Bianchi’s crash overshadows Suzuka race

2014 Japanese Grand Prix review

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On race day morning, with a vast typhoon lurking off the coast of Japan, there were serious concerns the grand prix wouldn’t go ahead.

It did – but by the time the sun came down on Suzuka it was hard not to wish the race hadn’t taken place.

Jules Bianchi’s violent crash on the 43rd lap brought the Japanese Grand Prix to an early end as the Marussia driver was rushed to hospital for surgery on serious head injuries.

After that shock, no one was in the mood for celebrations.

Button’s gamble pays off

The development and progress of typhoon Phanfone had been a constant talking point in the days before the race, and only took a back seat when Red Bull made their stunning announcement on Saturday morning that Sebastian Vettel was leaving them, to be replaced by Daniil Kvyat.

As race day dawned the last chance to bring the start time forward, and increase the chance of avoiding the incoming rain, was spurned. Come the scheduled three o’clock start time the weather was doing exactly what was forecast – rain was teeming down.

With sunset two-and-a-half hours away the race began as scheduled, albeit with the field trundling around single-file behind the Safety Car. Marcus Ericsson illustrated the obvious fact that the track was nowhere near ready to be raced on by spinning off at the end of the first lap.

The next time by the Safety Car brought the field into the pits to wait for better weather. Despite the dire forecasts, soon the radars were giving optimistic signals. A break in the weather appeared and the cars returned to the track, still behind the Safety Car.

They remained in that order for nine laps, gradually clearing the track of water, to the point that some drivers became frustrated at the continuing delay. Lewis Hamilton was especially eager to get going, no doubt understanding that further rain could mean the Safety Car never went away, and the consequent half-points result would cost him the championship lead.

“The track is as good as it’s going to get,” said Hamilton on the radio. “Puddles are not a problem.” Later he addressed race director Charlie Whiting directly: “Charlie, the track is fine. We’ve already done two more laps already.” Some of those further back in the queue, such as Jean-Eric Vergne, shared his frustration.

On lap ten the Safety Car finally headed for the pits and the race proper began. Giving an indication how much the track had dried, two drivers instantly appeared in the pits to switch to the shallower intermediate tread tyres: Jenson Button and Pastor Maldonado.

It proved an inspired move for the McLaren driver. Over the next four laps the rest of the field followed his lead, and by the time they had done so he had jumped from seventh to third, behind the two Mercedes.

Hamilton takes win from Rosberg

The rolling start had spared the Mercedes pit wall the worry of seeing their drivers blasting side-by-side towards Suzuka’s first corner. But whiel Nico Rosberg kept his lead at the start he wasn’t drawing clear of Hamilton.

As the lead driver, Rosberg was the first to pit to get rid of his full wet weather tyres. Hamilton took the lead for one lap and produced the fastest first sector time of the race as he tried to take advantage of any delay Rosberg might experience in the pits or on his out-lap. But on his fading full wet tyres Hamilton lost time in the middle sector, which ensured Rosberg took the lead back.

It was never a lead which looked secure, however. Hamilton hovered around a second back from his team mate, and once DRS was enabled he homed in on the other W05. Rosberg, plagued by oversteer, was increasingly having to watch his mirrors.

Hamilton pressed him closest in the first two turns at the end of the DRS zone. On one lap Hamilton went in a bit too hot and took to the run-off area, front brakes glowing. Finally as lap 29 began the DRS effect proved too powerful for Rosberg to resist.

As Hamilton bore down on him Rosberg covered the inside line, but that meant pulling onto the wet side of the track. On the drier racing line Hamilton drove around his team mate into the lead.

He downplayed his race-winning pass afterwards. “It felt quite textbook really,” Hamilton told reporters. “I was really surprised I close I was able to follow Nico.”

From that moment on Rosberg seemed more concerned with preserving his tyres and ensuring he didn’t fall prey to the fast-catching Red Bulls. He gave away around eight tenths of a second per lap to Hamilton, and his deficit to his team mate peaked at 14 seconds.

