Learning the right safety lessons from Bianchi’s death

2015 F1 season

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No one who understands motor racing could have believed the risk of death had been expunged from Formula One completely. And the long months waiting for news of an improvement in Jules Bianchi’s condition had long passed the point where hope ceased to be realistic.

Even so, the news on Saturday that he had succumbed to the injuries he sustained in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix was the worst kind of shock.

In December last year, two months after the crash which ultimately claimed Bianchi’s life, a ten-man FIA panel which included former team principals Ross Brawn and Stefano Domenicali and two-times world champion Emerson Fittipaldi published the results of its investigation into what went wrong at Suzuka. Many of its outcomes, including the new Virtual Safety Car procedure, have already been adopted.

However Saturday’s long-dreaded news leaves Formula One facing its eternal dilemma anew: how to race cars at over 300kph while containing the risks within an acceptable level.

Of course F1’s safety standards have made great strides since the dark days of the sixties and early seventies. But the law of diminishing returns has also become a factor.

In an appalling irony, Bianchi’s uncle Lucien also lost his life at the wheel of a racing car. Practising for the Le Mans 24 Hours on the Circuit de la Sarthe in 1969, his Alfa-Romeo struck a telegraph pole and exploded.

Fifty years ago the question of how to make circuits safer was more straightforward: barriers and run-off areas were obvious improvements over trees and telegraph poles. Now the question of how to make cars and tracks safer is usually a matter of striking a delicate compromise between different kinds of risk.

Enclosing cockpits with canopies has been on and off the agenda since 2009, when Felipe Massa suffered serious injuries due to flying debris at the Hungaroring and Formula Two racer Henry Surtees was killed by a flying wheel at Brands Hatch.

But despite extensive research by the FIA, and series such as the World Endurance Championship moving to fully-enclosed cockpits in both its prototype classes, F1 remains an open cockpit formula.

Would cockpit canopies make for safer cars? In the case of Massa’s accident, almost certainly. But other risk factors which would need to be addressed, such driver cooling, clearing the screen in adverse conditions and cockpit evacuation.

Nonetheless the debate over enclosing cockpits has been sustained by a string of recent near-misses. While other open cockpit championships have also had similar incidents, the most high-profile crashes in F1 involved Fernando Alonso at Spa in 2012, Max Chilton at Silverstone last year and Kimi Raikkonen at the Red Bull Ring less than a month ago.

The latter involved a driver who just a few days earlier had suggested F1 could stand to be “a little bit more dangerous”. After Alonso almost landed on Raikkonen’s head in Austria, Nico Rosberg admitted the dangers open cockpits exposed remains an “area of concern” for the drivers.

But even this drastic step would likely be no panacea. The FIA admitted as much in its Bianchi crash report.

“It is not feasible to mitigate the injuries Bianchi suffered by… enclosing the driver’s cockpit,” it noted. Due to the energy involved in the impact – Bianchi’s 700kg car hit a 6,500kg crane at 126kph (78mph) – there is “simply insufficient impact structure on a F1 car to absorb the energy of such an impact without either destroying the driver’s survival cell, or generating non-survivable decelerations”.

“It is considered fundamentally wrong to try and make an impact between a racing car and a large and heavy vehicle survivable,” the report continued. “It is imperative to prevent a car ever hitting the crane and/or the marshals working near it.”

The latter point is the most significant one. Twenty years before Bianchi crashed at Suzuka’s Dunlop Curve in the rain, Martin Brundle had a near-identical experience. But he missed a course vehicle and hit a marshal, who suffered a badly broken leg.

Moments before he crashed Brundle was shouting on his radio for the Safety Car to be sent out. Since then he’s continued to say as much in similar circumstances in his capacity as a television commentator:


Sadly it seems to have taken Bianchi’s accident for this lesson to be learned. While the FIA report stated the decision to use double waved yellow flags while a crane was at the side of the circuit instead of deploying the Safety Car was “consistent with the regulations”, the panel’s first recommendation has served to fundamentally change how driver speeds are controlled in these situations.

The subsequent introduction of the Virtual Safety Car, which worked well when used properly for the first time at Silverstone two weeks ago, shows it is now understood that it should not have been left to drivers to decide how much to slow down by in such a scenario.

Many of the weekend reports on Bianchi’s crash referred to it as a “freak” accident. But while the chances of Bianchi having the misfortune to hit a crane in the way he did were indeed small, looking at the bigger picture it’s possible to see there were warning signs that such an accident might happen to one driver one day.

Of course it’s easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight, but until Saturday it was also possible to cite F1’s two-decade streak without a race driver fatality as an indication that safety was not a pressing area of concern. That is no longer the case.

