I should explain from the start that at time of writing the facts surrounding the horrifying incident involving Jules Bianchi have not yet been collated. If they have, they are yet to be distributed to the wider public. With this is mind, to speculate as to the cause of the incident – or the ultimate outcome of it – would be terribly irresponsible and foolish.
What can be offered however, are solutions to obvious problems, recognising that Formula One’s safety measures possess an Achilles heel; we know that Jules Bianchi’s Marussia left the track during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix whereupon the car struck a JCB-style recovery vehicle, there to retrieve the previously crashed Sauber of Adrian Sutil.
It has since been announced that Bianchi suffered a severe head injury and has undergone emergency brain surgery. At this time, he remains in intensive care – encouragingly, he is breathing of his own accord.
Factors that have lead to speculation include the rain that had been falling for much of the race, combined with lessening light levels and general poor visibility due to weather conditions. Whatever the cause, whether Jules spotted the double waved yellow flags warning him of potential danger or not, the fact that he struck the recovery vehicle is nothing short of terrifyingly alarming.
It has, shamefully, been the sort of accident waiting to happen. We have watched and winced for years at the sight of marshals risking their own lives to enable racing to continue – and we commend them for it. But the practice of using recovery vehicles to retrieve vehicles while the race track is still ‘live’ is preposterous…
…of course, that’s a claim made using the benefit of hindsight. Yet it seems so obvious now, of course it’s preposterous! So why couldn’t the FIA see that before now, before Jules Bianchi’s accident?
The FIA will no doubt be asking the same question of themselves, along with why they didn’t do more to persuade the organisers of the Japanese Grand Prix to bring the start of the race forward knowing that the weather conditions would perhaps be safer. That’s their torment and I’ll do nothing to stoke the fire; a young man is fighting for his life, this is no time to play a blame game.
However, lessons can – and must – be learned. Would it have been better to simply leave Sutil’s car beached in the gravel trap untouched, at least until the field had been neutralised by a safety car? Undoubtedly, yes. But then, a Formula One car can still lose control; Marcus Ericsson demonstrated just that in the early stages of the race at Suzuka and Romain Grosjean, likewise, during the Hungarian Grand Prix earlier this year.
The obvious solution is amply demonstrated by procedures at Monaco with the use of trackside cranes, placed safely beyond the track’s outer limits. It would eradicate the need for recovery vehicles like the one at the epicentre of today’s events, and while marshals would still be required to attend the scene of an incident – something I fear will forever be a necessity – they will be able to vacate the scene much quicker, having connected the crane’s hoist to the stranded vehicle and making good their escape from potential harm as the car is lifted to safety.
It seems to be an obvious solution, the kind that one feels silly for missing before it has potentially become too late, and I’m certain the FIA are looking into it and other solutions with due care and intelligence.
Right now however, thoughts are dominated by the eventual outcome of this terrifying episode as we face a potential tragedy, the likes of which an entire generation of Formula One fans have yet to encounter, thankfully. We pray that we never will. We pray for Jules Bianchi.