Lessons F1 must learn
Formula 1 bosses are determined to keep working to reduce the sport’s dangers in the wake of the death of Jules Bianchi, while accepting that it can never be completely safe.
A series of changes have been introduced following Bianchi’s accident during last October’s Japanese Grand Prix, in which he suffered severe head injuries when he collided with a tractor vehicle that was recovering another car. Bianchi died in hospital in Nice on 17 July, having never regained consciousness following the crash. BALANCING SAFETY WITH SPEED The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association issued a statement saying: “It is at times like this that we are brutally reminded of how dangerous racing still remains. Despite considerable improvements, we, the grand prix drivers, owe it to the racing community, to the lost ones and to Jules, his family and friends, to never relent in improving safety.”
F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone, meanwhile, vowed that: “We must not let this ever happen again.”
However, there is a widespread acceptance throughout F1 that some level of risk is an inherent part of the sport’s appeal, both to its audience and its participants.
Leading figures within the sport plan to make the cars five or six seconds a lap faster in 2017, which can be done without compromising safety. This is because it would merely bring the cars back to the speeds at which they were running ten or so years ago, when safety measures were less advanced than they are now.
F1 race director Charlie Whiting used the crash between Force India’s Sergio Pérez and Williams’s Felipe Massa in last year’s Canadian Grand Prix to illustrate these contradictions when speaking at the FIA Sport Conference in Mexico in the week before Bianchi’s death.
Whiting said: “Entering the last lap they had a big accident, tyre barriers went everywhere and the cars were very badly damaged, but the drivers emerged unscathed and I think that’s what everyone comes to see.
“We need to make sure there is that element of danger but that no one gets hurt; that’s really our function.” SAFETY STEPS TAKEN Several steps to increase safety have already been taken following Bianchi’s accident. The cockpit area of the cars has been strengthened with the addition of strips of a composite material called Zylon, and, to avoid the risk of cars hitting heavy recovery vehicles, the Virtual Safety Car system (VSC) was introduced.
Officials have decided that the VSC is the best compromise for situations such as the Bianchi accident, where a car has gone off but can be recovered relatively quickly. The other option