Crash analysis: Vettel and Karthikeyan at the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix *update*

NOTE: As new questions keep coming in, and I keep answering them, keep an eye on this topic for the next view days for more angles and views.

Undoubtedly the single most fiercely debated thing in Formula One for the past two weeks is the crash between Sebastian Vettel and Narain Karthikeyan on lap 46 of the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix. Both in the paddock, as well as in the online communities, no one seems to see eye-to-eye on anything, both regarding who’s at fault for the crash, and whether or not Vettel’s angry gestures and post-race comments were ‘champion-worthy’. The fact there was such a lack of consensus, with people apparantly seeing completely different things, I wanted to clear things up once and for all.

In this article, I will answer three questions:
1) Did Vettel move towards Karthikeyan?
2) Did Karthikeyan move towards Vettel?
3) Did Vettel leave Karthikeyan enough room?

Analysis of the crash:
The confusion for who’s at fault and what happened, seems to come from the fact that there are two camera angles from the crash, that each seem to tell a different story. The camera angle from the back makes it seem that Vettel cut across on Karthikeyan, while the camera angle from the front suggests it’s Karthikeyan who turns in to Vettel. Now the problem with the rear angle is that it’s an angled moving shot, with no static objects in the background to tell us their absolute positions. The front angle however, does provide a static background to analyse the driver’s movements.

In the stills, the green line is a control line, following the second L of the blue Allianz board, as well as the border between the green and the white tire wall in the background. As the camera pans a little, we need to adjust the frames so that they still have the same background as a reference. The blue line indicates Vettel’s position out of the corner, while the pink line indicates Karthikeyan’s position out of the corner.

Frames 1 to 3 show Vettel and Karthikeyan both going in a straight line. However, from frame 4 to frame 6, Karthikeyan clearly starts moving towards Vettel, who keeps going straight. In frame 7, Vettel actually moves away from Karthikeyan, who in turn keeps moving towards Vettel until they collide between frame 9 and frame 10.

As far as Vettel leaving Karthikeyan enough room, it may seem in the first few frames that Karthikeyan will run out of road. However, in frame 5, if you draw the orange line from Karthikeyan’s outer tires forward, he has enough room. Between frame 5 and the collision between frame 9 and 10, Karthikeyan still moves over half a car length.

So that answers the three questions:
1) Did Vettel move towards Karthikeyan?
No, from the moment both drivers were through the corner, Vettel kept going in a straight line. He did not move over.

2) Did Karthikeyan move towards Vettel?
Yes, as clearly shown, Karthikeyan actually moves over towards Vettel.

3) Did Vettel leave Karthikeyan enough room?
Yes. Although Karthikeyan was initially going to run out of road, in frame 5, he did not need to move over any further in order to have enough road. However, he still moved over another half car length towards Vettel until they collided.

In conclusion:
The camera angles made it a little unclear on which driver moved how, when and where. With apparant equal blame, the stewards’ decision to give Karthikeyan a penalty seemed very odd. While it can still be argued if the penalty was deserved or not, and while Karthikeyan no doubt did not hit Vettel on purpose, a factual analysis clearly shows that it was Narain Karthikeyan who was solely responsible for running into Sebastian Vettel.

*Update*
Some have argued that while Vettel technically left Karthikeyan enough room on the track, that he was still in the wrong because they believe he cut Karthikeyan on the racing line. There also appears to be some confusion on whether Karthikeyan was off the track/on the white line or not.

Whose right is it to take the racing line?
First of, as the car lapping the other driver, Vettel had the right to take whichever place he wanted on the track, as long as he leaves the backmarker enough room. At their positions in frame 5, Karthikeyan has enough room to continue on the track.

At that point, Karthikeyan has the opportunity to let Vettel pass, which he needs to do as stipulated in the sporting regulations:
“20.5 As soon as a car is caught by another car which is about to lap it during the race the driver must allow the faster driver past at the first available opportunity.”

Did Karthikeyan turn in to take the racing line?
However, there are still some that want to interprete that as not meaning Karthikeyan did not have the right to keep the racing line. So that beckons the question: was Karthikeyan turning in to take the normal racing line, as the Marussia is seen doing in front of them?

Short answer: no. Although the camera pans, taking two static points allows us to compare the racing lines. The orange line shows where (the left rear wheel of) the Marussia starts moving right, away from the edge of the track. In the second frame, you see Karthikeyan starts moving right almost a full car length earlier, despite the fact Vettel is already mostly past him.

Was Karthikeyan returning on the track, or on the white line?
It happened quite fast, so I understand where that idea came from, but Karthikeyan actually went a little off just before the corner. He had already returned on track when going into the corner, and when Vettel was passing him, Karthikeyan was not on any white line.

Was Vettel ‘squeezing’ Karthikeyan?
No.

Why does everyone seem to think Vettel squeezed him if you show he didn’t?
Camera angles and a panning camera can distort the view.

Did Vettel cut off Karthikeyan on the racing line?
He did not. The collision happened off the racing line. By the time of the colision, not only had they not yet reached the point where the racing line turns right. By the time of the colision Karthikeyan was almost 5ft off the racing line.

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