Hamilton went on to win the race, albeit in understandably sombre circumstances. There was no spraying of champagne to mark his extended ten-point championship lead.

Button loses podium chance

On a weekend when the occupants of next year’s McLaren-Hondas became a subject of growing speculation, Button made a strong case for himself as the best man for the job. He was on course for a podium finish until misfortune struck, which allowed the Red Bulls to get the better of him.

The RB10s, which had been set up with a wet race in mind, were all over the back of the two Williams cars in the opening laps. Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa soon fell prey to Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo.

The hairpin was Vettel’s preferred passing place – he launched down the inside of Massa from considerable range, then went around the outside of Bottas for fourth place a few laps later.

Ricciardo’s passes were more artful. He hugged the outside lines in the Esses, free of the spray of the cars ahead, and used the RB10’s stunning downforce to seize the inside line for the Dunlop Curve. Massa and Bottas simply couldn’t touch the pieces of road Ricciardo was passing them on.

Now the Red Bulls had Button in their sights, but Vettel was handed the position when the drivers pitted to take on fresh intermediate tyres. Button’s pit stop was delayed as he had to make a five-wheel change – four tyres plus his steering wheel.

Ricciardo delayed his second pit stop and briefly led before pitting. He came in seven laps after Vettel and emerged on Button’s tail. Ricciardo took one run at the McLaren at the hairpin and squeezed through on the inside, but the dogged Button made a cleaner exit from the turn and reclaimed the place.

Ricciardo wasn’t to be denied, however. The next time he tried the same move he made sure to block Button’s line at the exit of the corner and completed the pass. Button then found his lapped team mate, who had switched to wet weather tyres, filling his mirrors.

Like Button, Kevin Magnussen had also needed a steering wheel change, and a couple of errors at turn one had delayed him further. At one point he had made an audacious move on Ricciardo to unlap himself from the race leader on the outside of the first curve.

Kimi Raikkonen also lost time in the pits with a slow wheel change. That dropped him out of the top ten, and with Fernando Alonso having retired at the restart with an electrical problem that meant there were no Ferraris in the points for the first time since the 2010 British Grand Prix.

Bianchi crashes

Given the poor conditions the race began in it was something of a surprise to see the race nearing its end with most of the laps completed under green flag running. When it reached lap 40 enough laps had been completed for full points to be awarded (75% of the distance).

But as the race passed that threshold conditions were worsening once more. The rain had returned and other drivers had followed Magnussen’s lead in switching to full wet weather tyres.

Button did so on lap 42 and by now the conditions had become much worse – not only was the rain falling with greater intensity, but with sunset less than an hour away visibility was deteriorating as well.

While Button headed for the pits the marshals at the Dunlop Curve went to the aid of Adrian Sutil. The Sauber driver had been following Bianchi’s Marussia but snapped sideways mid-corner and planted his car nose-first into the barrier.

Sutil told his team he was OK, jumped clear of the car, and looked on while the marshals waved double yellow flags and began to retrieve his car using a recovery vehicle. One by one the rest of the field passed the crash scene, and the last driver to arrive was Bianchi.

What happened next was not shown on the television screens but Sutil’s account indicates Bianchi went off in much the same way he did. In circumstances where the track was getting wetter, few drivers were on tyres as old as Bianchi’s 17-lap-old intermediates.

The Marussia struck the mobile crane which had been sent to recover Sutil’s car. Medical aid was swiftly summoned, and the Safety Car joined the track with the medical vehicle. On lap 46 the race was abandoned, and per F1’s rules the result was declared based on the finishing order on the penultimate lap before it was suspended.

That confirmed Hamilton as the race-winner ahead of Rosberg. Vettel, who had pitted under the Safety Car, was restored to third place ahead of Ricciardo and Button.

Safety questions for F1

In the trauma of what happened to Bianchi on Sunday it’s understandable why some would wish the race had never been started. But the crash wasn’t a consequence of abnormally high rain fall due to the typhoon – the race conditions were not unlike those seen at other recent wet races.

