UPDATE 1810 ET: Contrary to reports circulating, Ferrari has denied that Jules Bianchi is out of surgery and breathing independently following his accident during today’s Japanese Grand Prix that left him with severe head injuries.
In wet conditions at Suzuka, Sauber’s Adrian Sutil spun off with a few laps remaining, prompting a recovery vehicle to come and try to remove the car.
Bianchi (pictured taking part in practice on Friday at Suzuka) spun off at the crash site, hitting the vehicle that was being used to recover Sutil’s car. He did not respond to a radio call from Marussia at the time.
The Frenchman was transported via ambulance while unconscious to the Mie General Hospital where he underwent surgery for a severe head injury, according to the FIA statement at 0720 ET.
“The CT scan shows he has suffered a severe head injury and is undergoing surgery,” it read. “Folowing this, he will be moved to intensive care where he will be monitored. Mie General Hospital will issue an update as soon as further information becomes available.”
It had been reported by a number of outlets including the BBC and Sky that Bianchi was out of surgery at the hospital and was breathing independently. However, Ferrari, his parent team, has denied that this is the case, and has given no further updates on his condition.
The next official word is expected to come from the hospital on Monday, with Bianchi moving into intensive care following surgery where he will be monitored further.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, FIA media delegate Matteo Bonciani confirmed that Bianchi had been transported to the hospital by ambulance and was unconscious at the time.
“The driver is unconscious. He has been sent to hospital by ambulance because the helicopter cannot go in these conditions. Further updates will follow. For the moment, we cannot say nothing. I will keep you updated as fast as I can.”
Adrian Sutil, who was at the site of the accident, explained his view of the incident to the media following the race.
“The yellow flags were out,” he said. “I aquaplaned on this corner as the rain got more and more, the stability got less and less.
“One lap later, with waved yellow flags, Jules came around and had the same spin there, and that was it. It was more or less the same crash, it’s just the outcome was a bit different. The car came out to rescue my car and then it all happened.”
However, just ten minutes later, the decision was taken to restart behind the safety car as conditions improved, and it soon became dry enough for drivers to race on intermediate tires.
In the final few stages of the race, more rain began to fall, causing on-track grip to deteriorate and prompting many to make the switch to full wet tires once again.
Following the accident at turn eight, the race was red flagged for a second time, with the result being declared soon after. Lewis Hamilton extended his championship lead with his third straight victory ahead of Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. However, celebrations on the podium were muted as news of Bianchi’s accident spread.
We will bring you all of the updates on Bianchi’s condition as the information reaches us.
(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)
Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality
It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.
“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.
“Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”
During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.
The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.
The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.
“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”
So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).
Starting with the Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).
“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”
Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.
James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”
Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.
“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.
“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”
James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.
“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”
“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”
Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.
“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.
“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”
Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing but also its competitive fire.
“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving. It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.
“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”