At a time when the sport is planning a major increase in speeds in the near future, Bianchi’s crash serves as a reminder that Formula One’s safety record can never be taken for granted. It can only be sustained by remaining open-minded about how the sport can become safer, and by being unafraid to challenge the past conventions.

The goal of a fatality-free Formula One may be an unreachable one, but it must always be the objective.

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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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55 comments on “Learning the right safety lessons from Bianchi’s death”

  1. It might be a freak accident to some people. But Martin Brundle said moments before the crash that cars often crash on the same spot. So it was no surprise to Martin Brundle. The race director clearly did not have this insight. And he probably should. It appears to me that the current race director does not possess the right qualifications for the job.

    1. ‘that cars often crash on the same spot.’
      not usually so if double waved yellows are out following the first crash.

      1. Everyone seems to overlook a few things:
        1) The flags in this corner were waving GREEN
        2) Waving flags at a corner or just before means drivers will drive rapidly the rest of the time and then decelerate as late and as quickly as possible when reaching the caution area — which is PRECISELY the sort of thing Brundle was talking about that leads to other accidents.
        3) It is not the overall speed but the deceleration that poses the most problems, as it introduces all sorts of handling and traffic variables that have the potential to create accidents.

        1. @jeangirard

          1) The flags in this corner were waving GREEN

          No they weren’t.

          Green flags were been waved at the marshal post AFTER the accident site, The marshal post’s leading upto Sutil’s accident site were waving double yellows.

          1. Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that’s true (although there is clear video of flags waving green at the corner, but never mind). Even if I concede that flags were waving yellow, it doesn’t change the rest of what I said.

          2. @jeangirard

            although there is clear video of flags waving green at the corner, but never mind

            Looking at this video its clear that the Green flag is been waved at the next marshal post after the accident site-

            You only have yellow/double waved yellows at the marshal posts leading upto an accident site, Its always been the case than the green will be displayed at the next post after the accident site… So in this case green flags were displayed correctly.

            If you have video showing green flags been waved in the area leading upto Sutil’s accident site then thats a different matter, But from what I have seen it was yellows before Sutil’s car with a green directly after which is fine.

          3. Amazing how you continue to harp on that aspect and ignore the rest. Let’s say you’re right. As I already mentioned before, even if I concede that point to you, it doesn’t solve the basic issue. The basic problem is “sector yellows” or yellows for only a couple of corners or what have you. As long as you have cars trying to rapidly decelerate as they enter a yellow zone, especially — as they usually are — in a corner, you will not eliminate the possibility of something like this occurring. The fact that you had, in addition, heavy rain and next to no visibility, and it seems ludicrous that the situation would have been handled this way and even more ludicrous that it would continue. The only way to avoid something like this is to use full-course yellows and have cars circle the track at a constant stable speed and resume racing once all debris, personnel, and vehicles have cleared the track.

        2. @jeangirard I was only focusing on that 1 point because I felt that what you said regarding the green flag was incorrect.

          As to your other points, The yellow flag zones tends to start 2 marshal posts before an accident site to give drivers a ‘safe’ area in which to lose some speed in order to prevent the sort of sudden deceleration you talk about.

          As to the heavy rain/poor visibility, I don’t think either was really that bad & other drivers said afterwards conditions were not overly bad & had actually been worse earlier on in the race.

          With regards to FCY, Read what I say in the post lower down where I go into why a SC wasn’t called-

      2. 2007 at the Nurburgring several cars landed in the same spot, turn 1 I think, even though the safety car was already out. Sometimes people aquaplane and can’t do anything about it. Tyres and brakes get cold and can’t stop so sometimes theres nothing that can be done to avoid an accident. Its always better to be safer.

    2. People are quick to point something and call it a freak accident when it has never happened before. Even though in situations like this, it could have happened before. In the video in the article with Liuzzi nearly taking out the medical car, had there been grass or more asphalt, he could have hit the tractor. In the other video, it’s important to realize cars went and still go off very often in T1 at Hockenheim.

      In Bianchi’s case, the only ‘freakish’ thing was that, against the statistics, all variables considered did result in a collision. Again, people are easy to point out ‘it’s never happened before’ over ‘it could have happened before’.

      1. All of the foregoing posts make entirely valid points, and in many circumstances where sudden, unexpectedly heavy weather descends in the middle of a race the debate as to what action is appropriate at any given moment will always be a matter of first class judgment. I am profoundly glad that I never have to make such critical decisions as an F1 race director is occasionally called upon to make.

