Bianchi’s crash: a turning point for safety in Formula 1?

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While most of the western hemisphere slept in the early hours of Sunday October 5, one driver suffered a traumatic crash in the Japanese Grand Prix. Soon the world’s attention was on Jules Bianchi’s unstable condition. The French driver aquaplaned off the corner, sending him skimming across the track towards a tractor.

It was a painful watch as the fragile looking Formula 1 car hit the sturdy recovery vehicle with force. Through the heavy rain, the driver was rushed to hospital in hope of treating the severe brain injuries that left him in a critical condition.

This tragic event overwhelmed the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) with complaints and demands for change. The biggest uproar came from the drivers themselves. World-leading champions, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, insisted that the dynamics and quality of the tyres must be altered.

Bianchi had changed to intermediate tyres, one of the two options at the time of the crash. In a driver’s meeting Mercedes driver Hamilton said: “You want a tyre that clears the water and does not force us to go to the intermediate when it is so much quicker, and when it is probably not safe enough to do so.”

The intermediate tyre has the lightest tread of the two that were available on the Suzuka track. It is known to have a faster lap time than the wet tyres, designed for these specific weather conditions. Although wet tyres are the safer alternative, it has to be expected of a world-class motorsport competitor to choose the one that may gain him track position.

Tyre manufacturer, Pirelli, is reviewing the argument that there is too much of a performance gap between the wet and intermediate tyres.

The collision instantly stirred the voices of all but the FIA, who bided their time drawing up plans before finally speaking on the matter late on Sunday evening. Their discussion offered new possibilities for safer conditions.

The focus was held on speed control during the yellow flag and how the implementation may work. The specifications of this are not yet clear and many different regulations have been pushed forward.

At the press conference the FIA Race Director, Charlie Whiting, held firm on the belief that no safety car was required during the removal of Adrien Sutil’s Sauber. Whiting added that the yellow flagged zone was sufficient as the car was not near the edge of the track.

All drivers were encouraged to read Whiting’s report and send in proposals on how to avoid future collisions of this sort.

Another driver, Sergio Perez, argued that for the security of all, a safety car should be deployed at all times when a recovery vehicle is on track. His comment raised concern for staff as well as the other drivers as he suggested that “you expose the marshals, a lot of people, so we need a safety car if the tractor is on track.”

Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are pushing for new technological research on closed cockpits for the cars. Massa has had a record of big crashes, including one earlier on in this season during the German Grand Prix in which his car was sent rolling.

The most substantial one was in 2009, when a spring became dislodged from the front car’s rear suspension, hitting his head and leaving him unconscious. Having, therefore, a high concern for safety, Massa was in fact calling in on the team radio and demanding that the race be stopped five laps before the incident happened in Japan.

When asked to speak his mind he said: “In my opinion they started the race too early because it was not driveable at the beginning and it finished too late.”

The approaching typhoon was announced early on in the weekend. This suggests that the dangerous track conditions could have been foreseen. With concern for Bianchi’s welfare in mind, it could be suggested that the timing for the race should have been re-evaluated. However, too much importance is placed upon the financial side of advertisements and sponsors. This is an aspect in which the race conveners should perhaps re-prioritize.

Respect and kind thoughts for the driver have been shown in abundance since the horrific collision, supported by a two-minute silence before the Russian Grand Prix race. All drivers were seen stood in a circle, hoping that their well-respected colleague would recover and return to the paddock.

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