Sources: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/motorsport/formulaone/williams/5085057/Twilight-racing-dangerous-says-Williams-Nico-Rosberg.html; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/motorsport/formulaone/5135781/Formula-One-drivers-want-twilight-race-start-times-brought-forward.html
As well as the introduction of KERS, this season has also seen the introduction of ‘Twilight’ races (last year’s night race format was abandoned this year for cost reasons).
The reason for the later start (1700 local time) of the Australian and Malaysian F1 races was for broadcasting reasons, as it was thought that this would translate to a more convenient morning time-slot for European audiences, thereby boosting the viewing figures for the race. While this has undoubted benefits for viewers and means that I get an extra couple of hours of sleep, the amended race times do raise a number of safety issues for drivers relating to the light conditions as the sun is setting. In particular, Nico Rosberg suggested that:
“The visibility is so difficult, you can’t even see the edges of the track in some corners. I was driving into the sun and that’s not what racing is about. So I really hope they reconsider that. Even moving it forward by one hour or something will help us massively. It was just the last part of the race that was the really problematic time.”
In Malaysia, the problem was not just light, but rather fading light and the risk of torrential rain. Indeed this year’s race was called off mid-way through on safety reasons as cars were aqua-planing off the track following a thunderstorm.
The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) has therefore included a recommendation for the start times to be moved forward by an hour in their report of the races: “It wasn’t the rain that was the problem in Malaysia, because it can rain just as heavily at 2pm as it did at 6pm. But there was no chance to restart the race when it started so late because it got too dark – and that was the problem. I think even if the races are shifted to one hour earlier it will make a difference. We understand that there are commercial reasons for running the races so late, but safety always has to come first.”