Massimo Percivalle, the executive behind the marshal team in Abu Dhabi, takes a closer look at the moment of 2021 at Autosprint. In the closing laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Nicholas Latifi stranded his Williams in the third sector and it was up to Percivalle’s team to quickly process the crash. He explains how they work, but also emphasizes that a virtual safety car would have been sufficient in those last laps of the year.
As soon as the accident happened in the third sector of the Middle Eastern circuit, the marshals were all hands on deck: ‘After the Latifi crash, I saw colleagues walking around. They moved several times because of conflicting messages from race officials. The marshals cannot judge the situation freely – they must be guided by the advice of the race management.’
“In principle, a warning is given to the stewards, followed by a request to recover the car,” the expert continues. “In the case of Latifi, we intervened by hoisting the Williams off the track and sweeping other debris from the track.” Incidentally, until the middle of the last decade, the marshals were allowed to initiate salvage operations on their own. That changed after Jules Bianchi’s fatal crash at Suzuka.
“The removal of the car and the subsequent activity on the track happened very quickly. I attribute this to the experience that the marshals have gained over the past few years. They are getting better at it at Yas Marina’, he says. Within a few laps the Williams was gone and the track was open again. The quick action of the marshals is one of the reasons that the race could still be resumed and Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were able to fight it out on the last lap.
Marshals are on top in Abu Dhabi
Percivalle goes into detail at the Italian medium: “When Latifi crashed, the screen immediately activated at Turn 15 and double yellow flags were shown. Race director Michael Masi then made sure that the marshals could do their job in peace.’ He saw his Australian colleague opt for a safety car. A virtual safety car would have been sufficient at Yas Marina Circuit, he believes.
Everything went smoothly and the man driving the tow truck turned out to be very experienced and to do a good job. “This was a great opportunity to show when a red flag does or does not apply,” says Percivalle. When the race director cannot guarantee the safety of the marshals, as was the case during the repair of the barriers in Saudi Arabia, then there is a need for a red flag. A yellow flag was therefore sufficient in Abu Dhabi.
Percivalle kept accurate records of exactly what happened when the Williams was removed. He wrote, as it were, along with all the activities and kept an eye on things. In the end, the marshals were sent out twice, interrupted once by the passing F1 cars. The situation was not so severe that a safety car was necessary.
Virtual safety car sufficed
The Italian explains why he is like this: ‘I personally opted for a virtual safety car. The cars would have gone fast by then, but could have moved just fine on the left side of the track. On the other hand, Masi had to make an instant decision and that is not easy at all. Ultimately, I think a virtual safety car would have slowed the drivers down more at the time,” he concludes.
Race management’s choice allowed Verstappen to make a pit stop and attack his title competitor on fresh rubber on the final lap. Percivalle couldn’t see that last round himself, but knew who was taking the win: ‘I will never forget the cheers of the stadium from the two huge stands full of Dutch fans. At that moment I immediately realized that Verstappen had overtaken Hamilton.’