Martin Brundle says Formula 1 “absolutely” did not try to create showbiz drama at the Australian Grand Prix, race director Niels Wittich’s decision to used the red flag based purely on safety.
Max Verstappen won Sunday’s race at the Albert Park circuit ahead of Lewis Hamilton but it’s a grand prix that will be remembered for the late-race chaos of a multi-car crash and the wait for the FIA to confirm what came next.
Kevin Magnussen suffered a high-speed crash on lap 54 when he slid into the wall and left behind his right-rear tyre as well as other bits of carbon fibre and metal debris.
Race Control deployed the Safety Car but soon changed that to a red flag, the grid reforming for a two-lap shoot-out that ended in carnage when Carlos Sainz spun Fernando Alonso and several drivers behind crashed.
That has led to a fair amount of criticism being levelled at the race director Wittich and the FIA with the likes of Helmut Marko saying it “wasn’t necessary” and created “even more danger” for the drivers.
Brundle says the safety of the drivers, fans and all track workers must always come first.
“Absolutely not,” he told Sky Sports when asked if the red flags were a case of choosing ‘showbiz drama over sporting integrity’.
“I don’t think there’s any instruction to whiz this show up when required.
“You have to walk a mile in the shoes of the people that are responsible. It’s very easy for us to sit on the sidelines going through them as ‘they should have done that’.
“But back in 2009 Felipe Massa nearly died with a piece of car, somebody else’s car, coming through the cockpit.
“And it’s a parkland circuit, a street circuit really, with a lot of fans either side of the track and also corner workers, marshals, medics who are down there.
“If there are pieces of debris on the track you can’t have them flying through the air at a couple 100 miles an hour. You have to consider things.”
Critics aren’t ‘responsible if somebody was killed or injured’
Explaining the three options available to Race Control, the Virtual Safety Car, Safety Car and red flag, Brundle said he didn’t feel Alex Albon’s crash on lap 8 necessitated a Safety Car as the marshals could have swept the gravel away while the drivers continued to snake around behind the Safety Car.
But for that second one, Magnussen’s crash, while he didn’t say it was the right choice, he does feel it wasn’t one made to spice up the show given the race would’ve most likely finished behind the Safety Car were it not for the red.
“I thought when Alex Albon went off they could perhaps have just used the Safety Car,” he said, “and swept the gravel up there and cleared the car away. The red flag seemed perhaps slightly unnecessary.
“But towards the end of the race we had a tyre on the track and lots of debris so I’m absolutely confident that nobody’s in there going ‘hey, let’s make this a little bit more fun’.”
But while the motivation was pure, the former F1 driver turned pundit was left to ponder whether Formula 1’s powers-that-decide have been making the right choices in recent years.
“Whether we’re making crystal clear decisions in the pressure at the moment…,” he said, “obviously we lost Charlie Whiting in Melbourne when he died sadly and we went through the Michael Masi phase which everybody knows about.
“We shared the role now we have a guy called Niels Wittich in place so is he making the right decisions?
“At the end of the day, as I say, we’re sitting here on a Monday morning and we’re not 1% responsible if somebody was killed or injured.”