The causes of Bianchi’s accident will be scrutinised as F1 strives to understand how such an accident happened. It has not escaped notice that an incident took place in similar circumstances at the same track 20 years earlier, when a marshal was injured by the spinning McLaren of Martin Brundle while attending to Gianni Morbidelli.

You don’t have to look far in F1 today to find evidence of the seriousness with which the subject of safety is approached. To take one example, the recent drive to force teams to use lower noses to reduce risks in accidents has had an obvious effect on the appearance of the cars.

But while much work has been done to protect drivers in collisions with barriers and other cars, they are not expected to come into contact with vehicles of the type Bianchi hit.

The decision to move Sutil’s car using a recovery vehicle in fading light and in worsening weather without using a Safety Car must therefore be questioned. The reluctance to use the Safety Car in certain circumstances has been raised before, including after another incident involving Sutil earlier this year.

But even these thoughts of how a similar accident can be prevented are secondary for now as the F1 community anxiously waits for news about Bianchi’s condition, and fervently hopes for the best.

Image © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Red Bull/Getty, Sauber, Marussia

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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65 comments on “Bianchi’s crash overshadows Suzuka race”

  1. Fingers crossed for Bianchi — and since the next track is Sochi, with untested track and marshals, hope Charlie Whiting plays it extra safe. We don’t need another 1994…

    1. Perhaps this will be an unpopular comment, but Tilke always minimizes the risks to the drivers by using large tarmac run-off areas, and at times like these I am glad he does.

      1. @jonathan189 All the F1 tracks are safe nowadays. As we have seen in Canada last year when a marshall was killed and now in Suzuka, humans are the problem (not trained enough in the first case, bad procedures in the second case).
        The difference between the best and most experienced marshalls in the world at Monaco and in new tracks like Bahrain is astounding. I hope nothing bad happens to russian marshalls.

        1. Track safety comes in degrees. Tarmac run-off areas are safer than gravel traps. Circuits where rescue vehicles have to operate close to the track are less safe than circuits where they don’t have to. This is why — months before this incident — Gary Hartstein described Suzuka as the most dangerous track in F1. Of course, the human element is also important.

          1. I think the way the track is built is part of the problem. There is lots of grass on the outside of the Dunlop curve between the track and the graveltraps. There is also an acessroad there with grass around it. When I looked at Google earth and compared the point of impact with the point where he probably lost the car, it seems he was mostly om grass the whole way. And wet grass is not known for good grip when braking.

      2. Runoff has nothing to do with safety if drivers have to worry about hitting JCBs but I understand your point. The cars can handle crashes into barriers fine in any case, even at high speed, the problem at Suzuka was the irregular circumstance which involved the removal of another car in exactly the same place.

        With double waved yellows in operation at that corner, it makes me wonder how fast Bianchi was travelling when he went off vs how fast drivers were going through there on a normal racing lap. I don’t mean to imply any blame anywhere at all but I have found it hard (and I’m sure others have as well) to put together in my head just how so much damage could be caused to Jules’ car if he had been travelling at a speed in accordance with double yellows – meaning, slow down a be prepared to stop. I dunno. I guess like many people I want to know how this happened/what happened but nobody has any footage to show it (and rightly so I guess, it’s not for the public’s eyes).

        1. Sorry but Bianchi did not see a double yellow flag like he should have It was clearly Green way before the car and tractor was clear. The amature video proves it.

          1. In the conditions you might not see the flags but you will see the display on your steering wheel flashing yellow lights. This always happens. I think he spun off and couldn’t control the car anymore.

        2. I just saw the video of the Bianchi crash and he was moving fast enough to make the mobile crane jump. I think the FIA will have to introduce strict and unambiguous rules about how much a driver has to slow in a yellow zone.

          1. @velocityboy I’ve seen the video now also. I wish I hadn’t watched it but I had to see what happened. All I can think now is how aweful it must have been for Jules to see that digger coming towards him!

          2. There is an image of a frame by frame breakdown of the video. On reddit one user made the below calculation estimate in relation to Bianchi’s speed.

