Silverstone’s 2017 FIA WEC season opener saw a significant accident for WEC debutant José Maria (‘Pechito’) Lopez, who crashed out heavily whilst trying to press-on as the rain began to fall with an already hobbled #7 Toyota beneath him.
The continued absence of Pechito from the WEC grid for the Spa weekend again highlights the fact that he did not emerge from this accident unscathed suffering “minor damage to two vertebrae”.
As those who saw the action live will recall, the car, despite heavy damage, was craned to a position where Lopez could return to the pits (see pic above) whereupon the team undertook a substantial rebuild, the car rejoining the race effectively after the team had used this as an opportunity to run a number of troubleshooting drills to effect repairs.
Lopez meanwhile went to the medical centre and latterly to the local hospital for a mandatory scan. This procedure was carried out after the medical lights system had activated, triggered by the datalogger detecting G forces on the car that exceeded a pre-prescribed level.
It’s a sensible system but there is a clear need to introduce appropriate regulations to support the system when it is activated.
Introduced into the FIA WEC at the beginning of 2016 after prior use in Formula 1, The medical light system is intended to provide visual early warning for arriving intervention crews as to the severity of the impact involved in any incident. If the impact exceeds a predefined G-Force threshold the system displays three blue LED lights in a small panel that are visible externally from the cockpit (the square panel seen in the pic below). The lights can be seen lit in the picture at the top of this story.
Certainly Lopez was seen on camera, unsurprisingly, to be in some discomfort post impact.
Reportedly he ignored marshals instructions to leave the car instead trying to restart, then rejoin.
Eventually the car was craned out of the gravel, still with Lopez aboard, after the medical intervention team had attended, whereupon the Toyota was allowed to power round to the pits.
In this instance the incident could reasonably fall under the heading of ‘no harm no foul’, but it does seem that the inherent strengths of a modern sports prototype may lead to further consideration of the rules that surround the medical light system.
In Formula 1 any substantial impact effectively means ‘game over’, the lighter cars and shorter races effectively negate any advantage to getting your car back to the pits.
In endurance racing though the more resilient cars and the much longer races mean that there might be occasions where drivers are pressured to return the damaged car to the pits.
Now we get to the current status of the system in the FIA WEC.
The FIA WEC and ACO describe the system as being under test and evaluation, the only regulation currently mentioning it simply saying that it must be fitted to all cars. There is currently no other specific regulatory support to define required protocols in the light of an activation.
The FIA though has moved quickly to clarify its view on the issue making it clear that whether or not any electronic indication is given, it is already the responsibility of the doctor attending any incident to determine a driver’s suitability to continue.
By attachment that means that a doctor’s decision to prevent a driver from attempting to return to the track would over-rule any request from the team, or a driver’s own wishes to attempt to recover the car to the track and/ or the pits.
DSC has spoken to both factory LMP1 teams and both are supportive of the clarification:
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Rob Leupen said: “Safety of the drivers is a priority for everyone, so we support the Medical Light system. In the event of an accident when the Medical Light is triggered, the decision on whether the driver is fit to bring the car back to the pits is dependent on the physical condition of the driver, as reported by the driver and potentially the doctor at the scene.”
Porsche’s Andreas Seidl said: “Porsche are fully supportive of the introduction of the medical lights and we have full faith in the experience of both the FIA Race Director and the medical staff in making correct decisions in these instances.”