​Formula 1: failures, fines and human fall-out

For Formula 1 fans, there was a moment in last Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix which proved rather unpleasant to watch.  Ferrari mechanic Francesco Cigorini suffered a horrific leg injury when driver Kimi Raikkonen received signal to drive off while Cigorini was still standing in front of the left rear wheel of the car.

Ferrari's pit system showed a green light to Raikkonen, indicating he could exit the pits, despite mechanics still changing the tyres. Cigorini suffered a fracture of the tibia and fibula in his left leg and was taken to hospital where he later had surgery. I would certainly hope that Mr Cigorini will be provided with the best possible care, rehabilitation and support by his employer, and at some point in the future will be able to return to work.

However there are two issues that concern me. The first is the way in which Ferrari has been punished by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the motorsports governing body. The second is that this very serious incident was completely foreseeable.
After reviewing the incident, the FIA race stewards handed Ferrari a €50,000 fine for releasing Raikkonen's car ‘in a manner endangering team personnel and causing injury’. A Formula 1 news website even ran an article with the headline ‘Ferrari handed big fine for Raikkonen unsafe release’.

Let’s get a bit of perspective here. This season Ferrari will have received somewhere in the region of £180m from Formula One Management (FOM) for simply turning up. They will have also likely received another £220m from sponsors and other partners. If we consider that the average wage of a worker in the UK is around £27,400, this ‘big fine’ handed down by the FIA is the equivalent of fining your average man on the street around £3 for inflicting an appalling injury on another person. I’ll leave that there.

Secondly, let’s look at the actual incident. While changing the tyres of an F1 car in two seconds isn’t something many of us will ever do, it is an integral part of motor sport. Over the course of a race weekend, the mechanics will do this dozens of times - and between races this is an activity they practice over and over again. While hazardous, it could be considered to be routine, given the job these mechanics do.

Yet we frequently see similar incidents occur. Just days prior, Raikkonen had to stop during practice due to a wheel not being attached properly. And during the previous race in Australia, the Haas team retired both cars within minutes of each other for similar errors during pit stops, albeit the only injury was to the team’s pride.

This is a common story across all industries. When we have incidents, they usually occur during the activities we carry out every day, over and over. We become used to the hazards and when near misses occur, we rarely take the time to investigate the causes and make the necessary changes to prevent reoccurrence.

Prior to Mr Cigorini suffering what could be a life-changing injury, these previous occurrences seemed comical in their regularity, however the only laughable part of the story now is the fine handed down by the FIA. 

The teams in Formula 1, along with their governing body, must take a long hard look at how they work to prevent such incidents occurring and start to focus their improvement efforts on more than just lap times.