        But as I pointed out in my comment yesterday, The weather that struck the Japanese grande prix last year was NOT unexpected. Everyone knew a class
        3 typhoon was coming in fast, that afternoon. The Japanese people live
        all their lives under the threat of such storms.

        In this case, at least 48 hours before the typhoon struck, warnings were issued
        and the race organisers were given ample opportunity to bring the race forward by several hours. They declined to do so, apparently on the grounds
        that a large proportion of the intending spectators would not be able to reach the circuit in time for the race start ( and therefore might have grounds to claim back the costs of their, by then, useless purchased tickets.

        The hard truth remains that had the race organisers taken the tough decision
        to bring forward the race time so as to avoid the Typhoon, it is more that
        likely that one of the most promising new drivers to enter F1 for years would
        be alive and driving this coming weekend.

      2. It is certainly not the first time that a recovery vehicle has been in a compromising position, in treacherous conditions, and cars have veered off the road despite the yellow flag precaution. I’m not shocked that we have experienced a horrific incident.

        Hopefully the VSC will serve to truly limit the speed of cars adequately and enable the race directors more time to act appropriately to the situation.

    3. 2face noted that, “Martin Brundle said moments before the crash that cars often crash on the same spot.”

      This is critically important, but it’s overlooked why MB said that. He was in a very similar situation as a driver a few seasons prior:
      1) rain
      2) a car off at this Dunlop corner
      3) Despite yellow flags, another car falls off the circuit there and into the marshals and equipment clearing first car.

      Some folks are making the error of surmising that double yellows in wet conditions have happened in the seasons since Martin Brundle busted that marshal’s leg in similar conditions at this corner. Therefore it was safe to have the tractor on the run-off area in this turn in these conditions with double yellows.

      Martin Brundle’s point is that this particular corner is one of the more challenging corners in F1 in the wet (and dry). When it rains, it is common for drivers to go off in this particular corner. If conditions are such that one driver has gone off there, we should know from experience and history that the odds are high that another driver may also go off there.

      Suzuka is an unique circuit on the F1 calendar. It was designed and built back in ’62. It is narrow (only 10m – 14m wide), very challenging, and traditional (grass or gravel run offs). It punishes most offs, and is dangerous with a history of injuries and deaths. This is all known.

      Alain Prost has made clear to this day, that given what is known about this corner, that this incident should not have happened in these conditions. It was FCY conditions with the marshals and the tractor exposed on this particular corner.

      2face (the OP of this thread) is correct that this was a preventable accident due to the race director’s failure.

  2. In both this and Mari di Vilotta’s fatal accident, lessons can be learned in operational procedure and organisational terms. Right now, blame is not very conducive, and finger-pointing in the media is not what Jules’ family need. I agree with Keith that this is a time where the mature response is to look at the ‘could haves’ rather than the ‘should haves’.

    1. Worth emphasizing that in three of the most serious crashes in F1 in recent years, in terms of the outcome, a driver’s head hit something that was not supposed to be in its path. You cannot protect a driver in an open cockpit car from every inadvertent strike to the helmet, and recent history shows it is hard to predict how such an event may originate.

      These results cry out for close attention to defending from head-strikes, by whatever means is most useful. But maybe this is also then a good cause to reconsider the formula itself. The obvious reference here would be WEC. Keith notes this, but the comparison n to WEC should consider more than the fact that prototypes are closed. Since the mid 90s, prototype rules have moved the driver radically further away from the pillars and windscreen. When McNish’s car slammed top-side first into a barrier in ’13, you can bet he had better odds than if he was in a 962C, much less an open top car. Point being scrutiny of head protection has gone beyond the question of canopy or not, while F1 has stood still on the issue. Indeed, the last real revolution in this area in F1 was the side bolstering and higher surrounds pioneered by Sauber 20 years ago. It’s been too long.

  3. Massa also was shouting on his radio that the visibility was at its worst, this should have been enough to stop the race or at least deploy the safety car.
    But also the investigations pointed out the fact that the defunct Jules did not slow enough under double yellows, it really hurts to lose such person at such young age but had he slowed enough he could have avoided the crash.

    1. @abdelilah

      Massa also was shouting on his radio that the visibility was at its worst, this should have been enough to stop the race or at least deploy the safety car.

      Massa may have been but other drivers were not, In fact many of the other drivers said afterwards that conditions were not that bad at the time and had been much worse earlier on in the race.

      I’d also point out that Massa was against the race even starting.

      1. I have to say that – and it is just my opinion – that the visibility from the broadcasted onboards was very bad, it was not pitch black but at 300 kph it made things trickier.

        I guess Massa was right when he was against the race itself, they should have started it earlier or at least stopped it when it was getting dark.

    2. @abdelilah other drivers took the corner at similar speeds during the same lap.

