SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) – The crash that left French Formula One driver Jules Bianchi in a critical condition with severe head injuries was down to bad luck rather than poor judgement by Japanese Grand Prix race officials, a track spokesman said on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old Marussia driver suffered the life-threatening injury on Sunday when he aquaplaned off a wet track and slammed into the back of a recovery tractor that had been deployed to remove Adrian Sutil’s crashed Sauber.
“Officials raised ‘double yellow flags’ after the accident by Sutil, which means drivers had to slow down to the speed that they can immediately stop, but unfortunately Bianchi’s car aquaplaned right at the time and ran into the accident site, which was bad luck,” Suzuka Circuit spokesman Masamichi Miyazaki said.
“Admittedly, rain was coming and the road was wet, but not heavy enough to halt the race, and I believe the race officials made the same judgement.”
The sport’s governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) said that president Jean Todt has asked FIA race director Charlie Whiting to carry out a detailed report into the precise circumstances of the accident.
The crash brought a premature end to Sunday’s race, with winner Lewis Hamilton and the rest of the paddock turning their attention to the likeable Frenchman, a graduate of Ferrari’s young driver academy.
The Marussia team acknowledged a “huge outpouring of support and affection for Jules and the team at this very difficult time” on Monday and on Tuesday the FIA said he was in a “critical but stable condition” at the Mie Prefectural General Medical Centre in Yokkaichi.
Former Formula One driver Martin Brundle, now a commentator in Britain, was one of many people involved in the sport who questioned the safety procedures used.
He recalled his own near miss with a crane when racing 20 years ago and queried the need for them to be so close to the track.
“I nearly lost my life against one of them, I just missed it and hit a marshal. I closed my eyes and I thought that was the end,” he was quoted as saying by British media.
“The tractors are just too high and you are sitting down low. I’ve been saying this for a long time.
“You are going into the barrier if you go off there. There’s no way of recovering, you are going too fast.”
Bianchi’s accident was the most serious involving a driver at a grand prix weekend since Brazilian Felipe Massa suffered near-fatal head injuries in Hungary in 2009 after being hit on the helmet by a bouncing spring shed from a car in front.
Massa made a full recovery and was racing for Williams on Sunday.
Despite that, Formula One remains proud of its improved safety record and constantly strives to make cars safer, but acknowledges the sport will always be dangerous.
“We have done so much for safety,” Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as saying by British newspaper The Times.
“These days, you see an accident on the track and the driver undoes his safety belt, flips off his steering wheel and jumps out unharmed.
“I’ve always said that if I was going to have an accident, it would be in a Formula One car because they are the safest in the world.
“But things happen and we have to find out the cause. It’s difficult for me to say what happened and it will be for an inquiry to find out exactly what did go on.
“This happened to a young man who is very close to us all and that has caused a terrible shock for everyone. Our thoughts are with him and his family.”