Friday Photo Archive – Spa 2014

Editing a website like EngageSportMode often means there are articles you cannot wait to write, and there are those you never want to have to write. This Friday Photo Archive falls somewhere between them; but too close to the ‘never want to’ end of the spectrum than is comfortable.

Spa 2014 Sunday 010

Jules Bianchi during the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix driver parade.

As ever with serious motorsport accidents, it has been almost impossible to avoid the mainstream media frenzy surrounding Jules Bianchi’s awful accident at Suzuka last Sunday. I put off writing this article, chiefly because the situation left me with a feeling of immense sadness. Back in our Belgian Grand Prix coverage, we described Jules as “Mr Future Ferrari” due to the obvious aura of him being a star in the making. Moving forward two months, there is now the sickeningly real chance we might not see him in a Formula 1 car again.

Without trying to make dramatic comparisons, I cannot recall feeling so disheartened about a Grand Prix weekend since Monaco 1994. I’ve seen the standings for FP1 and FP2, but it feels impossible to motivate myself to truly be interested. This is not how it is meant to be in 2014; the past two decades of safety development and change were meant to stop motorsport being put through an emotional wringer.

Much talk earlier in the week centred around whether a canopy fitted to Bianchi’s car would have prevented his injuries. However, from the information released, and photos/video that have already circulated on social media, it’s clear that a fighter-jet style canopy wouldn’t have made any difference.

Bianchi has been described in an official statement as having suffered a diffuse axonal injury. Such an injury typically occurs due to the rapid deceleration from an accident; not from actual direct, blunt, trauma to the head. Realistically, a canopy would have made very little difference, based on the information that’s been made available. If anything, given the deformation of the roll hoop and structure behind the cockpit, a canopy may not have even remained detached to the car thus being more hinderance than help in this situation. In short, the canopy suggestion is very much just a crutch, for those who want an easy solution to make this go away.

A full investigation into the accident is happening, with Charlie Whiting already stating that speed in yellow flag zones needs to be examined. Former F1 doctor Gary Hartstein had raised the issue of drivers often only paying lip service to yellow flags, even double waved yellows, earlier in the week. As such, the sport is now looking at methods of automatically controlling the speed of cars in yellow flag zones.

Whilst it may seem a useful concept, the chances of F1 and the FIA developing a succinct, workable, solution seems difficult to imagine, given the confusion that arose around rules on radio messages to drivers for example. Perhaps it is just cynicism, but trying to envisage F1 managing to even decide on what a safe speed through a yellow flag zone would be, seems an impossible scenario. Again, it also fails to deal with a whole host of other variables that just limiting speed wouldn’t address.

The reality is far more complicated, and revolves around questions such as was the race safe to continue due to the weather, would a safety car after Sutil’s crash have made any difference, and should we be allowing industrial equipment onto a live race circuit in the first place. Those issues cut much deeper into the organisation of Formula 1, and the decisions made by Charlie Whiting (F1 race director) and others in Formula 1’s race control room. You only need look to the German Grand Prix this year, with marshals having to run across a live race track to move Sutil’s stranded car without the safety car being deployed, to see questionable decision making.

Whether or not a safety car had been used at Suzuka, there is still the issue of allowing recovery vehicles onto the track. Clearly the stricken Sauber presented a risk should another car have gone off and hit it, rather than the barriers. Yet, seemingly, no thought was given to the risk of a collision with a large digger reversing against the flow of cars on track. Perhaps most damning is the fact Martin Brundle had narrowly avoided a similar fate to Bianchi at Suzuka in 1994, missing a recovery vehicle at the Dunlop Curve by a tiny margin. In that incident, a marshal received a badly broken leg, but it clearly demonstrates the potential for multi-car accidents at that corner, in the wet. There is, therefore, little scope to describe last weekend as being a freak occurrence.

Ultimately, regardless of the cause, Formula 1 is without a driver this weekend. Having just twenty-one drivers line up on the grid come Sunday will be a painful experience. Motorsport will always be dangerous, but losing drivers to avoidable accidents is unacceptable.

Both myself, and all of EngageSportMode, hope and pray for positive news about Jules Bianchi. We want to be able to see him again at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2015, as distant as that may seem right now. In the mean time, the F1 administration needs to take a long hard look at what it does when dealing with incidents on track.

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