    3. petebaldwin (@)
      20th July 2015, 16:44

      @abdelilah – I wouldn’t take advice on rain from Massa – he has shown time and time again that he is useless in the rain so I imagine a big part of it was him wanting the result called before he span off.

      Whilst he was saying the race should be stopped, others were saying it was ok.

    4. Other cars took that corner at the same speed, but a) there might have been just a bit more water at that point in time, but possibly more importantly b) the Marussia was way down on downforce compared with the teams ahead of them. Going faster generates more downforce, even in the weight. While rain has been called the great equalizer, it can also prove the exact opposite. A car that starts off with less downforce and is trickier to maximize the potential of can struggle doubly in the wet.

  4. The latter involved a driver who just a few days earlier had suggested F1 could stand to be “a little bit more dangerous”.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I just do not get this. So how much more dangerous should F1 be and how exactly should this increased danger manifest itself? Is one death per 20 years enough or should an F1 driver die behind the wheel once every five years? I am just pointing out the ridiculousness of the argument.

    Spectacular crashes might be part of the show but injuries and deaths are completely different stuff. F1 drivers should keep crashing safely and the authorities should keep searching for new ways to make F1 fatality-free and injury-free.

    1. I think the recent talk of F1 needing to ‘be more dangerous’ is very poorly expressed (by all parties involved), I’m sure people don’t feel that more people should get injured or die, but the illusion of danger should be more prominent.

      In a way, one could argue that the ‘safe’ image and environment of F1 needs to be addressed now. F1 has taken lives recently, yet there are people saying it’s too safe. Both the people in the wrong, as well as the sports image might need an update that fatalities can still happen.

      1. @npf1

        the illusion of danger should be more prominent

        I think that is a good point. The first time I saw F1 cars in action was at Nurburgring. I stood in the grandstands at the start/finish straight as the V8-powered cars were flying past at approximately 300kph. I had always believed that F1 was not safe but in that moment I felt it – nothing that quick and that loud could possibly be safe. So I guess that speed and noise matter and I also think you need to feel it to really get it.

  5. Matija (@matijaleader)
    20th July 2015, 14:08

    i dont want closed cockpits on f1 cars. that would completely change my image of formula 1. the fact that its an open cockpit always made it special in a way and it would never be the same with closed cockpits.

    i think f1 could use the slow zones like they have in WEC. it would be perfect for situations when you dont know wheter you should send the safety car out. at one place where it is needed, the cars would slow down and then continiue racing at all the other parts of the circuit.

  6. The solution to this sort of problem is so simple and so obvious that the fact nobody is talking about it points to the stultifying stupidity of the FIA and FOM, and the willful blindness of F1 fans. American series have long had full-course yellows for virtually any accident regardless how minor. It’s the only way to prevent this sort of thing from happening. The whole field slows and runs at a stable speed, with no overtaking permitted, which vastly reduces the chances of something like this happening. Had there been a full course yellow, this accident would have been an impossibility, unless something catastrophic happened to the car as it did to Montoya in NASCAR.

    Secondly, there is the absolutely RIDICULOUS way these cars are cleared and carried away. A crane, unprotected and unassisted, comes out and hoists the car up by a strap, and drives away, with a 700kg car dangling like a giant pendulum and PEDESTRIANS stabilizing the load!!! Here we are, watching perhaps the biggest, richest sport in the world, and watching people clear a car in a way that is equivalent to someone driving a nail with a shoe or turning a screw with a kitchen knife!! USE THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB!!!!! Bring out a flatbed, lift the car onto the flatbed and drive it away. Stable, safe, and more professional. The garagiste days of unprofessionalism and ad hoc racing in F1 are long over, yet we continue to see vestiges of it to this day.

    F1 needs to get its head on straight about safety. American series like NASCAR and Indy are often criticized by F1 fans for the frequency and severity of accidents, and for the use of full-course yellows. And yes, racing will always be risky and there are plenty of deaths and injuries in all these series’ to point to. Yet, it cannot be denied that the way Bianchi’s accident occurred would be almost unimaginable in an American series where full-course cautions are used more consistently. Given the fact that F1 races are so much shorter and relatively accident free, it really shouldn’t be that hard to see the light and implement these simple changes.

    1. Bringing on a flatbed to move the disabled car would NOT improve safety. It would just add another potential risk, as the forklift would still be required to be brought in to lift the racing car on to the flatbed. A few years ago, a marshal got killed in Montreal when the forklift carrying a disabled car, AFTER the race was over, ran him over. It is IMPOSSIBLE to eliminate the hazards and risks inherently associated with a motor racing event.

