Lotus chief defends FIA’s safety decisions in Japan

2014 Japanese Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by

Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi defended the decisions made by the FIA in the running of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Sunday’s race was initially suspended, then resumed behind the Safety Car, and eventually red-flagged following the serious accident suffered by Jules Bianchi.

Following criticism of how the FIA handled the race, Gastaldi said the correct calls were made in difficult circumstances.

“It is a hugely difficult job to have and anyone can be an expert with the benefit of hindsight,” he said. “I must say I thought they got it right in the way the Safety Cars and the race suspension played out.”

“Initially it was obvious that it was just too wet but they did the sensible thing to have a good number of laps behind the Safety Car.

“Later when the rain returned it was starting to get bad again and then obviously it was completely the correct decision to red flag it when the serious incident occurred.”

However Gastaldi added it was still necessary to see what could be learned from the race. “As a sport we will always look for lessons to be learnt,” he said, “especially after there has been a serious incident, but overall I think they did a good job under very demanding and stressful conditions.”

Gastaldi passes on the Lotus team’s support for Bianchi, who remains in critical condition in hospital in Japan.

“Of course it was difficult for everyone because of the freak incident that befell Jules,” he said. “It leaves a big cloud over everything.”

“As a team we really wish him all the best for the coming days and weeks and we all hope for a positive outcome.”

2014 Japanese Grand Prix

Browse all 2014 Japanese Grand Prix articles

Image © Lotus/LAT

Author information

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

30 comments on “Lotus chief defends FIA’s safety decisions in Japan”

  1. I think the decisions made were well within the norm of F1. At a certain point, F1 media gets rather vacuous in their understanding of things and how things are interconnected. Watching Sky before the race and them whinging on about moving the race up earlier, etc. when it had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with not wanting to get delayed flying out of Japan for the next race.

    I’ve seen some reports trying to connect the impending typhoon with the Bianchi incident as well. There was also a lot of reporting after the race, incorrectly, that the helicopter wasn’t able to fly. Then when that was cleared up, there was questioning of hte medical decision not to use it, as if F1 journos were now medical experts. The one saving grace for Sky was Brundle after the race saying this wasn’t a case of darkness (in terms of the accident), and could have happened at any time, and that flying a patient with a brain injury could be unsound.

    But it seemed every question of the drivers was basically “should the race have been run earlier and was it unsafe.” Thank god for some rational insight from the drivers.

    It’s tragic what happened to Bianchi, but trying to blame people off the cuff for it won’t make it unhappen, and just serves to make the entire incident worse. It becomes about these media folks wanting to feel better for themselves, rather than serving any public good.

    1. @uan

      it had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with not wanting to get delayed flying out of Japan for the next race

      I disagree. The latter was a factor but not the only one. In the days before the race there was a reasonable concern that weather conditions might make it impossible to hold the grand prix. The FIA’s own weather service described it as a “massive threat”.

      Due to the race’s start time leaving only a 150-minute window of daylight for the race to take place in, the high levels of rain possible in the vicinity of a typhoon, and there being two past instances of qualifying being postponed by a day at the same track due to poor weather in F1’s previous eight races at Suzuka, the possibility that severe rain might have made it impossible to hold any kind of race was one which needed to be taken seriously.

      1. Given that the race happens in the wee hours of the morning in the main viewer market the late start seems rather pointless typhoon or no.

      2. @keithcollantine

        I’m sure the ability to hold the GP was of utmost importance to the FIA, and to Honda as well. I’m imagine keeping the start at 3pm local was a stressful call by Honda. They had every reason for wanting to have a race go full distance and not get suspended 2 laps, or 20 laps in. However, needing to stop the race early, or possibly cancel the race is still a different matter than the safety concerns which I’ve seen raised in hindsight by some journalist.

        Even in 2010 when qualifying was postpone to Sunday, they still tried to get the session in on time, nor did they call it immediately after the start time when it was pouring ran. The waited as long as they could before making the call which in hindsight seemed obvious.

        But I think Ted Kravitz made it clear in his notebook after qualifying was that the timing of the Typhoon would probably leave the race unaffected, but make it harder for the cargo planes to get out later that evening.

  2. I agree i loved seeing some comments from people who were basting the FIA for not bringing safey car in earlier in f1 live section, you can not have it both ways. You all say it was getting too wet? It is normal that it gets stopped when someone crashes. What did you expect FIA to do red flag it before Sutil’s crash? Then we would have had what are the FIA playing at. It so easy using hindsight…

  3. Why oh why do people keep calling this a freak accident? A car aqua planes off a wet track, a JCB goes onto the track, a second car aqua planes at the same spot. Surely there is a high probability of that happening and is not a freak occurrence. I wish these people would admit that the current protocol is wrong in these situations.

    1. Because the double waved yellow should have slowed Bianchi down.

      We have seen cars aquaplaning off at the same spot, but they tend to have slowed down enough for any real harm to occur.

      Of course it happened before that they didn’t really slow down enough. I remember Liuzzi flying off violently just missing the deployed safety car also Schumacher in Brazil sliding into some other cars. Maldonado even got banned for not slowing down enough and hurting a marshall.

      1. Slow down – lose downforce, aquaplane more.

      2. @patrickl I understand your point, but the discussion cannot end with the casual idea that “the double waved yellow should have slowed Bianchi down” in such conditions. You cannot have a JCB or marshals in harm’s way and then say “it’s a freak accident” when near misses have happened a number of times previously. Martin Brundle’s description of his own near miss is instructive, and underlines the danger of ending the discussion with the flag system:

        Having experienced a similar crash, Brundle understands how easy it is to spin off the track in heavy rain even when actively adhering to yellow flag conditions.
        “Some will say ‘well there’s yellow flags’, even double-waved yellow flags but that doesn’t stop you actually spinning off because we saw Ericsson spinning off behind the safety car. I spun off with yellow flags there, there was so much spray I couldn’t actually see my own steering wheel let alone the yellow flags on the day. If one car goes off in a certain position there’s so much greater chance of another one going off in the same place.”


