Sunday's chaotic scenes in F3 at Monza and IndyCars at Detroit highlight a malaise that is blighting racing – a simple lack of respect between competitors.
I’ve reported on club racing events where exasperated officials have literally given up restarting races because of dire driving standards from competitors, but I’m struggling to recall if it’s ever happened at such a high level as the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. Remember, this is only two steps away from Formula 1 (one if you’re Max Verstappen).
That’s what happened on Sunday at Monza, where drivers ignored the riot act that was read to them after Saturday’s crash-marred second race. Another sequence of bad behavior-related crashes the following day was – quite rightly in my opinion – not tolerated.
A brave decision, bearing in mind the usual clerk of the course (at Lausitz DTM) and single-seater commission president (we understand he was at MotoGP, but was on the phone to Monza a lot) were both absent.
Of course, Monza’s nature brings an added challenge to a driver. Its high-speeds mean minimum downforce, making the cars as skittish as they’ll be all season. However, as a training-ground category, Formula 3 is a power-restricted class, so speeds are controlled to a maximum of about 160mph. But that’s fast enough to have some pretty big shunts, as Saturday’s Race 2 proved...
My main concern with all these incidents is the basic lack of respect that drivers appear to show for each other.
We hear much about the current generation of Formula 1 wannabes, how you can forget about a single-seater career unless you’ve been karting since an early age. I can only imagine that the majority are spending most of that time in karts picking up bad habits, judging by the unnecessary weaving, blocking and downright dangerous wheel banging we saw at the weekend.
Maybe they should add some classroom time into their learning process, to teach them some respect for one another?
F1 shows the way
Contrast the madness of Monza to Fernando Alonso’s five-second penalty in the Monaco Grand Prix for his opening-lap clash with Nico Hulkenberg. I didn’t see any malice in that move, just a brush of wheels and an unfortunate outcome. A harsh penalty, especially in light of Daniel Ricciardo getting away with a similar collision with Kimi Raikkonen later in the race, but a proactive decision nonetheless.
My only beef with the officials at Monza was that we didn’t see any in-race penalties for the offenders. Sure, they banned two drivers from starting race three, and banished two more to pitlane starts – but Stroll managed to get that quashed by simply appealing!
Perhaps even more worrying was the amateur hour of the second half of Sunday’s IndyCar race at Detroit – featuring drivers who should be at the top of their game.
After the first half where great restraint was displayed in difficult wet/drying conditions, it degenerated into a really poor display from many experienced racers who should simply know better.
By the way, there was a well-timed FIA drivers’ commission meeting in Paris today, I know what they were all talking about! I'm told that FIA president Jean Todt attended, and was looking for some answers...
So what’s the solution?
My suggested recourse is penalty points in each of the major international classes. We have it in F1, where the closest anyone has got to the 12-point limit has been five, so – as a deterrent – it appears to have worked well.
It’s also been used to good effect in touring cars, where driving standards are also under the microscope each weekend.
European F3 heads to Spa-Francorchamps next; IndyCar moves on to Texas. If the drivers don’t show some more respect to their fellow competitors at those fearsome venues, then I fear for what the outcome might be…