Bianchi’s accident acts as the bitterest of crescendos in a strange weekend for F1

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From the moment that Sebastian Vettel dropped the bombshell that he would be leaving Red Bull on Saturday morning, the Japanese Grand Prix was immediately overshadowed.

The race weekend at Suzuka would not be remembered for the race that happened, nor for the winner, nor for the implication it has on the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Now, the same theory is true, only for all of the wrong reasons.

When the severity of Jules Bianchi’s accident and condition became clear in the aftermath of the race at Suzuka, a dark cloud hung over the paddock. Most post-race commitments were cancelled, the podium ceremony was muted, and the entire F1 community came together, sending its best to Marussia and the Bianchi family at this hard time.

As we wait for updates on Bianchi’s condition, questions about the incident itself continue to be asked.

Ultimately, without all the facts or information, it is impossible to say what exactly happened. Here’s what we do know though, as per the FIA.

  • One lap after Adrian Sutil spun off at turn eight, Bianchi crashed into the recovery vehicle being used to collect the Sauber car.
  • Marussia radioed Bianchi to see if he was okay, but got no response. The medical car was despatched and the race was red flagged.
  • Bianchi was transported to Mie General Hospital still unconscious by ambulance.
  • A CT scan showed he had suffered severe head injuries. He went into surgery on Sunday night, with the plan being to move him into intensive care following this.

On a weekend that was dominated by talk of Typhoon Phanfone, there has obviously been a lot said about the race direction. Many thought that it would never go ahead, but in the end, we did have a grand prix, passing the number of laps needed for full points to be awarded.

It must be said that the race director, Charlie Whiting, and his team did a commendable job under difficult circumstances. They saw a break in the weather and put on a race. Felipe Massa claimed that he was “screaming” for the race to stop in the final few laps due to the second downpour, but general consensus is that – without the gift of hindsight – the right calls were made.

“Motor racing is dangerous,” Niki Lauda said after the race. “We get used to nothing happening and then suddenly we all get surprised.

“If one car goes off, the truck comes out and then the next car goes off. This was very unfortunate.”

The marshals followed the usual procedure in removing Sutil’s car from the crash site. Instead, the question surrounding safety is one that has been asked for many years. What happens if, like we saw yesterday, a driver crashes into the vehicle aiming to recover another car?

It is a question that former F1 driver Alex Yoong asked in a post-race article for Fox Sports Asia.

“As a driver, it has always made me nervous when I’ve seen those cranes or tractors on track to remove cars,” he wrote. “It’s now the second serious incident that has involved those cranes in the last two years. Last year in Canada, a marshal was tragically killed when he stumbled under a crane while removing a car from an accident.

“I hope the FIA will review how we remove cars from accidents in the future especially in rainy, tricky conditions like we witnessed today. And that includes marshals on the track as well. I would rather they just leave a car at the side of the road if it’s not in the way or if they really need to move it then throw a safety car out so it can be removed safely.”

1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve also feels that the rules need to change, with a safety car being called for immediately regardless of the incident.

“The rules have to be changed concerning the safety car,” he is quoted as saying by Autosport.

“When I was racing, and afterwards, I was always saying that any time there is an accident there should be a safety car.

“There should not be room for judgement. If someone has to go out to pick up a car stranded on the track, it’s simple. Accident – safety car, and that’s it.

“It should have been like that for years. America has had that forever.”

There was a similar incident at the 2007 European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, albeit far less serious. After a sharp downpour in the early stages of the race, a number of cars began spinning off at the first corner, with one engineer calling it “a swimming pool”.

As a recovery vehicle was sent to begin to pull cars out of the gravel, Vitantonio Liuzzi’s car came flying across the track. Thankfully, he had lost enough speed before making contact with the tractor, with his rear wing lightly touching the rear tire of the vehicle. However, he only narrowly missed the safety car – it could have been much, much worse.

So the question being asked is ‘how do we stop this happening again?’ Can it be prevented? This is unquestionably a freak occurrence, but if the possibility of it happening can be reducing even by one iota, steps must be taken. Be it an automatic safety car, full course caution or even a Le Mans-style slow zone, if something can be done, make it so.

However, in the immediate aftermath of one of the darkest weekends in the recent memory of the sport, the focus must lie with Bianchi and his recovery.

Forza, Jules.

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, points

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

POINTS: Standings after Rolex 24 at Daytona l Michelin Endurance Cup standings l Daytona endurance points

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.