    2. Keep in mind English is probably that guys second or even third language before over reacting. Their use of words might not be perfect as a result.

    3. “Surely there is a high probability”. Baloney. Never in the entire history of Formula One had such an incident happened ( a few close shaves though).

      1. Something never having happened before does not change the probability of it occurring. There have been close shaves and it has happened in other forms of motorsport. This proves that the probability was higher than acceptable.

      2. “Never in the entire history of Formula One had such an incident happened”

        This was posted a few comments down. It speaks for itself.

      3. This is the kind of thinking that gets people killed. If you have an outcome you want to prevent at all costs, ie motorsport participants being maimed during recovery efforts, a “close shave” may be all the warning you get from the natural universe that a procedure is incorrect. This is nothing new, since the concept is part of our idiom “an accident waiting to happen.” Unfortunately, due to hubris such as yours, we often do not learn from close shaves– something bad actually has to happen to prove to us that yes, low probability does not mean zero probability.

  4. I don’t want to seem all anti FIA but this happened before, right down to a car hitting a JCB, in Germany 2007:

    There were also yellow flags, engineers told their drivers about the pile up but even after all that they were still going too fast, fortunately in this case the huge run off and the now hated gravel trap prevented a major incident.

    That’s the problem, drivers go around according to the conditions they saw a lap before, but that’s incredibly dangerous. Double yellow flags should have more meaning from now on, that or a speed limit on the scene of an accident.

    1. @matresx

      perhaps they need to enhance the rule in wet conditions that the sector before the accident is also doubled waved yellows, and if there’s a violation, penalties are severe–similar to unsafe releases if a wheel is not secured properly (10 place grid penalty the next race in addition to in-race penalties).

    2. The issue is that the timing of the cars in the sector isn’t being policed properly. It’s counter intuitive to have a pace time when the safety car is out so cars can’t speed round the track but leave them to lift for a tenth when it’s not.

      Proper policing of the existing flag system should be sufficient.

      If bianchi was slow enough to be able to stop he wouldn’t have crashed at such a speed. The crash may still have happened but definitely not as fast.

      They should probably look at what can be permitted inside the barriers whilst cars are racing too

    3. Carey Cummings
      7th October 2014, 19:25

      This is EXACTLY what came in my mind when I saw the footage of Bianchi going off. It was a miracle that more cars didn’t go off there and that no marshalls were injured. FIA definately need to change the procedure for wet weather vehicle recovery.

    4. @mantresx excellent video to bring up. there have clearly been similar situations in the past where the double-waved yellows were not doing their job (either because they get ignored or because the drivers cannot react enough). we were obviously just lucky until now.

      1. Yeah, I just watched the video again with headphones and what Brindle says at the end is chilling “you do not want to go underneath one of those diggers”.

        In fact this incident was probably ten times more dangerous than in Suzuka from a procedure point of view.

    5. Liuzzi’s incident could have been fatal had he hit it head on. Lessons should have been learnt then!

  5. Some good points made by @uan and @lagerstars above. Supposed ‘motorsport journalists’ (and Jacques Villeneuve) have been making fools of themselves pointing their fingers in every direction, it’s refreshing to come to F1F and read only facts and well-informed opinions.

    No, it was not a ‘freak accident’, but it was caused by a slackening of standards (with regard to yellow flags) rather than an incorrect procedure. Whether that procedure is changed to remove the grey area is what they have to decide.

  6. Jean Todt is French. So expect drastic changes to be proposed. The entire French speaking world is livid at the moment.

  7. I remember when going through yellows meant you raised a finger or a hand to acknowledge you saw it , but didn’t slow for it !
    Hakkinen at Suzuka springs to mind

    1. @greg-c The problem with that is it means the driver has half as many hands on the steering wheel.

      1. @keithcollantine

        Yes mate !
        Im not saying it was acceptable , but it was accepted behavior ,

        Not a safe option for anyone !
        Point being was how yellow flags were just a Meh! moment ,
        Time for a change ,

        Im guessing that Jules was skidding off track and saw those men on site and , that marshall in front of JCB is the luckiest man in Japan,


    2. Raising a arm when safe to do so is still consider good practice in karting in Australia

      1. *considered*

  8. That video is rather chilling watching it back now
    Thanks to @mantresex

    A car did hit the JCB, very fortunately rear first and slowly ,

    If it had been earlier on the scene then quite easily it could have been Lewis going under it head first ,

    I agree with Gastaldi’s comments in general , a quagmire race controlled pretty well,
    But what is not forgivable is having people ( marshals) and anything but a racing car on the circuit when cars are at speed !
    Yellows only means “don’t set PB sector”

    The last time a stranded Sauber was attended my heart sank , i was waiting for eulogy to be needed such was my fear that those marshals were going to be struck !

    I believe there is one solution to increasing safety for on track rescues ,
    “Reduced Speed” in that area , to pit lane speeds,
    However it is implemented , beit slow zones, auto limiters at sector lines, whatever ,
    Its time , in fact past time !

  9. That piece of tarmac you see is not a part of the active race circuit. The heavy duty vehicle didn’t cross the race track at any time.
    Lewis didn’t go off track neither did any other driver at that point after the earlier incident.

Comments are closed.