CLOUDS OF GLOOM: The 2014 Japanese F1 GP was overshadowed with dark clouds in more ways than on Sunday, Oct 5 2014, as a safety car is seen leading the pack on a soaked track. Image: AFP / Toshifumi Kitamura
SUZUKA, Japan - Formula 1 was divided by anger and grief on Monday (Oct 6 2014) as it struggled to understand the circumstances that left Jules Bianchi fighting for his life after crashing during the 2014 Japanese Formula 1 GP.
On a tragic day for motor racing Italian former F1 driver Andrea de Cesaris, 55, was killed in a motorcycle crash in Rome and 25-year-old Frenchman Bianchi suffered severe head injuries when his Marussia car smashed into a heavy crane-carrying recovery vehicle.
His crash came in the closing laps of a race won by championship leader Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and a lap after Adrian Sutil slid off the rain-soaked track at the same curve and hit the the tyre barrier - the reason the recovery tractor was there.
HAVOC ON TRACK
Bianchi was extricated from his severely damaged car and, after examination at the circuit medical centre, was transferred to the Mie General Hospital, about 10km away, by road ambulance. The usual helicopter could not fly because of the weather. He underwent surgery and was later described as being in a critical condition in intensive care.
Reports in France that he was breathing on his own, without medical aid, were unconfirmed as other drivers, including Sutil, pointed to the darkness of the wet day a factor in the crash. Some paddock observers suggested the race should have started much earlier in the day than 3pm (Japanese time) to avoid the torrential rain that hit the event ahead of the arrival in southern Japan of Typhoon Phanfone.
Sutil, who had climbed unhurt from his crashed car, stood and watched as Bianchi went off at the same spot. He said: "It was quite difficult. In the end, we got more rain and it was dark so visibility was getting less and less and this corner was a tricky one, the whole way through.
"In the end, when it got dark, you couldn't see where the wet patches were and that is why I lost the car - it really surprised me. His crash was the same as mine - he also aquaplaned - just one lap later."
Williams team performance chief Rob Smedley said: "I would say, in the 15 years I've been involved in F1, that that was the darkest I've ever seen a race event."
The race started and finished - the latter prematurely when it was red-flagged to stop after Bianchi's crash - in treacherous conditions with torrential rain and reduced visibility but despite that most drivers said the conditions were not extraordinarily bad and suggested Bianchi had been unlucky.
Finnish Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, who finished sixth, said: "The whole race was tough, especially the beginning and end... I think there have been more difficult track conditions than this. It's just a difficult track in the wet. Until then, there was nothing special happening. I think it was just a really, really unlucky situation."
Compatriot Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari agreed. He said: "Was it safe? Is it safe ever? You cannot say. Sometimes it doesn't matter. At the beginning of the race, behind the pace car, we drove 100km/h and could aquaplane. So, even if you slow down, you might get into trouble.
"If there's too much water you can go off. It's as simple as that."
'UNLUCKY TIMING' - VETTEL
Hamilton said: "The conditions) weren't really that bad. I've had much worse races in terms of aquaplaning. It started really bad and got quite intense and then when we went back out [after the first red flag early in the race] it was good.
"Towards the end it started to rain a bit more but it wasn't causing me any problems particularly. But it's so easy to lose temperature in these tyres if you slow down a bit - and then it's really difficult."
Defending four-times F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, third for Red Bull, said: "It was very unlucky timing and an unlucky position to lose the car. It's one of the most tricky places - you are still cornering and you pick up speed.
"In these conditions with more water the car is very nervous and it's very easy to do a mistake."Stay with Wheels24 for the 2014 F1 season – fresh reports every day.