F1: Bianchi Accident Report Rejects Closed Cockpits

The panel setup by the FIA to investigate the accident which befell Jules Bianchi at the Japanese Grand Prix, has made its report to the World Motor Sports Council, and manages to make sensible recommendations without resorting to the kind of knee-jerk responses which proliferate the modern world.

On the cause of the accident, the panel found that Bianchi had not slowed sufficiently on approaching the double waved yellow flag zone covering the recovery of Adrian Sutil's Sauber. Also, an incompatibility between the Marussia's brake-by-wire system and the engine management system prevented the engine shutdown which should have been activated when Bianchi hit both the brakes and throttle as he left the track. A combination of this, locked wheels and wet surface meant that the Marussia hit the crane at a speed of 126kph - around 78mph.

The panel found that Bianchi's brain injury was caused by a massive deceleration caused by the impact between helmet and crane, added to an angular acceleration caused by the sloping underside of the recovery vehicle. The panel found that neither closed cockpits nor skirts on the recovery vehicle would have mitigated Bianchi's injuries and noted that there was insufficient deforming structure on an F1 car to resist this kind of accident without causing a failure of the survival cell or causing a 'non-survivable' deceleration.

Presented with the facts it appears that once the set of circumstances had placed Bianchi, Sutil and the recovery crane in their respective positions there was nothing that could have prevented Bianchi's injuries.

But what about preventing the situation from occurring. As ever, with hindsight, it's easy to suggest what might have been changed. Most people, myself included, were shocked that a safety car wasn't deployed when the crane was sent to recover Sutil's car. The panel notes that the decision not to do so was consistent with the rules and the 384 previous incidents. It fails to note, however, that Bianchi's incident was a near replica of Martin Brundle's in 1994 - with the Englishman just missing the crane and crashing into a group of marshals in near identical conditions. Knowledge of that incident should have informed a decision to deploy the safety car.

The late start of the race was a factor too - in the descending gloom it's unclear how much visibility Bianchi had approaching the incident. The panel suggested a new rule preventing a race starting within four hours of sunset (unless it's a floodlit dusk or night race).

Finally there was the failure of the fail-safe system, which instead of killing the engine may have actually contributed to the high speed of the impact. The FIA should ensure that these technical safety measures aren't being rendered useless by the interaction between systems on these highly complex cars.


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