's Tuscan Grand Prix at the infamous Mugello circuit was an accident that took place on Lap 7 during the safety car restart. The crash was one of the most bizarre accidents we have seen in recent years as there was so much going on in such a small period of time.
This article is going to take a non-biased look at yesterday's Lap 7 accident, and decide whether a driver is to blame, or whether it was just another racing incident...
What actually happened?
Having looked at the replays over and over, I can fully describe what happened on the pit straight as the safety car was pulling in for the restart. The story starts at the front of the field, with Valtteri Bottas backing up the field after taking an early lead by passing Lewis Hamilton, who had a bad getaway on Lap 1.
Valtteri Bottas was doing one of Hamilton's techniques, where he slowly backs up the field as the safety car enters the pitlane, before suddenly stepping on the throttle when his rival least expects it to help pull away. Lewis Hamilton was aware of what Bottas was doing, and tried his best to pull alongside his teammate to anticipate the moment when they go back to full racing speed.
Drivers are only allowed to start overtaking again when they pass a certain white line on track - known as the safety car line. If the leader is still travelling slow after passing the line, the drivers behind are allowed to overtake. For reasons we will discuss later on in the article, Bottas wanted to wait as long as possible before accelerating away from Hamilton. The issue was that the cars at the back of the grid thought that Bottas had already restarted the race, thus causing a concertina effect.
The contact between the drivers started when George Russell dropped back from Ocon and Kvyat to try and get a better start, before accelerating and quickly braking when he realised the race hadn't reached green flag conditions yet. Russell's teammate, Nicolas Latifi, saw the Briton accelerate and started to accelerate, but saw him slow down as he moved to the right-hand side of the track; Latifi then sharply moved to the left to avoid Kevin Magnussen (who was going slowly) and slowed his Williams down considerably.
Behind him, Antonio Giovinazzi started to speed up, but was caught out by Latifi moving to the left so suddenly; the number 99 braked as hard as he could, but inevitably hit into the back of Kevin Magnussen's rear-left tyre. McLaren's Carlos Sainz was following Giovinazzi and also turned left when he saw a slow Kevin Magnussen, but had nowhere to go as Giovinazzi was occupying the space. At this point, Giovinazzi had already hit Magnussen, but Sainz crashed into the back of Giovinazzi, sending the Alfa Romeo into the side of the Williams and momentarily on to its side. This accident would see Latifi, Magnussen, Giovinazzi and Sainz all retire from the race due to damage, but George Russell was able to get away without taking damage.
The Key Points
While a lot of people will immediately point their fingers at Valtteri Bottas or George Russell for backing up the pack or for accelerating too early, it is important to consider what the drivers in the incident had to say.
Romain Grosjean was one of the drivers involved in the incident, but did an impressive job of avoiding all of the cars. Grosjean also started to accelerate on the restart, but braked as Giovinazzi hit Magnussen, before driving around all of the drivers and picking up a lot of debris on his tyres. Here is what Grosjean had to say over the team radio:
"That was f***ing stupid by whoever was at the front, do they want to kill us, or what? [Asked if he is okay by engineer] Yeah man, but f***ing hell, that was, whoever did that should be f***ing banned. Let me know if everyone's okay."
The Frenchman was quick to pin the blame on the leader, which was Valtteri Bottas at the time and many others were quick to do so too. Nicolas Latifi also said during the accident "What are the leaders doing? Like, he's accelerating, [not] going, accelerating, [not] going. Man, there were like three times."
It seems as if the front runners were disconnected to those at the back of the field, and it certainly didn't help that there were green flags being waved and displayed on boards at the top of the track. Cars at the back of the grid saw these green flags and assumed the race had restarted, while the drivers at the front were still getting heat into their tyres.
Was Bottas to Blame?
Valtteri Bottas was quickly considered to be the driver at fault for the crash on the restart for backing up the pack and not going sooner. However, the argument against this is that Bottas is not responsible for what the drivers do at the back of the grid (as he can't see them), and was simply trying to defend the place from Hamilton.
The Mugello circuit has a very long pit straight, which means that a car can often overtake another car before they even reach Turn 1 - especially if they are making use of slipstream and DRS. Valtteri Bottas didn't want to be overtaken after they pass the safety car line by Lewis Hamilton, who would have certainly made use of the slipstream; so it made sense for him to go as far down the straight as possible (as close to the safety car line as possible) before building up to racing speed again.
My initial reaction after seeing the crash unfold was that Valtteri Bottas was to blame; but, having seen the replays I feel that he isn't as much to blame as some of the drivers at the back of the field. The FIA seem to agree with this reasoning, and Bottas did not receive any warnings or penalties for his action as it complied with the F1 rules.
How about the two Williams cars?
The two Williams drivers of George Russell and Nicolas Latifi were the first set of drivers to start accelerating to racing speed on the straight, with George being the first of the two. Many people blamed George Russell for the incident as he dropped back as they entered the straight, so that he had more space for slipstream when the race returned to green flag conditions; however, he misjudged it and caused a chain reaction of cars speeding up and slowing down.
When Russell started to speed up, he noticed that the cars of Daniil Kvyat and Esteban Ocon were still moving slowly behind the front runners, thus causing him to slow down and move to the right. Because the accident happened behind him and to the left, he wasn't involved in the crash; but many feel that the blame somewhat goes to Russell if his intention was to gain an advantage on the restart.
12 drivers have been given warnings based on the series of events that happened at the restart on Lap 7, with the reasoning being due to 'inconsistent application to the throttle and brakes.' These warnings were given the both Williams drivers of Russell and Latifi, both McLarens of Sainz and Norris, both Renaults of Ricciardo and Ocon, both Racing Points of Stroll and Perez, Antonio Giovinazzi, Alexander Albon, Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen.
While these warnings don't affect the finishing order, nor the drivers or constructors standings, this situation has highlighted the need for drivers to be more careful regarding what is and is not legal during the restarts.
To conclude, the FIA hasn't pinned the blame on a single driver, and instead have blamed all the drivers that were accelerating and braking dangerously on the main straight. Does that mean that there isn't a driver to blame? I don't think it does mean that; I believe that the unique nature of the Mugello circuit as well as the confusion based on flags and safety car lines ended up causing an accident that will hopefully never happen again. Personally, I believe this was a racing incident due to a miscommunication between the front runners and the back markers - who do you think is at fault? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!
Thankfully all the drivers in the incident are okay, as there were some moments that saw tyres and body work rubbing against the halos of other driver's cars - Formula One safety has come a long way, and this incident has given evidence of this.