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.

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