The 2015 Russian Grand Prix was always going to be a controversial affair. Whilst I would like to keep this focused on sporting matters, the political tensions between the United States and Russia over air strikes in Syria amongst other things was always going to make this a tense affair. Throw in Russia’s president Vladimir Putin making his customary appearance at the Grand Prix and you have a race which some will claim should not have happened at all.
However these things, whilst very much important, are not the root of the problem with the event just gone. Instead, questionable safety standards, poor organisation and simply a dire, poorly designed racing circuit raised eyebrows up and down the paddock across the weekend. On each of the three days from Friday to Sunday, things occurred which, strictly speaking, should not happen during a Grand Prix weekend.
There was a pretty embarrassing moment early on Friday, as a course vehicle managed to spill a substantial amount of diesel onto the circuit. Due to the circuit surface still being relatively new, this would simply not drain away very quickly. So instead, teams and drivers had to deal with both a shortened session and a circuit which was mostly dry, but partly soaked, which is pretty embarrassing for a top-level event.
Later in the day, it rained quite substantially. The GP3 practice session, which was scheduled to run at the end of the day, went ahead, despite visibility being poor due to the weather and due to the low levels of daylight. Does that sound familiar? It should, because those were the very conditions in which the world lost the very talented Jules Bianchi. We were ensured that this type of thing would not happen again, yet under the radar, it was somehow allowed to go ahead in very poor conditions not suitable for running in. Had it been F1 running in those conditions, then everybody would be up in arms about it. However, as it was a lower category, it seemed that very few cared at all.
The sun is due to set 3 minutes after the end of GP3 practice. It’s basically night already. Ludicrously dark to be running.
— The Buxton Blog (@thebuxtonblog) October 9, 2015
And as I say that, Fontana puts it in the barrier hard at T3. He’s out and OK but nobody, no marshals, no nothing, anywhere to be seen.
— The Buxton Blog (@thebuxtonblog) October 9, 2015
Saturday saw a frightening accident for up-and-coming Spanish star Carlos Sainz. At the end of the second DRS zone, at well over 200 miles per hour, Sainz lost control of his Toro Rosso STR9 and ploughed straight into the TecPro barrier, with his car going underneath the barrier and straight into the Armco barrier which was behind, damaging both quite substantially. It took a long time for Sainz to get assistance, a lot longer than it should take and in the event of a fire, he might not have been lucky enough to suffer little-to-no damage.
Therefore this delayed the first GP3 race until (thankfully) the following morning. Formula 1 cars are absolutely not designed for a barrier to land on top of a car, and it could be argued that low noses may have attributed to this. Unfortunately there are pros and cons to both high and low noses, and F1 has run both in the past. With a higher nose, it would seem that there would be little problem getting Sainz out of the car. However, if the circuit had been designed better, with perhaps the more traditional tyre barriers which are used at so many other circuits, then we might not have had as bad of an impact.
The Formula One qualifying went fine as planned, however the final action of the day – the GP2 feature race, was far from okay in my books. With the sunset looming, the cars set off to fight to the very end as they always do, but when Artem Markelov took too much speed re-entering the circuit after running wide at the absolutely ridiculous second corner, we faced a red flag to repair – yes, you guessed it, some barriers. This resulted in the GP2 cars having to do a shortened (so the ‘feature’ was shorter than the ‘sprint’) race whilst facing a substantial glare from the sun. At the end of the shortened race, it was pretty much dark.
— GP2 Series Official (@GP2_Official) October 10, 2015
Thankfully the three morning races went pretty much without a hitch. Sainz was allowed to race on the Sunday and the race went ahead as planned. The silly second turn took yet more victims early on, with Marcus Ericsson nearly mounting Nico Hülkenberg, who was facing the wrong way. Later on, Romain Grosjean absolutely totalled his Lotus car with a massive impact into the scarily fast third corner. This brought out a lengthy safety car whilst the TecPro was repaired with heavy duty tape. Yeah, tape.
Later on in the race, Sainz, having just suffered a total brake failure, deposited some debris on the track just after a corner. Instead of throwing a virtual safety car for all of thirty seconds which would have been the best option, a marshal ran onto the track, picked up the piece and ran back off. This was simply far too dangerous, especially as Sebastian Vettel was coming around said corner. Had the marshal tripped over himself as one did back in the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, we could well have been talking about a fatality here.
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS) October 11, 2015
Whilst the light problems should be avoided next year with the event being held in May, everything else which occurred absolutely should not occur again, in Russia or anywhere else, especially with Formula 1 having lost a current and a previous driver in the space of a couple of months due to motor racing accidents. So safety is still very much in the minds of everybody at the moment, and it will remain that way for quite a while yet.
All in all, there was a catalogue of situations across the 2015 Russian Grand Prix which made me question just how much this sport values safety, and just who is organising these events. It’s all fine though, because the drivers got their complimentary Pirelli Ushankas, Bernie Ecclestone got his substantial fee from Putin for hosting the event; Putin got his beloved Grand Prix to divert the attention from what is going on outside of the sporting world, and Formula 1 fans got yet another mediocre Grand Prix to add to the rather long list of mediocre Grand Prix in 2015. The Russian Grand Prix: a terrible circuit, terrible organisation and mediocre races in a country which I am not overly fond of.