            5 frames (@ 29.97fps) to travel the length of the wheelbase (3.0 3.7m)

            [He] used the F1 car wheelbase and timed it as it the front and then the rear wheel passed one of the poles in the foreground
            v = 3.7 / (5*(1/29.97))
            = 22.18 m/s
            = 80 km/h

          3. The post has since been deleted due to a more accurate estimate that was made by another user, which came to 145kph. Apparently this is in line with what the F1 app tracker said.

      3. Not with me. Bottom line is tarmac is a lot easier to stop on than grass. Wet grass might as well be ice. There should be tarmac run off at high speed corners where the risk of a car flying unabated into a barrier is high. See, e.g., Pouhon. The idea that cars can handle any impact into a barrier, as a reason not to do modern run-off, is foolish. The cockpits are exposed. At these accelerations, the lightest object or debris can cause mortal injury in an impact.

      4. @jonathan189 I have to say, this is a fair comment.

        Accidents such as Ricciardo’s FP accident, and Glock’s 2009 injury would not have happened if there were tarmac run-offs.

    2. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears obvious to me that a race should be red flagged if recovery vehicles have to be on track. No if’s and’s or but’s! The Marshall very nearly got hit and the tractor plus Sutil’s car took an almighty hop. Point one: there was a monsoon, fog god’s sake! The sun was less than an hour from setting and the rain was intensifying and some cars had old wet weather tyres. This was a classic recipie for disaster. There is a great deal to be learned from this accident and I hope they do learn it. Terrible video to watch… #forzaJules

      1. No need to, this year drivers only had to lift off at the point where the caution was, which is a very small area. I think if they increase the area to maybe two to three corners before it, and reduce the speed limit to maybe the pit lane speed limit it should be okay. In the wet though safety cars should be out after an accident because its very easy for another car to follow the one that just crashed.

  2. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    6th October 2014, 14:02

    only when tracks are wet, FIA should allow “track shortcuts” if possible, to let marshalls work undisturbed. That would also make possible to restart the race to normal pace faster. Brazil 2003 proves that some track places can make many drivers lose control almost at the same time.

    1. Interesting idea, those ‘shortcurts’

  3. The organisers and FIA should think what the cause of the weather, and they managed it poorly, still Bianchi was fast when double yellows, but that kind of thing should’ve never happen again in F1. anyway I’m predicting there will not feature DOTW in F1F

      1. The person who wrote that un-bylined article needs to acquaint themselves with some of the more basic points of the racing rulebook. The marshals’ actions were correct – more here:

  4. I watched the video made by a fan, and damn, the impact was strong, very very strong, to the point I’m actually surprised he survived

    1. I watched it too and it looked like Bianchi was going so fast but there is one more thing, when they were lifting the Sutil car, above him the marshal was waving green flag and not until 30 sec into the Bianchi crash he started waving yellow

      1. Not seen the video — but this is correct procedure provided the marshal was located further along the track from the crash scene (even if only slightly) rather than before it.

        1. Have seen the video, wish I could un-see it.

          Actually Sutil hit the barrier further down the track beyond the marshal who then waves double yellows. Its only when the crane pulls Sutil’s car backwards (with respect to the direction of the track) past the marshal that the green is waved, continuously until the SC is called. Maybe correct protocol bit still damned odd.

          1. I don’t see what’s “odd” about it – the signalling flags are there to indicate to the driver where the danger is located, so it made sense to change which flag was being displayed when the incident was no longer beyond that point.

            What I find “odd” is the confusion over something which is a quite straightforward and fundamental part of the rules.

          2. Obviously I didn’t explain adequately. What’s odd is that the crane only moves Sutil’s car a few meters, from just ahead of to just behind the marshal post (with respect to the track). In that moment the flags change to green, even though the incident still within just a handful of meters of the post and very much ongoing. Not least because there is still someone retrieving bits of Sutil’s car beyond the marshal post and track side of the barrier, so probably there still should have been double yellows in any case.