      As for the NASCAR and Indy full course yellow practice, I am not sure since i don’t follow those series, but, I believe it only happens in OVAL tracks, which makes sense. I don’t believe they enforce full course yellows elsewhere.

      As for the “F1 should be more dangerous” comment from a few weeks ago and subscribed by many, it is UTTER stupidity and nonsense. Last year when they were speculating all kinds of new rules, Charlie Whiting suggested “standing restarts”. The proposal has been killed, fortunately. Because, it would have created many serious accidents.

      F1 has already reacted and improved safety as an outcome of Bianhi’s accident. The Virtual Safety Car (VSC) has been created and already put in practice. A good improvement, in my opinion. We don’t need more knee-jerk reactions.

    2. The virtual safety car basically is a full course yellow by a different name.

      I do agree that the way the cars are removed needs to be looked at, I always have to watch through my fingers when the car’s swinging around with the marshals trying to hold on. I’m not sure a flatbed would work due to access issues, devising a more stable way to carry the cars would be a big improvement.

      1. I believe that the VSC keeps the gaps in between cars, as all of them would be travelling at the maximum allowed speed. The full course yellow or SC allows the cars to close the gaps and bunch up, prior to the restart.

        If I am not mistaken that was one of the reasons why Hamilton lost the lead when he pitted in Monaco. At first, immediately after the Verstappen accident, race control triggered a VSC, which was soon after replaced by SC, allowing Nico and Seb to close the gap to Lewis.

    3. Montoya hitting the jet dryer was not the only time a race car has hit a service vehicle under a full-course caution. Cars have hit trucks, ambulances, each other, under caution. I see your point but this change would not be a panacea.

    4. Virtual safety car. What you describe we now have.

  7. Plenty of surrounding issues that should be revisited with Jules Bianchi in mind; not just cranes and canopies.
    What’s the drainage like at that corner? Two drivers lost control there, and other tracks have addressed problems in the past, notably the Curva do Sol at Interlagos.
    Are the wet tyres the best they can be, in terms of safety? Or are they designed to Improve The Show like the slicks? Are there enough sets of them, or are drivers going round on dangerously worn ones because their strategists (in a dry, warm control room thousands of miles away) think they should save a set?
    What about wet set-ups – at a wet race there’s always talk of compromises, what can and can’t be changed on the grid etc. Are all those regulations suitable for the power delivery, ground clearance, weight and everything else of the current cars?

    1. @bullfrog

      Are the wet tyres the best they can be, in terms of safety? Or are they designed to Improve The Show like the slicks?

      The inters/wets are not designed to degrade like the slicks, There the best they can be (Although drivers have complained that the Pirelli inters/wets are not as consistently good as the bridgestones were).

      Its notable however that at the time most of the drivers were on intermediates rather than full wets.

    2. Are the wet tyres the best they can be, in terms of safety?

      A few days ago I had the good fortune to be able to watch the entire race at Silverstone from the perspective of the racecam, and at one point the racecam was showing Sebastian Vettel driving his Ferrari, and it was when he was still on slicks and the track was wet. It looked to me like he was just able to keep the car on the track. There were times when, to my untrained eye, it seemed he almost lost control of the car and spun off the track.
      At what point should a car change to wet weather tyres? And who should decide?

  8. Regarding the arguments that the SC should have come out with the perspective of hindsight then yes the SC probably should have been deployed, However looking at things from the perspective of before that accident the SC was not usually deployed for the sort of fairly minor single car accident in a place with a reasonable amount of runoff where cars could be cleared quickly.

    The SC for an accident like that would only have been called if it was going to take a while to clean up the car/debris or if the car was going to be difficult to clear. In Sutil’s case they were only something like 20 seconds away from having the accident scene clear when Bianchi went off so they would have had the accident site clear in around 2 minutes after Sutil’s initial off, No grounds for a SC using the standards of the time.

    I’d also point out that as well as looking at the TV/CCTV footage race control will also communitate directly with the marshal posts & will have been told that the accident could be cleared away quickly which would have also played a role in the decision to bring out the SC or stick with Double waved yellows.
    Speaking of double waved yellows, Lets not forget that drivers are told that when double waved yellows are been waved they must slow down & be prepared to stop because double waved yellows usually mean marshals are infront of the barriers & that recovery vehicles may also be in the area.

    As to track conditions, Yes it was wet but not really dangerously so & I’ve certainly seem them race in worse & in fact the other drivers were saying afterwards that conditions were not that bad & had been a little worse earlier on in the race so the actual track conditions were not bad enough to call the SC at that point.

