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.