          3. The proximity to the crash doesn’t matter – what matters is that after Sutil’s car was moved it was no longer after the marshal post, which is why they began waving green flags. Earlier explanation here:


          4. As I say in the video I saw there was a marshal track-side further down the track clearing up at Sutil’s original impact site. Regardless of the position of Sutil’s car after the crane had moved it a bit, there should not have been a green flag.

            In any event the proximity does matter. The incident may be either a few feet one side or the other of the marshal but the driver will see a whatever flags are displayed, and presumably react to it, a hundred meters or more before.

      2. Going fast is a relative term.
        If he normally takes that curve at 130mph but was doing 80mph for instance before he went off track, he is travelling much slower, but relative to a stationary vehicle, he is still going very fast.
        We cannot draw any conclusions as to how fast he was going based on any video.

        1. On that telemetry video it shows how drivers go through the Dunlop curve at 140mph when Sutil crashed, with same. some with higher speed were CHI, HUL, BUT, ERI, seems like none slowed down, but I’m not knowledgeable about this maybe someone else can explain it more.

          1. @wackyracer goodness me, this shows it took an age for them to call a safety car. If it were me I would have gone for an instant red flag the moment Bianchi crashed.

    2. Just saw that video … can’t believe someone can survive such a crash. Our prayers are with you Jules.

      1. Truly terrible to watch. I can’t believe how much the tractor moved. forzaJules!

    3. It will be interesting to see how the FIA, who was adamant about “waving double yellows” in their statement… will explain away the GREEN flag clearly shown in the marshal stand above the crash site in several of the videos.

    4. It just goes to show how strong crash helmets are nowadays. I wonder how this would pan out with a pre-2010 helmet.

  5. A great article Keith, as usual. I’m struck by your ability to write about these issues with the sensitivity and balance of a professional journalist — while the so-called professional journalists blunder around reporting unsubstantiated rumours about Bianchi and offering glib, poorly informed commentary on the accident.

  6. I know it is hard to get it right every time, but FIA got it wrong by not deploying SC after sutil’s crash, by not doing it you are endangering both marshalls and drivers, that part of track is very tricky even in dry and barriers are not that far from track, in worst conditions there is every chance another car is going lose control and crash. Fingers crossed he will make full recovery and make a comeback soon #ForzaJules

    1. I disagree, they acted no differently then any other crash that I’ve seen this year. If they deployed a safety car for those types of crashes, the race would never finish and we’d probably see 20-30 SC this season alone.
      Do you recall in Germany the marshals even ran across a live track. Its funny how you have an opinion only after a serious accident like Bianchi, its very unfortunate but I don’t believe a safety car in these types of incidents is the answer, if you want that go to nascar as they deploy it on every excuse to bunch up the field.

      What should be changed is the speed allowance through a “double” yellow flag zone. this would have changed the outcome in my opinion as it seems Jules was at quite a top speed just like everyone else. if driver A speeds through at 200km/h then driver B surely will too not to lose time to driver A, so a new rule should be applied here. maybe have a speed limiter for double yellow zone. just like in the pits but at a greater speed.

      The point is that Jules would have surely been ok if the tractor was not present as they have properly designed barriers in place for such a crash, but because the tractor was there to move another car out of the way the tire barrier is now temporarily modified with dangerous hazards like a tractor and more importantly safety crew.

      1. well you seem to have missed my point of how tricky conditions were esp that part of track is tricky even in dry and cannot be compared to Germany. To your point about tractor being present actually makes my point, that is exactly why there should have been SC, they dropped the ball.
        Also, your race entertainment and SC spoiling it is least of my worries. It is serious incident, barriers and marshalls were working close to the track,one car has crashed and there is every chance of another going off at same place and tractor is present as well for that same reason, in case you were wondering.

      2. just watched video of the incident, they were waving green flag at accident zone. keep fighting Jules.

      3. Many of us were (rightly) critical of what happened in Germany. F1 has had some lucky escapes in the last few years. Race organisers should always err on the side of caution if the alternative is to put lives unnecessarily at risk.

    2. @f1007 what really concerns me is how long it took to deploy safety car after Bianchi went off. It took far too long to do that, never mind the red flag, which took laps too long.

