Milliseconds and Millimetres

If you ride a mountain bike, you know how quickly you can go from being a downhill wannabe hero to a heap of dust-covered lycra groaning next to the trail. A 50 km/h crash on a bicycle will be a biggie, and the next destination is usually the clinic that happens to be closest to where you're riding.

My stand-out road bike crash was in the 94.7 Cycle Challenge, circa 2005, and the F-bunch pile-up became something of a talking point that year. We were southbound on the M1, heading downhill towards the Grayston Drive off-ramp. The bunch was closed up tighter than a Scotsman's wallet, and everyone was in the drops, so we were possibly cruising at 60 km/h-plus.

Suddenly, something went pear-shaped in the middle of the peleton and the image embedded (pardon the pun) in my memory is of the hood of my right-hand brake lever disappearing into the left glute of the rider directly ahead. And the next thing I remember after that was sitting up and surveying the carnage.

I grabbed two drinks bottles at random as they rolled towards me, remounted, and eventually made the finish. I'm not sure about the guy whose glute absorbed the initial impact, which also flung me towards the side of the road and out of serious harm's way.

I've had some decent car crashes too; on the road, track, and at the Gerotek test facility. The common thread is that it happens fast. The national speed limit isn't a lot when you're heading in the direction you planned, but 120 km/h is scary when you're en route to Destination F**ked (to quote a popular Aussie YouTuber). Remember, 120 is 33,33 metres per second, or to put it another way, the length of a rugby field in 3 seconds.

My point is that there isn't always time for perfect decision-making at riding speeds, never mind at 240 km/h in a single-seater. So it amuses me when armchair experts and keyboard warriors make righteous calls on who did what and when.

Do they think an experienced racer will deliberately "take out" another driver at those speeds – remembering that 200 km/h is more than 50 metres a second? For starters, orchestrating what transpires metre by metre – or as suggested in the headline; millimetre by millimetre and millisecond by millisecond – is nigh-impossible. The likelihood of scoring an own goal is huge, as are the chances of getting hurt.

Do yourself a favour and visualise Brian Habana going from the halfway line to the tryline in one second. Now imagine him doing it with Usain Bolt at his shoulder and the two of them aiming to reach not just the tryline, but a drinks table with a champagne glass on top of it. The victor is the one who gets there first, collects the glass without spilling a drop, and then runs back to the halfway line whilst drinking the contents.

Opportunities to be tripped up are, literally and figuratively, plentiful.

And so, on to Copse and that crash. Lewis Hamilton created an opportunity – he had set it up for several corners. He went for it. It didn't work out, and while some say it was 50/50 – in other words, a racing incident - the Stewards disagreed and penalised the Mercedes driver. Maybe they saw it as a 51/49 scenario, maybe 55/45, but based on what seems a reasonably lenient penalty, it wasn't the slam dunk that some "commentators" think it was.

One thing is sure: the Stewards had access to much more information than the armchair experts. They may have examined things like GPS speed traces, GPS position of one car relative to the other over time, steering angle, throttle position, brake pressure and who knows what else – access to this sort of technology has removed guesswork and conjecture.

Their decision is the one that matters.

It is no wonder that several Porsche Carrera Cup championships use the VBOX Video HD2 as a mechanism to inform decisions on driving standards. The benefit of an independent source of information is obvious: you can't claim to be trying to avoid contact when the data indicates that you were turning towards your rival and the throttle opening was increasing.

The VBOX units are in a sealed enclosure to which the organisers hold the key. Information saved to an SD card would be examined in VBOX's Circuit Tools software, essentially replaying the incident in minute detail, aided by syncronised video. Rolling the data back to the previous corner might also reveal a back-story, and maybe it was a revenge attack. On the other hand, it could be an honest mistake – drivers are human, after all.

Ending this back on the Hamilton/Max Verstappen debate, two things strike me as significant: Lewis has made his intentions to race as hard as possible crystal clear, and that data can help track officials make objective decisions.

Officials could have a busy second half of the season.

Wesbank Modified racing cars, South Africa
In an age when there wasn't much data, justice wasn't always served

Audi endurance race cars at Le Mans
Modern race cars make hiding errors and indiscretions difficult. It is a bit like rugby. Why stand on someone if, in likelihood, the world is watching?

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