  9. Firstly, the race should’ve stopped long before we got to the point of the accident (should it have even been started?) Secondly, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before. For many years I’ve held my breath watching heavy vehicles and marshal’s surrounding them rescuing F1 cars from gravel whilst drivers are allowed to pelt around the incident zone at speeds that DO NOT comply with the letter of the law regarding double wave yellows. Hell, even at my local kart track they tell you that doubles require you to slow enough to stop dead at a moments notice. Why the world motor sport council set these rules not enforced by the ‘pinicle of motorsport’ baffles me

    1. On what grounds should the race have been stopped earlier? We’ve seen races run in similarly bad conditions and worse. And at the time of Bianchi’s crash most drivers weren’t even on full wet weather tyres.

      1. Other circuits can deal with water torrents, notably newer ones with better drainage. Dunlop is notorious for the streams of water we saw. Now add the fact they knew a rather large tropical storm was upon them well in advance coupled with the fact that Pirelli have not been granted any real testing for their wet weather tyre. Also add the fact they knew the helicopter was not going to be available because of the storm. A lot of silly mistakes resulting in, well… we know what.

      2. petebaldwin (@)
        20th July 2015, 16:53

        Can you imagine the level of abuse that would have been given to Charlie Whiting if he’s called the race off because of rain? Because of what happened, everyone is going to say he made a bad call but without anyone getting injured, everyone would be saying he ruined the race etc.

        Similarly, everyone complains about tarmac runoffs but they are there for safety reasons. Everyone moans that the final corner at Mexico has been ruined but it was done for safety reasons… The list could go on and on. The point is, everyone complaints about safety measures because they make F1 less exciting but when something happens and someone gets hurt, the same people moan that more safety measures weren’t in place!

        We’re again stuck in the same dilemma because a big part of what makes F1 so exciting is the feeling of danger. Watching the cars at Monaco is exciting because of how close they get to the walls. If the walls were removed and they just used white lines to mark the track instead, would it be as exciting? No. Safer though….

        As the article says, it’s about learning the right lessons from this and for me, there is one clear lesson that still hasn’t been learnt and is vital for the future:

        Take action to remove potential dangers before they happen!

        How many times have we talked about open/closed cockpits? What happens when eventually (and it will) a car goes over another and a driver gets struck in the head? You know the answer – they’ll introduce closed cockpits!

      3. The full wets have been criticised as having a very narrow operating window, not helped by the safety car\red flag every time a track gets wet enough for them. Pirelli obviously needs to do more wet weather racing. Parc ferme after qualifying also makes it difficult to prepare for wet races. Fading light and an incoming typhoon would have been known well before the race began.

        Incidentally, Bridgestone’s US subsidiary Firestone have just announced a new wet weather compound.

    2. The thing is, maybe because we feel it will be like talking ill of the dead, that Bianchi looked like he was driving way too fast for a double yellow sector.

      Sadly, in another day, he could have got away with it and end in a better position because of the advantage he had gained, maybe he could have a crash and walk away like Sutil did, but sadly in this particular day “the perfect storm” happened and now we are morning the death of a young man, and that is very tragic.

  10. Just on a slight side note, but is it not worth considering that tarmac runoffs become extremely dangerous when wet? Had it not been for the gravel at the nurburgring in 2007, that car would have poleaxed the recovery vehicle. Granted grass is even worse in the rain, but surely adding more gravel at the edge of tarmac runoffs is something that should be considered?
    To bring it back to the Bianchi accident, i very much doubt adding (more) gravel would have made a significant difference, since the runoff area is limited on the outside of dunlop anyway; but the use of extensive tarmac runoffs needs to be reviewed as a “one fits all” type solution.

  11. As soon as there was a crash before Bianchis …the safety car should have been deployed and the race redflagged soon after when philipe masas was screaming in the radio.
    charlie whitting should take total responsibility for this incident instead the FIA tried to blame a dying man.

    1. Evil Homer (@)
      21st July 2015, 15:08

      That’s an unfair comment, Massa’s screaming on the radio does not influence Charlie or Herb’s decisions on the race- Lewis talks through his team radio directly to Charlie Whiting- he doesn’t listen to Lewis, he makes his own call! Drivers should not do that!

      FIA made their correct call with double yellows, WDC’s like Jenson and Lewis agreed after the race- the tractor should not be on track, lets look a Monaco cranes as a better procedure!!!!

  12. 1. Race control should be better informed and more aware of all conditions, situations and previous track issues and incidents than TV commentators. If the person in charge of race control cannot do the job then hire someone like Martin Brundle who was highly aware of the possibilities before anything went wrong. In fact he had been speaking about the possibility of such an incident at that location for years.

