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F1: Bianchi's Accident Raises Questions

The accident which has left Jules Bianchi in a Japanese hospital in a critical condition has shocked a sport that had begun to forget how vulnerable its protagonists are. With care and time we hope that the amiable Frenchman is able to resume normal life, although for much of last night we were hoping for the best whilst fearing the worst. The accident was one of those things that just doesn't seem possible, however the sight of the Marussia wedged under the recovery tractor speaks of a violent impact.

By necessity there will be an investigation into the various events that led to the driver's injuries, but as always with these things, a chain of unrelated yet complementary events came together to place Bianchi at the wrong time and the wrong place.

The biggest question has to be, why was the removal vehicle outside of the safety barrier on a live track, on a wet day in rapidly fading daylight? I, like many others I'm sure, thought 'Safety Car' as soon as Sutil's Sauber had speared off the track. When the safety car was deployed it seemed like a late decision, particularly as we had seen the Sauber on the crane and apparently on its way to a position of safety. It was only after the race had been stopped did we learn that Bianchi's car had crashed into the track vehicle which had been recovering Sutil's car.

The incident was being covered under double waved yellows, however by backing off for the incident Bianchi may well have made it easier for the car to aquaplane off the circuit. At lower speed the cars generate less downforce, which means the contact patch between tyres and track were more likely to be defeated. With the amount of water running across the track Bianchi may well have slowed enough to cause the car to aquaplane, but not enough to have any hope of retrieving the situation. Evidence from Sutil's accident suggests that both drivers would have been passengers - the Sauber was already going backwards when it arrived at Dunlop corner, scene of the accident.

Like Senna's accident twenty years ago, there was a precedent which if read rightly could have prevented this tragedy. In 1994, at almost the same point on a wet Suzuka circuit, Martin Brundle's Mclaren crashed into a group of marshalls recovering Gianni Morbidelli's Footwork. The Mclaren narrowly missed the recovery vehicle and ploughed into the marshalls seriously injuring one. Bianchi's accident was almost carbon copy.

F1 will pick itself up and race on at Sochi next weekend - it always has done - and whilst there is no sense in throwing around blame, in hindsight I suspect race director Charlie Whiting will agree that a safety car should have been deployed.

A long time ago - 1984 in fact - after being mauled for stopping the wet Monaco Grand Prix too early and depriving a young Ayrton Senna of an unlikely victory, clerk of the course Jacky Ickx was noted as commenting that he 'would rather have stopped the race one lap too early, than one lap too late'. Sentiments that feel entirely appropriate today.


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