THE CAR AND THE MAN: Critically injured Marussia F1 driver Jules Bianchi is in hospital after crashing into a recovery tractor during the 2014 Japanese F1 GP. Image: AP / Ng Han Guan
SUZUKA, Japan - Jules Bianchi's crash during Sunday's 2014 Japanese Formula 1 GP has raised questions about whether the race should have been started earlier to beat deteriorating weather conditions.
The French driver is in hospital with a severe head injury sustained when his Marussia slid off the track, drenched by rain brought in by the approaching Typhoon Phanfone, and hit a recovery tractor that was moving the Sauber of Adrian Sutil that had slid off in the same place a lap earlier.
There had been talk in the days before the race about bringing the race forward to beat the worst of the typhoon but the decision was: start as scheduled.
'COULD HAVE STARTED EARLIER'
Sutil, still at the first crash scene, saw Bianchi's slide and crash. He said when asked about it: “We weren't asked our opinion so there is nothing I can say. It was clear it got wetter and it would have been quite easy to make the race earlier but that is not in my hands."
Retired Austrian triple F1 champion and Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda agreed: "They could have started earlier, there's no question about it. It was foreseeable. They could have started the race at 1pm (Japanese time) but I don't take these decisions."
The race started behind the pace car as rain drenched the 5.8km circuit but conditions were too treacherous and it was red-flagged after two laps – enough, should the typhoon have decided to dump its water load then, to have allowed the race to be cancelled and competitors given half-points according to their grid position.
Instead, the billion-buck parade of high-performance metal snaked along behind the pace car and into the pits land, where they all halted line-astern to await developments.
'I MAINTAINED THE PACE'
Conditions gradually improved enough for the drivers to race on intermediate tyres though the showers returned near the end with the light also fading.
"For me it wasn't (that bad)," Mercedes race winner Lewis Hamilton said when asked how slippery conditions were near the end. "There was more and more rain coming and... you started to see more reflection but I was still able to maintain the same pace."
Brazilian Felipe Massa, however, said he was "screaming for the race to stop" when the rain returned towards the end.
"I was screaming on the radio five laps before the pace car that there was too much water on the track," said the Williams driver, who went to the Mie General Hospital to see Bianchi. "It was dangerous."
CRASH 'COMBINATION OF EVENTS'
Lauda said, however, that the pace car was deployed at the correct times to keep the race under control.
"The race was run safe more or less to the end," said the Austrian, who saw Bianchi's accident as a combination of unfortunate events and a reminder that motor racing remains a dangerous sport.
"We get used to it if nothing happens and then suddenly we are all surprised," Lauda said.
Wheels24 wonders why the recovery tractor was allowed to be on the track side of the tyre wall at all – a potentially lethal barrier to a sliding and fragile F1 car. There was no reason why a second car should not slide off at the same place – unfortunately for Bianchi, he did.
And why wasn’t a pace car deployed immediately Sutil crashed and his car remained vulnerable to a second impact – as in fact happened.
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