The issue of circuit safety has remained in the background for quite some time, but Sergio Pérez’s monster accident at the Nouvelle Chicane during yesterday’s qualifying session has again made it a topic of debate in the hours before the Monaco Grand Prix.
Pérez was ruled out of today’s race with concussion after he slammed sideways into the chicane’s crash barriers at high speed in the last few minutes of qualifying. It appears he lost control of his Sauber on a bump approaching the braking point for the chicane.
But the more alarming matter was that this point in the track has seen four separate high-speed accidents (for the Formula 1 cars alone) this weekend.
In the first practice session, Vitantonio Liuzzi damaged his cars against the barriers. Vitaly Petrov repeated the effort in the second practice session on Thursday.
And then Nico Rosberg made it a third bent car, with the German was lucky to avoid a massive impact with the barriers after his car became airborne when it was launched off the ‘speed bumps’ placed in the chicane run-off to deter drivers from taking a shortcut.
After Rosberg’s accident, the drivers lobbied the circuit authorities to remove the humps, which they duly managed before qualifying. And thankfully this had happened, because one does not bear thinking of the consequences if Pérez had caught one of these with his out-of-control car…
The Nouvelle Chicane has seen several high-speed accidents over the years, and certainly over the course of the track’s 60-year history in the modern era of the sport. Alberto Ascari toppled into the harbour in 1955, while Lorenzo Bandini met a more grizzly fate when he suffered fatal burns there in 1967. In 1994, Karl Wendlinger was put in a come after crashing there in practice. Alexander Wurz came unstuck there in the 1998 race, and Jenson Button was knocked out cold in 2003.
That this point of the circuit is a regular hot spot for accidents has not been lost on the Formula 1 fraternity, and Mercedes GP boss Ross Brawn believes that the FIA needs to move quickly so as not to be complacent about circuit and driver safety.
“It is a tricky part of the track and it has been for years,” he said. “With the events we had a few years ago, the barrier was put back and fortunately the cars have improved.
“But we must never be complacent and think that the cars can’t improve. We can always improve things, but the work that has been done between the teams and the FIA since [Karl] Wendlinger’s accident and then Jenson Button’s as well, has been commendable.
“What will happen for sure after this [Pérez] incident is that the FIA and the teams will look again at what improvements the teams can make.”
“In terms of safety it’s not the best place,” Williams driver and GPDA president Rubens Barrichello added. “So from time to time it’s the very same place that we keep on having accidents, and if we don’t do anything, in so many years we will have another one.”
“It is a tricky corner and it’s difficult to know what it [the solution] is,” Button echoed. “But I think we need to look further on what we can do with the run-off there.”
Let’s hope the FIA is listening intently…
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