Drivers’ call over Formula One safety, and why Jenson Button has too much to do
As far as opening corner shunts go, the one at Spa Francorchamps was horrific. The sight of Romain Grosjean being launched into the air and over Fernando Alonso left everyone gasping – the return to usual breathing patterns only allowed once the dazed Spaniard left his Ferrari.
There were so many talking points left by those opening moments of this year's Belgian Grand Prix.
For one, Grosjean's subsequent one-race ban for instigating the crash by squeezing Lewis Hamilton in the run down to the first corner. It was careless, no doubt. But I'm not sure the Lotus man was being reckless.
Clearly the mass pile-up that followed looked bad, but for me Grosjean's part wasn't anything worse than what you see during most races – even if what resulted was.
So the Frenchman's ban from this weekend's trip to Monza is harsh, especially when you think of other drivers who have been far more reckless. Even dangerous.
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Be it in other races this season or at Spa 12 months ago, they avoided serious recourse.
As we discussed in the EDP Formula One podcast this week, what the crash has provoked is the continued debate about safety in the sport – and at what cost that should be secured.
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Does the FIA have a moral duty to ensure minimal, maybe even no risks for the drivers when they take to the track – even at the expense of what makes F1 popular and unique?
The debate centres around closed cockpits. At present we can all see the drivers' helmets bobbing around – as you can in numerous single seater formulae across the world.
But that is a clear safety weak point. Grosjean's flying Lotus narrowly missed Alonso's head – and no amount of specially reinforced carbon fibre is going to avoid tragedy if the impact is serious enough.
The answer is to cover that area and protect the driver. Roll hoops placed in front of the driver at the top of a car's nose have been trialled. Cockpits similar to those on fighter jets have been sketched.
So is it right to protect drivers to such an extent – and in the process effectively lose what marks out F1 from other motorsports such as DTM or GT racing?
Or can you – should you – put people's lives on the line when there are measures and technologies to protect them? After all, the only reasons not to use them are then tradition and aesthetic?
In reality, the only people who can answer these tough questions are the drivers. They are the ones who know the risks. They know what F1 is about and what they are laying on the line each time they hit the track.
If they wanted greater safety, you suspect they would all be sitting in a touring car.
There is always a knee-jerk element when you see crashes like that at Spa. And it was always going to reignite a debate that has been bubbling away in the background anyway.
But to take away what gives F1 its character and unique position would only render the effort and risk pointless. And it is the drivers who should be left to decide the direction they want to head.
• After all those first-lap shenanigans, it was left to Jenson Button to continue where he left off and dominate in Belgium.
The Brit's McLaren was on song all weekend – and given he was adamant his 2012 title challenge was still alive before the second half of the season commenced, there was nothing at Spa to dissuade Button after.
Not until he is mathematically ruled out of winning the championship will Button turn his attention to supporting his team-mate's bid for glory.
It's a common sporting theory: you don't – and indeed you can't – give up on your goals until someone tells you they are impossible.
But that doesn't mean there is not a middle ground marked 'improbable' – where the time and points remaining, plus the people you're up against mean it won't happen and in reality, you are only waiting for the mathematical deadline to arrive.
I'm confident to say now and lay on record that Jenson will not win this year's Formula One drivers' title.
Certainly he is a good enough driver to do it, and McLaren are a team that will challenge every season without fail.
But Button is 63 points – or going on three more dominant race wins – behind championship leader Fernando Alonso, who thankfully has been passed fit for this weekend's race at Monza after the Spa horror show.
Worse for Button, he also has Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Kimi R�ikk�nen and Lewis Hamilton between him and the lead Ferrari.
That is a lot of quality F1 drivers to pip in just eight remaining races.
He may well go close – even closest. But he won't do it… even if it would be brilliant to see him prove me wrong.