Charlie Whiting: “I’m sure drivers will love the Russian Grand Prix"
Exclusive interview with FIA Formula One Race Director.
Charlie Whiting, FIA Formula One Race Director and Safety Delegate, shared his thoughts on the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix in an interview to Sochi Autodrom's press service.
You have been to Sochi before. How do you think the city has changed?
Ah, it looks so much better! I mean the last time I was here it was a big building site. It's been a year since I've been here and it looks really beautiful now.
What do you expect from the 2014 FORMULA 1 RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX?
It's a high quality track. It's clear that everything has been done really nicely. It will be a fast track, and I think it will be a really competitive track as there will be at least two or three places where drivers can overtake properly. I think that will be a very interesting track and a very spectacular race.
So, about overtaking: how many DRS zones will there be on Sochi Autodrom?
Two. One in between turn one and two and the second one between turns 10 and 12.
You are the Safety Delegate of the FIA. How would you estimate the safety of the track? Russian media expressed its concerns about the track being too narrow and low safety of the lengthy turn four as the cars would just run off the track. What's your opinion on that?
I doubt it very much. We're happy about the safety here. It's absolutely first class, I could not describe it any better than that. We've done lots of simulations on the track and that' how we've arranged the track itself, the runoff area and the energy absorbing barriers. It's all been simulated, and we are entirely confident that Sochi Autodrom is absolutely first-class when it comes to safety.
Which part of the track do you like the most?
A little difficult to say at the moment, but I think that turns from 4 to 10 – those look like fast sweeping corners and I think it are going to be quite good to watch. There will not be much overtaking in those corners, but I Think you will see overtaking in turn 2, turn 13 and, possibly, turn 17.
You've been the FIA's Race Director and Safety Delegate since 1997. What has changed in that period? Have your responsibilities and the burden on your shoulders changed over the years?
I do not think that the burden on my shoulders has changed. I think, FORMULA 1 has become more professional, more exact, more precise in everything. It increases the workload, we have more people working than in 1997. However, as the teams are so much more professional these days, there are so many things to check on the cars, in running the sporting competition fair as my job is to keep it safe and fair. And that's why I'm here. It does take quite a lot to keep everybody at a level playing field, and that's where it becomes difficult. It has become more difficult. More is expected of you. More is at stake.
So, about the level playing field. Sometimes teams find loopholes in those regulations. For example, Red Bull or Brawn GP…
This is ingenuity, that's all it is. Engineers being very clever and finding things that are legal, but no one else has thought of. That's what they are paid for. (smiles)
Can you prevent such things by running some computer simulations or acting in advance?
We can't compete with the teams because we have a technical department of ten, they have technical departments of three hundred. Three hundred times eleven teams that's three thousand three hundred people against ten. That's not very fair, I think. All we can do is to make the rules and hold consultations with the teams. We have to make sure that all that they are telling us is true, of course, and at the end of the day teams would normally write to me about the development of new systems on their cars. They'd say "We think that the rules allow us to do this" and I'd say "Absolutely not" or "Yes".
Sochi Autodrom was visited by Alex Molina who is familiar to TV viewers as the man who hands out the caps…
Yes, but he does a bit more than that.
Exactly! Some commentators sometimes refer to you as the man who presses the button and switches off the red lights. Is there any secret?
Well, if everything goes correctly, all the cars finish the formation lap, stand in the right places and after a second I'd press a button that starts the red lights, and when all the red lights are on, I'd press another one that turns them off. That's very straightforward. But there are lots and lots of things that can happen. You can have the cars that don't start and can't make it to a formation lap, so they have to be taken off the starting grid. It leads to empty spots on the grid, so you have to make sure the drivers behind an empty spot don't go into the wrong position, for example. Things can go wrong on the formation lap, things can go wrong on the grid, the engines can stop. There are so many things that can happen, and you've got to know what to do and to do it quickly. Otherwise, the start procedure can go terribly wrong. You have to make sure that you've briefed the marshals, that the marshals are in the right place and are concentrated at their car. There are so many bits and pieces to make it work properly, to make sure that when things do go wrong, you know precisely what procedures to follow.
What is your opinion on the standing restart that Bernie Ecclestone wants to introduce?
Standing restart is something that I was involved in personally. I was talking to someone at McLaren and we came up with this idea how to make this show a bit better. When you watch a race, what is the most exciting part of the race? The start. So, why not have a second one? (smiles) It makes sense.
Of course, it offends some people because it's not pure racing. It's been done for the show. Some people were even silly enough to say it's dangerous. Well, if it's dangerous, you wouldn't even have the start of the race, would you? I understand why some people might think it's too false as it's not what normally happens. But why not? I can't see any downside to it. It will provide more excitement; you seldom get any changes of position at a rolling restart, so this might provide an opportunity for changes in position. Some drivers may be worried of losing their lead, but then again other drivers might get a chance to gain something from it.
I think it's an interesting idea. It's been approved. Now we've got to work on making it work.
In the last years, we saw the reduction of downforce, of engine size, but still cars go fast. Some people say the races have become less exciting. What's your opinion?
Well, I do not think that the races have become less exciting. I think that the new sound of engines that has been talked about is excellent and FORMULA 1 is better for it. What you've got to remember, the reason for this is to provide FORMULA 1 with an efficient engine. What we've got now is an engine that is producing more power with 35% less fuel. I think that is a remarkable engineering achievement. This is FORMULA 1 is all about – the pinnacle of excellence – that's what the FORMULA 1 has provided in this case. Some people do not like it because it's not a traditional racing engine, but it is an incredible piece of equipment. Last year cars have been using around 145 kilograms of fuel, now they use one hundred. I think there was no race when drivers had to drive slowly to save fuel. They manage the fuel to a certain limit. It is so clever! The downforce had to be reduced in order to make the cars more efficient aerodynamically, otherwise they would not achieve the fuel target, but that's all something that teams have to work on.
You have been working with Bernie Ecclestone for quite a while and you are obviously friends. Have there been any cases when the interests of the FORMULA 1 promoter and the Safety Delegate interfered?
No, not at all. Bernie knows that my priority's safety and he also knows I'll do everything I can to accommodate what he would like while respecting the safety.
Any thoughts of how the inaugural FORMULA 1 RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX will look like?
I think, it's going to be a spectacular race and I'm really looking forward to it. The track itself is going to be really fast and the drivers will love it. I'm sure of that.