LONDON (Reuters) – Formula One fans are used to seeing drivers walk away from terrifying accidents but sometimes, in a sport that will always be dangerous however much is done to try and reduce the risks, a hole appears in the safety net.
Jules Bianchi’s accident at Suzuka on Sunday, which left the Frenchman fighting for his life with severe head injuries, has inevitably raised questions about what went wrong and what, if anything, might have been done differently.
Some are already asking why the Japanese Grand Prix organisers did not move the race forward when it was clear an approaching typhoon would make conditions difficult, or stop it with the fading of the light.
Others have wondered whether the sport can continue as an open cockpit formula, leaving drivers’ heads so exposed to danger.
The use of lumbering recovery vehicles, of the kind that Bianchi crashed into, in exposed runoff areas may also have to be reviewed.
The sport is praying that Bianchi pulls through, as Brazilian Felipe Massa did in Hungary in 2009 when he was hit on the helmet by a bouncing spring shed from another car, and that remains the prime concern.
But when things go wrong there are issues that have to be addressed and the answers may not be easy.
Despite constant efforts to limit dangers, with Formula One now having gone 20 years since the last driver fatality during a race, the possibility of a freak accident or tragic combination of circumstances is ever-present.
Max Mosley, the former International Automobile Federation (FIA) president who was instrumental in pushing through safety improvements following the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, felt what happened at Suzuka fell into that ‘freak’ category.
“I can’t really fault any of the people involved. The marshals or the race director or any of those people. I think everything was done as it should have been,” he told Sky Sports News television.
“For anybody to get hurt in modern Formula One, several things have to go wrong at once – a little bit like the aviation industry,” he added.
The FIA said in a statement on Sunday night at Suzuka that the marshals had displayed double waved yellow flags before the corner where Bianchi went off to warn drivers of an earlier incident involving Sauber’s Adrian Sutil.
Double waved yellows are a signal to a driver to slow right down and be prepared to stop.
Whether Bianchi saw those flags in the rain and poor visibility remains an open question, but the facts are that he lost control with the car crossing the runoff area and hitting the rear of the recovery vehicle as it was lifting the Sauber.