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United States GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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AUSTIN, Texas – Let’s face it, today was bad. You can’t really sugarcoat it or attempt to make sense of the situation. It’s just one of those days you’d like to forget very quickly.

A free practice session happened with only a smattering of fans who’d made it in before news came down that Circuit of The Americas spectator gates would be closed until noon local time.

Then a three-hour delay occurred for what was supposed to be qualifying before a decision was announced to push qualifying through to 9:00 a.m. CT and local time (10:00 a.m. ET) on Sunday morning, LIVE on CNBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

As you’d expect, there’s not too much to recap:

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES 

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK*

Weathering the storm

The asterisk in the lead-in to this section denotes the fact that I opted not to go to the track today. Reasoning? With persistent and continuously extending flash flood warnings, late information close to the start of sessions as to when the sessions would run, the ability to work and follow sessions remotely via both NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra and a not-too-far-but-still-somewhat-far potential drive from my hotel to the track, I decided against going. This marks the first day in 10 years since I started my career in 2006 that I’ve been on site for a weekend, yet stayed back at a hotel. Simply put, the risk wasn’t worth it to drive.

U.S. fans rock

A handful of fans made it in before Circuit of The Americas revealed before 9 a.m. CT and local time that the gates would be closed for safety reasons. Those already present could seek shelter in the main grandstand.

If you were stuck either on a bus or in a parking lot before getting in, the agony would have to be palpable.

If you’re a fan… you have every reason to be a bit, or more than a bit aggrieved at how things transpired.

The surreal experience was that at 10 a.m., seemingly against all common sense or logic, FP3 was running and there were not that many fans there to see it. By the time fans were let in by noon, they were treated to a several-hour delay, and no cars on track. It was at best disappointing, at worst, farcical – something U.S. fans have been through before.

The bright side – if any – came from the teams doing their best to entertain in the absence of running. The blog site WTF1.co.uk has a pretty good synopsis of the hilarity that took place up and down the pit lane in the rain delay.

And then both F1 and COTA came good with this bit of news that has come down in the last hour:

Hopefully it’s not a case of too little, too late, but it’s a fantastic – and deserved – gesture to witness.

F1 fans in the U.S. do care, and the ones that have journeyed to Austin this time around are a dedicated lot. It’s easy to forget at times, but they are the reason this whole thing exists – in my opinion, even more than the sponsors and the manufacturers.

F1’s human side becomes present

For the talk that F1 drivers and teams are corporate automatons, devoid of personality, that notion can be squashed as the emotional and human side of F1 shone through brightly today on a day when there was almost no light.

From Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat’s dancing exhibition, to Lewis Hamilton’s pit lane wave to the crowd, to the surprise emergence of Carlos Sainz and Jos Verstappen matching their sons in Toro Rosso firesuits, to the various races up and down to the pit lane, and all the cheekiness and brilliance coming from all the team and driver Twitter accounts, it was plain to see everyone give their best performance. There wasn’t the standard sponsor plugs, cliches and non-answers. There was proper humanity on display.

A busy day now set for Sunday

Qualifying, a race, and a potential World Championship to be decided all in one day. And yet more rain, although mercifully, not as much as we’ve seen the last day or too. Sunday promises to be a long, crazy and potentially historic day.

***

Qualifying coverage is at 10 a.m. ET (9 a.m. CT) on CNBC, with race coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. CT) on NBC and lights out at 3 p.m. ET, 2 p.m. CT, on Sunday.

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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