After being beaten to pole position at Suzuka by Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton took a brilliant victory for Mercedes in difficult conditions. Hamilton’s pass around the outside of turn one on lap 28, and the huge gap he subsequently pulled out over his team-mate, should have been the big talking point in Japan, but sadly Jules Bianchi’s crash, which brought the race to a premature end, is dominating the headlines.
Before discussing that incident, I just want to pause on the performance of Hamilton for a while. As I said, he was beaten to pole and beaten by a reasonable margin – nearly two tenths of a second – by Rosberg, but he didn’t let that bother him in the race. After the Typhoon Phanfone weather system forced the race to start under the safety car, Hamilton had the measure of the treacherous conditions, relentlessly closing down Rosberg, particularly after the switch to intermediate tyres.
His passing manoeuvre on lap 28 was brilliant and clinical, with the Briton pouncing at the first opportunity and never looking back as he built a double-digit lead over Rosberg. The German was once again beaten by his team-mate in a wheel to wheel battle and that might be crucial in the battle for the championship.
Not that any of the drivers were thinking or talking about that after the race, though. The podium celebrations were understandably muted after Bianchi’s crash which wasn’t caught by TV cameras. It seems that the Marussia driver aquaplaned off the track at the top of the hill at Dunlop on lap 43, just one lap after Adrian Sutil in the Sauber had a very similar incident.
Sadly for Bianchi, a recovery vehicle was in the process of removing the stricken Sauber when the Frenchman had his accident. As a result Bianchi struck the recovery vehicle side on, ripping the roll-hoop from his car. Bianchi lost consciousness before being removed from the car and the circuit by ambulance. There was very little confirmed news for quite some time after the race, but we now know from an official FIA statement that the Marussia driver had a CT scan which revealed that he “suffered a severe head injury”. He subsequently underwent surgery at Mie General Hospital before being moved to intensive care.
Everyone’s thoughts and best wishes are with Bianchi, his family and the Marussia team. No-one should be pointing the finger or trying to apportion blame. What is crucial, however, is that Formula 1 learns from this nasty incident and makes steps to further improve safety, as they did after the tragic deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenburger at Imola in 1994. Obviously, having the roll-hoop completely ripped from the car is extremely serious, but the nature of the incident is not one that the roll-hoop was designed for. We’ve seen cars roll this season and in each case the roll-hoop has done exactly what it was designed to do and held up extremely well.
If any steps can be taken to further improve the design and strength of the roll-hoops, then of course those steps should be taken. For me, though, the key learning point must surely be that, in wet conditions, if there is a recovery vehicle on the track – and by that I mean on track, in the gravel traps or anywhere in front of crash barriers – then the safety car should be deployed.
Clearly, this might mean more safety cars in Formula 1. We certainly don’t want to get into a situation where every minor incident results in a safety car deployment, like we see in IndyCar, and that’s why I’d restrict safety car deployment in such situations to wet weather conditions. In the dry, double waved yellow flags – as we have seen already – is sufficient because visibility and track conditions are normal. In the wet, cars will often crash at the same parts of the track because of rivers of water running across the circuit and aquaplaning. Formula 1 should also look to limit the use of tractors to recover vehicles, wherever possible. Cranes must be the better option in such situations, although there will always be places where their use is just not possible.
F1 heads to Russia for the inaugural race in Sochi in a week’s time in a subdued mood. It’s at times like these that race victories and championship battles take a back seat. I hope to see a complete and speedy recovery for Bianchi. Let’s hope that we see him back on the Formula 1 grid soon, fighting fit and ready to race.