Comment: Should Formula 1 allow the use of mules, these reserve cars?


Monday 23 August 2021 by René Fagnan

It was in 2004 that the FIA ​​banned Formula 1 teams from using, even in an emergency, a “mule”, the nickname previously given to a team’s third rescue car, ready to go.

Before that date, drivers could, during practice and even qualifying, change single-seaters, jump from their usual car to the reserve car and vice versa, without any problem. The use of the mule was also permitted in the race, but only if a red flag was displayed before the end of the second round of the event.

Thus, a driver whose main car had been involved in an accident at the start or before the end of the second lap could, if the race was stopped, take the second start at the controls of the mule.

It is impossible to make a complete list of all the occasions where a mule was used in F1, but this reserve car still got a lot of drivers out of trouble… It can be noted that the great Juan Manuel Fangio changed cars during the race. six times between 1951 and 1956.

A massive pile-up at the end of the first round of the British Grand Prix in 1973, resulting in a red flag, allowed many riders to take advantage of the mules. At the start of the Canadian Grand Prix in 1980, another pile-up forced the race to stop. Four pilots, including Gilles Villeneuve, then jumped into their mules.

At the British Grand Prix in 1986, a drive shaft in Nigel Mansell’s Williams-Honda snapped a few meters after the start. A pile-up followed, as well as an interruption of the race. Mansell slipped into the mule, took the second start, passed his teammate and rival Nelson Piquet for the victory.

In Austria in 1987, three starts were necessary, because the first two had turned into disaster. Nine pilots abandoned their damaged cars for the mules on this occasion. In Montreal in 1998, Jean Alesi, Jarno Trulli and Alex Würz had to take the mules after their pirouettes at the start. And what about the giant collapse that occurred at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix in 1998 on the Spa-Francorchamps track flooded by a deluge.

This lifeline has been banned since January 1, 2004. Another regulation was adopted on the same date, which requires the use of only one engine per car per Grand Prix weekend. Why ? Quite simply, for cost reasons. The FIA ​​wanted to reduce the budget of the teams, but it must be admitted that the major teams continued to spend lavishly until the recent adoption of a budget cap.

Since 2004, the teams can bring with them a third bare hull, that is to say completely devoid of suspensions, engine, brakes, fins, etc. It can only be used if one of the two main cars is totally unusable as a result of an accident during free practice or qualifying. But not in the event of a red flag in the race. And this is where F1 is on the wrong track in my opinion.

Having access to a reserve car ready to run would allow a driver whose main car was damaged at the start and before the end of the second lap to be able to take part in the event, even if he had to start from the way of the wells.

One can understand the immense frustration of fans who have paid large sums of money to buy tickets to admire and encourage their favorite drivers and whose race is ruined after only a few seconds.

Recently, at the British and Hungarian Grand Prix, Dutch fans were sorely disappointed to see their idol, Max Verstappen, knocked out of the race on the first lap at Silverstone and ride in the middle of the pack with a damaged car in the middle of the field. Hungaroring.

And what about the Ferrari fans who saw Charles Leclerc unable to take the start of the Monaco Grand Prix and eliminated in the first corner in Hungary this year. The list can be really long.

The use of the mule could be reserved for pilots who are not directly responsible for accidents. Thus, Lance Stroll and Valtteri Bottas would not have been able to take their mules after the accidents which occurred at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix at the beginning of August. The other drivers involved, “victims” of their downright optimistic maneuvers, could have jumped into the mules if the event had been stopped with the red flag.

But each team is only entitled to one spare car, which can lead to difficult choices. As was the case in Hungary earlier this month when both Red Bulls were damaged at the start. Should the team give the mule to Verstappen or his teammate, Sergio Pérez? This painful choice has often arisen in the past, as the teams could only count on one spare car. In most cases, it was the highest ranked driver in the world championship who could benefit.

If the FIA ​​allows the teams to bring a spare bare hull with them to the circuits, then why not allow it to be prepared, ready to race, and thus save the show when it is possible to do so? Are they forbidden to do it simply for the sake of the budget? It would be better to cut on other things that represent a real waste, such as those gigantic motorhomes that sit in the paddocks or those thousands of used or brand new tires that must be recycled.


Laisser un commentaire