    2. Keep race cars on a live track and heavy equipment apart, no matter what. Especially on a wet track, but strange things can happen on a dry track as well. Plan accordingly. No heavy equipment on or near the track without safety car, virtual safety car, full course yellow/caution whatsoever.

    1. Above are two fairly clear and direct safety lessons that need to be learned from the death of Jules Bianchi. I can say a lot more, but if those two things were in practice that day then this incident might have never happened and Jules might still be alive today.

      It is truly shameful that the only person associated with F1 or FIA hierarchy that I have heard say the tractor should not have been there is Bernie Ecclestone. I rarely give Bernie credit for anything, but I will give him credit for this. At least he said it. Now, follow lesson 2. from above to make sure it never happens again.

      I’ve been a racing fan for about 50 years now following Indy cars, stock cars and Formula 1. I was 12 years old when Jim Clark was killed. It is still heartbreaking. Many others have also died doing what they love and with us watching what we love. Sir Jackie Stewart and others led the way to more and better safety in F1. There was much resistance to making racing safer for drivers, teams, officials and fans. In this day and age it is difficult to imagine races with fans standing near or on the live track. Or the flagman standing in the live track. Or pit crews with no safety gear or safety protocols or regulations. Or drivers without safe cars or proper helmets or driving cars without proper fuel cells. Or tracks without proper barriers, catch fences or… You get the picture, safety has come a long way.

      There is still more to do. If F1 Race Control is unaware of possible situations at each track then they need to become aware or quit and let someone else do the job. Race control and stewards have no problem handing out penalties after the fact of something happening on track in a race. How about stopping potential hazards and situations at each and every race before they happen. Not just a boring safety meeting before the race weekend, but a panel of experienced experts to analyze each race beforehand and make safety recommendations. Race control can be made aware of things they may be clueless about otherwise. First they have to open their minds and acknowledge they do not know everything. That is likely the most difficult part.

      Fans also play a role in safety. We demand close and exciting racing. This is understandable. It’s what everyone wants to see including the drivers. But, if it is at the expense of safety what is the fun in that? Pack racing has been an issue in IndyCar just recently as a result of the Fontana race and the horrific wrecks that took place. Thankfully nobody was seriously injured thanks in great part to the safety built into the race cars. Some of the drivers complained of the pack racing dangers pointing out what happened with Dan Wheldon paying the ultimate price in Las Vegas. Some “race fans” called them on it and told the drivers to “grow a pair”. Really? Are those people truly race fans? Not to me they aren’t. I think most true race fans want to see exciting racing without senseless preventable danger or lack of safety. As a fan of racing that is what I would like to see.

      Nobody with any sense doesn’t realize there are dangers in going really fast competing with other drivers doing the same. Safety is minimizing the risks involved. Let’s hope the future of F1 and racing in general is to make it more exciting and at the same time more safe, not more “dangerous”.

  13. Lots of talk of closed cockpits, but I presume for this accident at least it would have made no difference. The massive instant deceleration was the issue due to essentially the rear of the car getting caught up underneath the tractor and lifting it into the air.

    VSC when cranes or the suchlike are on track and some protection around the base of tractors (anything would at least help) is the solution here.

    A front roll hoop to protect from tyres at head height I’m also in favour of, but not because of this accident.

  14. The idea that it was extremely unlikely for two cars to go off at the same corner and end up more or less at the same spot seems totally nonsensical. Drivers lose control at a particular spot for good reason – combination of speed, track conditions and visibility or lack of at very speciific places. If traction is lost at the same point, the trajectory is also very likely to be similar. Brundle’s alertness to the potential danger is probably a good illustration of the fact this can be anticipated by anyone with experience. The main issues, I think, were the use of the crane track-side, which is immediately a huge hazard when placed precisely where another car has just run off, and Bianchi, very sadly, not backing off sufficiently. Hamilton, for example, had gone through very slowly, but Bianchi was still racing. Those factors are clearly the main reasons for the accident. The virtual SC addresses the second factor. As for the crane being track-side, that was a serious error in my view and should have been averted by the race director. (We also had the example in another race of a car being rescued in the middle of the track, a totally bizarre decision.)

  15. Great article Keith. DON’T want to be nitpicky, but Bianchi’s crash wasn’t ironic. Irony is when trying to prevent the prophecy from occurring ends up bringing it about (Oedipus Rex), or when stress-relieving candles are what burns your flat down (Family Guy). Bianchi would have had to have hit a statue on the side of the track at which Lucien lost his life for it to be ironic.

    Either way, sad time for F1 and its fans.

