F1 Race Control Explained
Which is why today we're going to focus on the group of people that's usually under a lot of pressure to deliver decent, down-to-earth decisions during race time, as these can very much influence an entire championship at a certain point in time: race control.
As many of you already know by now, race control in Formula One does not apply only to the decision-making process after an unsporting maneuver performed by a driver on track, but to other types of situations as well: deployment of the safety car in case an accident has occurred, the sending of the medical team to a place on the track in case a grave accident has happened, monitoring the speeds in the pit lane, keeping contact with all the teams at all time during a racing weekend, and so on.
However, the simple fact that Whiting has a pretty decent resume in regard to his past links with Formula One racing does not necessarily extend to the other members of the race control. And we can all agree with that partially, as some of the functions within that body are simply to keep a close eye on what's happening throughout a racing weekend with the help of plenty of cameras located on every portion of the circuit. All these people have to do is watch the screens in the race control room carefully – thanks to a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system – and report any kind of dubious issue to Whiting a second before it happens. Our belief is that it doesn't take a racing driver or a former engineer to do that, but people who are very attentive by nature.
The racing past comes to play when race control has to react on something that happened on the track (from a sporting point of view). Now, bear in mind the fact that each and every steward of an F1 race knows by heart every paragraph of the sporting regulations.
For many years, the F1 stewards used to make title-impact decisions by simply obeying the law, without taking into account the sporting element of the equation. To solve that problem, the FIA has now appointed a former racing driver to assist when sporting decisions are made, in order for the decision to be correct from all angles. However, it's not the same person who takes that role race in and race out, but a different ex-racer.
Regarding the sporting decisions during the race – the usual penalty applied for a racing incident is a drivethrough penalty, but in extreme situations a black flag might come into play – these are to be taken much quicker thanks to the new rules imposed by the FIA in recent months. Following some controversial races, in which the stewards' reaction came a few minutes after a wrongdoing had occurred – therefore influencing the outcome of the race – it was agreed that Whiting will focus solely on investigating the reasons for a potential safety car deployment, while the stewards will conduct their own investigation on the potential rule-breaking actions in parallel.
Shortly after such an action has occurred – which triggers in-race penalties for one of the drivers – Whiting needs to make contact with his team and let them know of the stewards' decision.
Another element that makes Whiting's role a bit more difficult than some might imagine is that he has the power to stop the race if the weather conditions are posing a real threat to the competitors. This doesn't happen too often – the last time it did was in the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix – but when it does, the head of race control needs to gather all the necessary information – signals from the drivers, visibility, potential danger zones on the circuit, pit lane flooding, etc – in order to make that important call.
In reality, the work Charlie Whiting is doing once every two weeks is really enormous, and the fact that he takes care of both the safety and regulatory aspects of the sport at the same time is truly amazing. The team behind him is very important also, as there is an immense workload put in so that Whiting has all the correct and indisputable information before making a decision.
We'll go over some of the decisions that race control has to take during a racing weekend, so you can have a more practical look at how the stewards, marshals and race director can influence the progression of a grand prix.
Handing a small financial fine for speeding in the pit lane. This is pretty standard, as each mph exceeding the pit lane speed limit enforces a fixed money penalty.
Handing a drive-through penalty to a driver for breaking the sporting rules of the game.
Waving the black flag for someone who has drastically broken the rules, be it safety, sporting or technical related.
Postponing or even canceling a qualifying session for safety reasons (weather, major accident, etc).
Deployment of the safety/medical car.
Ending the race before its scheduled finish due to various reasons (mostly related to weather).