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APRIL 29, 2002

Why Minardi did the right thing

A couple of years ago in Brazil, the Saubers of Mika Salo and Pedro Diniz both suffered structural failures of their rear wings in the course of practice. Salo had a fairly big shunt as a result of his failure while Diniz avoided hitting anything. The team had no explanation for the failures and Peter Sauber said that he "no alternative" but to withdraw until his engineers could explain to him what had happened and why it would not happen again. It was a sad but honest decision and one which gained Sauber a great deal of respect in the paddock.

Safety issues must always overrule commercial issues, particularly in a world in which major motor racing accidents tend to garner hysterical reporting in the media.

On Sunday morning in Barcelona, Paul Stoddart, the boss of Minardi, found himself in a similar predicament following a catastrophic structural failure of the rear wing of Mark Webber's car during the warm-up. This followed a failure of the Australian's front wing on Saturday. Alex Yoong also had a front wing come off although this was probably because he drove heavily over a curb rather than because of a weakness in the construction of the element in question.

"The toughest decision that a team boss has to make is to withdraw his cars on the grounds of safety," Stoddart told the press a few minutes later. "We are confident that we could have raced this afternoon but that would have been irresponsible. You cannot take chances. We don't know why the failure happened and there is not time to investigate. So we are not going to race."

As things turned out in the race, McLaren, which always prides itself on the quality of its manufacturing, also suffered a rear wing failure on Kimi Raikkonen's car, proving that the bumps and high loadings of the Circuit de Catalunya can combine to create structural failures. These were not the only ones that have occurred this year at the track, as there were several such failures in the winter testing although these did not receive the kind of media coverage that such an incident will get if it happens during a race weekend.

The sport cannot afford to have a structural failure ignored because if there was a second accident afterwards which led to deaths or injuries the results could be catastrophic for all concerned. Minardi and its partners may not have wanted to pull out of the race but it was the for the good of the sport above all - and as Sauber found in Brazil two years ago, such a hard decision can win one more friends than taking risks from which everyone might suffer.