Death in Formula 1 used to be an occurrence that was all to common. Yet, for the first time in twenty-one years, F1 has lost a driver to a racing accident. ESM’s editor offers his on reflections on the sad news.
A lot has already been written about the tragic death of Jules Bianchi. Compared to that fateful weekend in Imola, some two decades ago, the impact and end result were some nine months apart. That makes it no easier to come to terms with, and must surely have made life even harder for Jules’ doting family, who have spent the last few months hoping for some sign of improvement. It is also another cruel blow to the Manor team, formally known as Marussia, who have lost two drivers in less than two years.
Deep down, following the crash last October, I knew we would never see Jules in a racing car again. As much as the media, and Formula 1, attempted to put a brave face on things, it was clear the young Frenchman had suffered a devastating injury. Just before going to bed on Friday night, I found myself reading an article on the BBC Sport website in which Philippe Bianchi issued a statement about their concern for the lack of progress being made by Jules. The next thing I read was a text message from a friend, informing me that the future-Ferrari driver had gone.
Whilst it is impossible to predict whether Jules would have gone on to be World Champion, stories already show that he would most likely have found himself behind the wheel of a Ferrari-engined Sauber this year, with a full Ferrari role someone in the near future afterwards. Perhaps Bianchi would have been the replacement for Raikkonen; a question which is purely academic now. There can be no denying that a prodigious talent was taken away far too soon.
For me it is hard to believe that, despite all the rhetoric, the FIA and F1 administration really has the ability to change sufficiently to avoid incidents like the one which killed Bianchi happening again. The official 396-page report into the incident concluded that Jules did “not slow sufficiently to avoid losing control” on the corner, and that it is “considered fundamentally wrong to try and make an impact between a racing car and a large and heavy vehicle survivable” in such circumstances. The placement of said “large and heavy vehicle” onto an active race circuit – at a corner where a similar incident had happened before – was something overlooked. I stick by my comments made shortly after the crash itself.
The FIA and Formula 1 governance remains a very tight-knit, closed shop. It’s hard to avoid descending into conspiracy theories when discussing the wider implications of the Bianchi crash, but it is worth a reminder of the actions taken by the FIA’s medical chief, Gerard Saillant, in the past few months. Firstly, there was the threatened legal action against former-F1 driver Philippe Streiff for his comments about the FIA’s Bianchi investigation. Streiff ultimately withdrew his critical accusations against the FIA panel, and publicly apologised. But, this is the same F1 medical chief, who made a trip to a Liege hospital to discuss the writing of Dr Gary Hartstein with his boss; the Dean of the Medical Faculty. Dr Hartstein, who we made our 2014 man of the year, has made public the reasons for Saillant’s visit here, and they make for interesting reading.
You can, of course, draw your own conclusions from those two events. It could simply be the FIA trying to keep a very tight lid of the media, to genuinely protect the families of those involved. Alternatively, it may suggest that the FIA would sooner concern itself with public image and stage management, than tackling bigger issues.
Whatever your own assessment of the politics of F1, it doesn’t remove the fact a sport has lost a highly promising young driver, and a family has lost their son. We can only hope that, somehow, we can avoid such instances happening again within the inherent dangers of motorsport. The only certainty is that this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix will be a difficult event for the drivers and their teams.