  16. I remember Martin Brundle being agitated by the unsafe deployment of the crane in Montreal before the marshal was killed as well. He is as qualified as anyone to raise the alarm. If this tragedy can teach us anything, it should be common sense: Speeds must be reduced in a crash zone so that no driver or marshal is placed in jeopardy due to stresses on their judgement. Hurrying is unsafe, period. I am not completely sold on the Indycar model, but at east they seem to err on the side of caution whenever there is a car stranded on the track (despite t.v. audiences schedules) That being said, I applaud most of the FIA’s safety directives. Of course there is room for improvement, and it will happen. If we are to live up to the promise of Jules Bianchi, then we will have to make better and safer racing a reality.

  17. Bianchi’s accident had a number of factors that were all favoured against him: decision for no safety car, JCB in exactly the wrong spot, Bianchi losing control, Bianchi’s car ending up in exactly the wrong attitude.. it was all very unfortunate, but I agree that it was an accident waiting to happen. In comparison to FIA’s other safety precautions, sending out a JCB onto the run-off area without sufficiently slowing the other cars down seems a bit odd (with the benefit of hindsight of course).

    The goal of a fatality-free Formula One may be an unreachable one, but it must always be the objective.

    I do not fully agree with that. Of course I wouldn’t choose to see a Formula 1 driver dying, but there are limits. The past few days a lot of people have been talking about “improving safety”, when actually they imply “enhancing safety”. The reason I point this out is because there are limits to how safe Formula 1 should be. I’m pretty sure a lot of people will turn off when 50km/h speed limits are mandatory all around the track – it’s boring as hell, but it’s much safer than the current formula. At what point is F1 safe enough? FIA thinks F1 is not safe enough, Raikkonen thinks F1 is too safe as it is. So what I’m trying to say is safety in Formula 1 is not necessarily something that can be ‘improved’, since it is not universally agreed whether enhancing safety is actually an improvement.

  18. There are lots of should’ve, could’ve, and would haves in hindsight. To me there is one major factor or mistake: the crane. The track designers spend a lot of effort in putting up the suitable barriers where needed around the track so in case an accident happens, the car hits a safe barrier just like Sutil did. Even that is not safe due to the immense speeds of the impact, the drivers can still really get hurt. Poor Bianchi had no barrier to hit, he hit a crane instead! That to me is unbelievable, shocking, and unacceptable. The track should be surrounded with ‘safe’ barriers at all times.

    Sadly even though the threat was always there and people like Martin Brundle spoke about it, no one knew this would happen. However, technically speaking yes, there should have been a safety car out there simply because a crane is in use.

    There were yellows which seemed to be enough for the rest of the drivers, but as Martin Brundle said accidents can still happen. Plus it was wet and slippery. The SC should’ve been out anyway because of the crane, and in these conditions even more so.

    We can only learn from this tragedy and move forward. It’s painful that we had to lose someone for us to know better. No one should lose their life following their dreams. No sports fan should see their idol die doing what they do best. I’ll leave you with a quote Bianchi said that gave me chills when I read it (the source is from twitter so I don’t know if it’s accurate):

    “If I don’t become a world champion, I’d be happy if I died trying.” – Jules Bianchi

  19. When people say F1 should be more dangerous we don’t mean we want crashes. There was nothing entertaining about this or any other potentially dangerous incident. Last year when Massa collided with Perez and when Hamilton’s brakes failed and he ploughed into the barriers I wasn’t entertained or excited. I had moments of dread thinking I may have just watched someone die.

    What we really want is drivers to be on the limit and a performance consequence for going over it.

    At the moment with the tarmac and astro runoffs stepping over the limit doesn’t penalise the driver enough, we want the danger of them losing position or ruining a lap not mortal danger.

  20. Michael Brown
    21st July 2015, 17:21

    How the safety car wasn’t called out after a driver crashed at one of the fastest parts of the track is completely unacceptable. And in adverse conditions no less!

    I haven’t supported closed cockpits when I first became a fan of F1 due to how it wouldn’t be F1, but then I wondered: what is F1? As far as I’m concerned, it’s the pinnacle of single seater racing. Sure, I’ll miss the open cockpits like I did with the LMP cars, but closed cockpits are just safer.
    Cleaning the windscreen in adverse conditions? That’s what windshield wipers are for.
    Driver getting trapped? Why do people think that closed cockpits are going to be like jet canopies? Why not install doors?

  21. One question comes to my mind out of all of this debate.
    Given exactly the same trajectory, at what speed would Jules have survived the crash?
    If the answer is that the crash was not survivable at anything other than a walking pace then its obvious that a safety car/red flag should have been used.
    Also the crash speed is reported as 78mph and I was just wondering how much slower than normal racing speed this was for that corner and those conditions.

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