A bit­ter loss, so keenly felt

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

For­mula 1 ar­rived in Bu­dapest teary-eyed, emo­tional, raw. The week be­fore the race, many driv­ers and other mem­bers of the F1 fra­ter­nity had at­tended the fu­neral of Jules Bianchi in Nice. Sev­eral acted as pall-bear­ers. And if the solemn scenes on the Côte d’Azur were not on the scale of mass public lamen­ta­tion wit­nessed af­ter the death of Ayr­ton Senna, the sport’s last rac­ing-re­lated driver fatality in 1994, still there was a sharp pang of loss within the F1 com­mu­nity at Jules’ pass­ing.

See­ing pic­tures of Bianchi’s grief-stricken fa­ther, Philippe, fi­nally hav­ing to ac­knowl­edge the loss of a beloved son af­ter nine months of hop­ing he might mirac­u­lously emerge from his coma, was a re­minder of the ter­ri­ble price motorsport can ex­act on those un­lucky enough to ex­pe­ri­ence its dark­est side.

Thank­fully, those days are far more in­fre­quent now and im­me­di­ate changes to some of F1’s race pro­ce­dures in the wake of Bianchi’s ac­ci­dent at last year’s Ja­panese Grand Prix, such as the in­tro­duc­tion of the Vir­tual Safety Car, have helped make it still less haz­ardous. But the risk of death, to put it bluntly, en­dures, and that el­e­men­tal fear fac­tor re­mains one of the mag­netic draws of mo­tor rac­ing for those bold enough to par­tic­i­pate.

This doesn’t mean that F1 driv­ers (or any oth­ers rac­ing in myr­iad cat­e­gories world­wide) are cava­lier thrill-seek­ers, care­less of their lives, ig­no­rant of their mor­tal­ity. To a man, they welcome safety im­prove­ments such as the hel­met vi­sor strip in­tro­duced fol­low­ing Felipe Massa’s freak ac­ci­dent at the Hun­garor­ing in 2009; or cir­cuit mod­i­fi­ca­tions such as those made to the heav­ily re­vised Mex­i­can GP track (see page 66), that min­imise the chances of an ac­ci­dent ever hap­pen­ing.

At the very same mo­ment, how­ever, ev­ery rac­ing driver on earth feels a sense of height­ened ex­is­tence from guid­ing a fast ma­chine to its limit: all will tell you, it’s a thrill like no other. Test pilots, BASE jumpers, big-wave riders, freeclimbers… they’re all ad­dicted to the adren­a­line rush of per­form­ing at the very edge of pos­si­bil­ity. Gilles Vil­leneuve would talk about “squeez­ing the fear” when he raced, in a much more per­ilous F1 era; James Hunt would rou­tinely vomit from nerves be­fore a grand prix start. And while the sport’s im­me­di­ate dan­gers are less ap­par­ent now, that as­pect of tak­ing on an epic chal­lenge, look­ing it in the eye and star­ing it down, hasn’t changed. It’s what For­mula 1 is.

Ro­main Gros­jean spoke elo­quently on this topic at the pre-Hun­gar­ian GP Thurs­day: “It’s in our na­ture to take risks,” he said, “and when you drive, es­pe­cially a For­mula 1 car go­ing so quickly around a cor­ner, you need to be 100 per cent in the car and not think­ing about what could hap­pen if… It’s a dan­ger­ous sport and [Jules’ death] was a hard way to re­mem­ber that. But when the hel­met is on and the vi­sor is closed, it’s rac­ing 100 per cent. That’s what we have al­ways done and it’s what rac­ing driv­ers will al­ways do.”

Any com­fort, then, such as it may be of­fered, is this: Bianchi died chas­ing his dream; do­ing what he loved.

THE TEAM

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