- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Safety discussions are dominating Formula One as the series heads to the Italian Grand Prix after a scary near-miss over the weekend.

Championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari nearly had his head clipped when Romain Grosjean’s Lotus flew over him in a wild, multi-car accident at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix.

Grosjean went for a small gap and clipped Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren. That sent both cars spinning and Grosjean’s Lotus went airborne over Alonso’s Ferrari, which then took out Sergio Perez’s Sauber.

“The risk was large and seeing another car flying over one of ours, just a few centimeters from his helmet, made us feel like our hearts were in our throats for a few dozen seconds,” Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said.


Grosjean was banned for one race and will be replaced by Jerome D’Ambrosio at Lotus this weekend. Alonso said immediately afterward that he “felt a train coming with a big, big hit,” while Hamilton briefly confronted Grosjean after the accident.

Alonso said Tuesday that he felt no ill will toward Grosjean.

“We’ve spoken about it,” Alonso said in an online chat with Ferrari fans. “I have a good relationship with him. We were teammates at Renault and after the accident he sent me an SMS saying he was sorry and that he hadn’t calculated the distance well.”

Yet the close call has brought up a fresh round of chatter about safety in the open-cockpit series. Ideas being debated run from some sort of cage around drivers’ heads to adding rear-wheel bumpers to employing running starts. Others have called for a penalty system in which two warnings for reckless driving would bar drivers from the next race.

There has not been a fatality in Formula One since Brazilian great Ayrton Senna died following a crash at San Marino in 1994, but safety concerns continue to come up. In 2009, Renault was suspended from the European Grand Prix after Alonso’s right front wheel came off and bounced wildly down the track during the Hungarian GP. That same year, Felipe Massa of Ferrari was badly hurt after being struck in the helmet by a stray part from another car and slamming into a protective tire barrier at high speed during qualifying.

Alonso said he is against running starts.

“You would carry even more speed into the first corner and you would also lose one of the best moments in F1, where you’ve got to calculate the risk, be very alert and make decisions,” the Spanish driver said. “It’s too big a part of the show.”

For Alonso, the Italian GP represents a chance to bounce back and pad his 24-point lead over Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. A year ago at Monza, Alonso shot up from fourth to first at the first chicane but he was soon overtaken by Vettel, who cruised to victory.

This year is different, with no car thus far proving to be clearly the fastest. That could change at Monza, where average speeds are 250 kph (155 mph) and top speeds get up to 340 kph (210 mph), making it the fastest circuit on the calendar.

McLaren-Mercedes’ Jenson Button led from start to finish in Spa and has finished second at Monza for the past three years.

“I head to Monza absolutely full of motivation after a fantastic result in Spa,” Button said. “It was the perfect weekend for me. It’s not only put me back in contention for the drivers’ championship, but it’s shown that we have a car that can definitely fight for the constructors’ title.”

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