  7. I’ve seen a video where GPS data is available, showing that cars were going at 200+ km/h at the scene of Sutil’s crash. I mean, even if they weren’t at full speed due to the yellow flags, isn’t it still too quick for a dangerous situation as that one? Surely the rules in the yellow zones must be revised to prevent such accidents.

    1. Don’t know how accurate is the data, but still here is the video in question:

        1. It’s blocked. But if it’s the video from the crash itself I’ve seen it already.

  8. It didn’t take Bernie long to get the video removed. In this case, I question the need for that. I watched the video multiple times at 1/4 speed, pausing around 1:11. It jacked the crane up off the ground about .5 metre and knocked it sideways close to a meter. The sparks underneath could have started a fire because the whole top of the engine was sheared away.

  9. Ironically, the camera facing the vehicles heading past the accident cut to the scene about 3- 5 seconds after the crash, but Bianchi’s vehicle was so deep behind the barrier and behind the now yawed JBC that we couldn’t tell there was a secondary accident. All we could see was Hamilton going past mere seconds after the accident and not knowing it had occurred.

  10. With the technology we have today and knowing the forecast fairly certainly, why the FIA couldn’t hold the race sooner in the day is beyond me, my guess is to make sure the live viewing numbers are high as viewers in Europe would benefit.

    if money was the driving force then that is extremely pathetic.

  11. I think that the solution is obvious, there is a border surrounding the track, within that border are allowed race cars. If there is the need for another else inside the outside border of the track, a safety car must slow the field.

    Problem solved.

    1. ColdFly F1 (@)
      6th October 2014, 17:09

      The problem remains. Cars even spin and crash behind a SC (Ericsson yesterday; Vettel a few years ago). This can seriously hurt a Marshal on track.

      1. True, but the risk is reduced. A car going at SC speed is less likely to fly into the barriers — especially if there is a tarmac run-off, as there should be.

  12. Very unfortunate accident and the first thing I wish Bianchi is a full recovery, but the race was compromised anyway, even w/o the accident. Races like this is the reason I’m not a fan of wet races, especially if it’s a wet race in Asia.

  13. For me the question isnt what caused the accident, but why a driver was injured. There will always be accidents and you can never control chaos and universal entropy.

    The clear answer is that Bianchi hit something F1 cars are not designed to hit. So then, why are such structures present on an active racetrack?

    It defeats the whole purpose of how the monocoques are designed for crash worthiness if there is always the chance they will hit a construction digger.

    1. Agreed!
      Re. your comment “…Bianchi hit something F1 cars are not designed to hit. So then, why are such structures present on an active racetrack?”

      The vehicles used to move crashed F1 cars are, in the main, bog-standard JCB-types which are designed to traverse building sites and therefore have large ground clearance.

      In other words EXACTLY the type of vehicle you don’t want anywhere near a ground-hugging F1 car. These things aren’t working on building sites – they’re being driven on some of the best manicured terrain in the world so why not modify them so that it is much harder for a F1 car to submarine underneath one (which seems to have done the damage in this crash).

      At its most basic, bull-bar-type bumpers round the sides and back (to cover the ‘submarine zone’) and sensors to detect marshals (if you can have similar sensors fitted to hatchbacks why not to these?).

      My point is, these could be introduced quickly and reasonably cheaply (perhaps CVC and Bernie could dip into their billions and help out here?)

      Then we wouldn’t need to reduce F1 to a series of processions behind a safety car every time someone leaves the track….

    1. Terrible crash, there appears to be no deceleration, possible brake failure.

      1. video raises more questions brake failure cannot be ruled out….

        1. Not impossible, but stopping distance will be incredibly long on a wet surface plus some grass maybe

  14. Was curious as to the weight of the loader that bianchi hit so I looked it up it is approximately 8.7tons quite a bit of energy required to just flick it round like that.
    An absolute miracle he’s still alive, if they’re going to use these type of machines that belong in a quarry at a race track they’ll need some serious modding.

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