Could Kimi Raikkonen's Crash at the 2014 British Grand Prix Have Been Prevented?

Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistJuly 8, 2014

The car of Finland's Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari is being take back to the pits after the driver crashed during the British Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone circuit, Silverstone, England, Sunday, July 6, 2014. The British Grand Prix was halted on the opening lap Sunday after a collision involving Raikkonen and Felipe Massa of Williams. Massa escaped unhurt and drove back to the pits without his left rear wheel, but Raikkonen emerged limping from his smashed Ferrari that had lost most of the front end and left rear wheel. The race was stopped as 2007 champion Raikkonen was taken to the circuit medical center. He appears to have lost control of his car and hit the barriers before spinning across the track where he collided with Massa. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

Most accidents are avoidable in one way or another, and the one experienced by Kimi Raikkonen at the 2014 British Grand Prix certainly should never have happened at all.

On the opening lap, the Finn went wide at the exit of Turn 5 while battling the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez. He took to the tarmac run-off area and kept his foot planted firmly on the throttle.

At the end of the tarmac, the grass strip between the run-off and the circuit disappeared, providing a handy spot to return to the track. Raikkonen aimed to take it, but he was going too quicklyhe missed the "return road," instead going across the grass.

The Ferrari hit a rut between the grass and circuit, knocking the car off balance. The rear stepped out, Raikkonen could not correct it and the car speared into the barriers just before the bridge.

A piece of debris flew through the air and hit Max Chilton's car, and as Raikkonen came back across the circuit he was hit by Felipe Massa. Kamui Kobayashi went rallying across the grass and rejoined further down the road, while Jean-Eric Vergne swerved around an errant tyre carcass.

It was a frightening and serious accident, and all involved were lucky to escape unscathed.

Part of the blame for the incident has to fall upon Raikkonen's shoulders.

He knew there was a "return road" at the end of the run-off, but carried far too much speed and was unable to bring his car back onto the track without running over the grass.

He also paid no heed to the other carsPastor Maldonado was forced to swerve left from his normal line to avoid the returning Ferrari.

But Raikkonen was only doing what any racing driver would when presented with the sort of get-out-of-jail-free card the circuit provided.

The presence of the forgiving tarmac run-off area gave him the opportunity to keep the hammer down. Rather than be punished for his mistake, he wasor so he thoughtgoing to get away with losing barely two seconds.

Give that opportunity to a racing driver, and he'll take it.

So most of the responsibility for the crash rests on the run-off area itself. If it wasn't so benign, the incident could never have occurred.

It's currently laid out like this:

The run-off area of Turn 5 at Silverstone.
The run-off area of Turn 5 at Silverstone.Neil James

The corner is not unique. Run-off areas like this are now commonplace in Formula One, having replaced gravel traps and simple expanses of grass over the last decade and a half.

It's difficult to argue against the use of tarmac instead of gravel to catch an out-of-control car. Where a car goes straight on, running onto tarmac allows the driver to continue braking. If the car is spinning, tarmac slows it without the risk of it digging in and flipping over.

But too many tarmac run-off areas extend far beyond their useful range. They start as necessary safety features, but morph into overly forgiving free tickets back onto the track.

A rare example of a car running wide on gravel.
A rare example of a car running wide on gravel.Clive Mason/Getty Images

There's a strong sporting argument against such zones, because they remove the punishment for making a mistake. A driver running wide doesn't have to worry about breaking off the end of his front wing in gravel, or losing a lot of time making his way back to the circuit.

It's simply a matter of keeping his foot down, and he'll be back on the track before he can blink. Often he won't even have lost a second; sometimes, he'll have gained time.

It shouldn't be that way, not at the highest level of international motorsport. Mistakes should be punished, and a driver who pressurises a rival into an error should benefit from it.

But as we saw on Sunday, the fact they allow a car to fly back onto the circuit at racing speed makes such run-off areas a safety concern as well. A car coming back onto the track should not be going at full peltit should have been slowed down.

A change is needed in the way run-off is constructed. Tarmac is a better choice straight on from the corner entry and apex; as much as the heart yearns for a return to big dirty gravel traps everywhere, safety has to be paramount.

But beyond the exit of the corner, gravel or grass should reintroduced on a large scale.

In the case of Turn 5, a simple redesign would create a more challenging corner without compromising safety at all.

Turn 5 of Silverstone, with modified run-off.
Turn 5 of Silverstone, with modified run-off.Neil James

Run-off constructed in this way would allow the driver a choice. He could either risk a trip across the gravel, or take the slightly slower route of the escape road around the outside.

This layout of tarmac in, gravel out, could be replicated at circuits all over the world. Exceptions would have to apply for super-fast corners such as Spa's Blanchimont, or 130R in Japan; at those speeds, a transition to gravel would be dangerous and it's best to leave them all-tarmac.

But the overwhelming majority of slow- and medium-speed corners could receive this make-over, increasing their challenge while maintaining a much-needed high level of safety.

Mistakes would be punished, pressure would be rewarded.

And crashes like the one we saw on Sunday would become a thing of the past.