x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

We will not scrimp on safety

Mohammed ben Sulayem explains that Renault's ban shows that the FIA will not cut corners over safety.

A Ferrari fan waits in front of the hospital of Ferrari driver Felipe Massa in Budapest yesterday. Doctors have said his condition is no longer life threatening.
A Ferrari fan waits in front of the hospital of Ferrari driver Felipe Massa in Budapest yesterday. Doctors have said his condition is no longer life threatening.

Mohammed ben Sulayem believes that the decision to give the Renault team a race ban shows that the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) will not allow teams to cut corners over safety. The FIA vice-president for sport, who was one of the race stewards at the Hungarian Grand Prix, has defended the decision to punish Renault for a breach of regulations after a wheel on Fernando Alonso's car came off.

This came in the wake of the accident in qualifying that left Ferrari driver Felipe Massa in hospital with severe head injuries and facing missing the rest of the season. "The punishment for Renault showed we will not accept anything which could be dangerous. What if that wheel had hit someone?" he said. Alonso had been allowed to leave the pitlane after his first pit-stop without the front right tyre properly attached, and it immediately came loose and fell off half way around the Hungaroring circuit.

Renault were punished for not informing Alonso of the problem and failing to tell him to either stop in the pitlane or pull off the track to prevent any danger to the other drivers. "You don't want to suspend a team from a race, but the rules are clear," ben Sulayem added. "As a steward there is no room for personal emotion. You have to be objective and fair. Renault can appeal this decision and may end up with a fine, but what we did as stewards was to show that you have to take things like this seriously."

It was ben Sulayem's second appearance at a grand prix meeting as a race steward, and he was relieved that Massa did not suffer worse injuries after he was struck in the helmet by a loose spring that had fallen off Rubens Barrichello's Brawn GP, leaving the Brazilian with a fractured skull, a brain concussion and eye damage. "Felipe is blessed his accident was not worse. If the spring had hit him somewhere else, travelling at the speed [170mph] he was, it could have been fatal," he said.

"I am happy he is recovering and he has to focus on trying to be the person he was; that is most important. If he gets back in a Ferrari car then that is a bonus. "I think people would understand if he did not come back. It is not easy to get back into a car after an accident. You have to be strong, mentally and physically. "I hope Felipe will come back. He is a great driver and great guy, but it's too early to say what will happen."

The UAE representative on the FIA, motorsport's world governing body, expects the governing body to look at the safety of Formula One in wake of the Massa incident, and also the accident at Brands Hatch in England that led to the death of Henry Surtees, the 18-year-old son of the 1964 Formula One world champion John Surtees, who was struck on the head by a loose wheel following a crash during a Formula Two race.

As a 14-time former FIA Middle East rally champion, ben Sulayem knows the dangers posed to racing drivers. He suffered first-degree burns to his face and neck and after his car caught fire in the Rally of Lebanon back in 2001. There have been calls for cages or canopies instead of an open cockpit to help avoid a repeat of what happened with Massa and Surtees Jnr. Ben Sulayem, a FIA vice president for Sport, said: "We have to wait for the technical report, evaluate and discuss it and then make recommendations.

"We cannot jump to conclusions or make quick decisions on what we should do. "Of course, we should always look at ways to make things safer. What we also have to understand is that the sport is much safer than it was 10-20 years ago. "That is thanks to Max Mosley [the FIA president] and the FIA will always look to follow this lead for the future. Ben Sulayem, despite the weekend proving busy as a consequence of the Massa crash and the Renault drama, said he had again enjoyed the experience of being a race steward.

"We had a very hard weekend as stewards. I am learning all the time and it opened my eyes more to how the system works." akhan@thenational.ae