Jules’ accident and the psychology of F1

On lap 43 of yesterday’s Japanese Grand Prix Jules Bianchi’s Marussia aquaplaned and left the track. He hit a recovery vehicle which had been deployed to retrieve Adrian Sutil’s stranded Sauber after the German had had a similar accident moments earlier, in which he hit the tyre barrier. Bianchi was less fortunate. Judging by pictures released yesterday evening, he appears to have struck the rear of the yellow movable crane, part of which made contact with his helmet. As a result he is now in hospital undergoing neurosurgery.

As other drivers have noted, Bianchi’s predicament supersedes all other considerations. All at this website and many thousands around the world wish him a speedy and successful recuperation. However, there are remarkable tendencies that were shown in the immediate aftermath of Jules’ crash that deserve some notice.

Firstly, the shock was palpable and the atmosphere, even on television, visibly and amongst all personnel, changed drastically to one of horror. This is natural, one would argue, and right. But it is nevertheless curious to note exactly how surprised some people are, in a sport that is at its heart tremendously dangerous. Niki Lauda said as much.

This has a consequence and one that is seldom remarked upon. Some in F1 seem to have forgotten that piloting a piece of carbon fibre and rubber around a racetrack at speeds of up to 230mph carries inherent and considerable risk. It has been said before but has been mercifully out of the frame of late – that if something enters a driver’s cockpit the consequences will be grave. Sadly, with Bianchi, this has transpired. The sport needs to look at itself and decide if it wants to cover the cockpits. If it doesn’t, it has to accept that such accidents may on occasion come to pass. Is the serious injury or even death of a driver worth it?

Another element of this is the ‘perfect storm’ scenario. Although some respected figures have noted the danger at the turn where both Sutil and Bianchi went off, the reality is that drivers could have gone off at any point on the treacherous track in the latter stages of yesterday’s race. The fact that Jules went off near where Sutil did, and the resulting contact with the rear of the movable crane, was awful and horrific, but nevertheless extremely bad luck. Martin Brundle’s similar accident, which has been quoted in support of the ‘dangerous corner’ argument, could have been worse, but wasn’t. It remains very unlikely that a car will go off at the same corner, and still less so that it will strike a foreign object on track.

The psychology of the sport is fragile at the moment, but there is no reason to lose rationality.

Seismic day for F1 leaves winners and losers

“I just finished qualifying, I don’t know if you noticed,” deadpanned Fernando Alonso as he faced press questions immediately after the session today for tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix. The truth is no one had noticed. The news was immense, earth-shattering – that Sebastian Vettel will leave Red Bull Racing for Ferrari next season, with Alonso presumably the man to vacate the seat at the Scuderia. Daniil Kvyat is in for Vettel at Red Bull, while Alonso is either destined for McLaren Honda or a sabbatical.

There was little else to talk about, even as Nico Rosberg produced a near-flawless lap to take pole and the psychological edge on his rival Lewis Hamilton going into tomorrow’s race. Vettel’s move was similarly a smart one. Unexpected this year at least, in announcing it this morning, he has decisively put one over on his 2015 rivals and is a winner from today’s driver market machinations.

The other people to come out of this smelling of roses are Red Bull, who got not only to say a swift and financially painless goodbye to a man they couldn’t sack but was beginning to look like he wasn’t cutting the mustard, but also to announce Ferrari’s driver line-up before the Italian marque could. (Rather unbelievably, as forumula1.com goes to press, Maranello are still yet to put out a press release). Daniil Kvyat will also be grinning from ear to ear tonight, sitting as he is on the fast train.

But there are also some who have lost out. As noted Ferrari have been caught napping. Their man Alonso, who has fallen out of love with his dream team, now looks like a ditherer with only two credible options, neither optimal. A sabbatical could see him irrelevant in 2016, such is the pace of change, and McLaren Honda are extremely unlikely to be the finished article in their first year of re-collaboration. Jenson Button will no longer be required at McLaren if Alonso parachutes in. Finally, Jean-Eric Vergne is rather ludicrously being elbowed out of the Toro Rosso equation as the son of a rally driver and a two-year-old nab the seats. If STR can find the booster seats, that is.

Amongst all this, there will be a race tomorrow which will be the next instalment in a thrilling, tight championship battle. As long as the typhoon doesn’t hit that is. We have been hit by a storm already this weekend in Suzuka!