By David G. Firestone
A few weeks ago, I called out the NHRA for having the Carolina Nationals when the track conditions were unsafe. This week, I’m going to call out Formula 1 and the Suzuka Circut promoters for the same thing. What happened on Sunday was beyond unacceptable, and I’m demanding answers.
To recap what happened, at the time of the start of the race, 3 PM local time, the track was drenched by the very northern part of Typhoon Phanfone, a category 1 storm. It was expected that the storm would miss Suzuka, and so the event was allowed to start, but it quickly became clear that the weather was going to be an issue. The race started under the safety car, ran for 3 laps, and was then red flagged due to weather. After a brief red flag period, the race resumed, again under the safety car for the first 9 laps. The race then went back green, and it seemed that it would go the distance. It should be noted that many teams were focusing on lap 40, or 3/4 of the scheduled distance, since at that point the race would be official. Even NBC mentioned the race to lap 40 on several occasions. Visibility was a serious issue, due to the spray coming off the cars, and there was reduced grip, even with the rain tires on.
Lap 40 came and went, but on lap 42, Adrian Sutil in the #98 Sauber-Ferrari hydroplaned off the track. He could not get his car back on the track and a local yellow flag was shown to drivers to warn them of the situation. A tractor was called to the scene to help remove the crippled car. As this is unfolding, Jules Bianchi lost control of his car on lap 43, and slammed into the tractor. It quickly became clear that he was seriously injured. The safety car was deployed, and the race was red flagged on lap 44. The drivers were very concerned with his condition, and the victory lane celebration was subdued, to say the least. As of this writing, Jules Bianci is in critical condition, but he is breathing on his own.
What I want to know is how a sport that is as safety-focused as Formula 1 is could allow a race to be run in such obviously unsafe conditions. Why is Jules Bianci fighting for his life after a situation that could have been easily avoided? The race should have canceled. The promoters would have had to deal with upset fans, but that would have been a small price to pay compared to what played out.
Formula 1 is very concerned about safety. Their fan base is quick to correctly point out that F1 has not had a driver death on track since 1994. I’m giving credit where credit is due, F1 is very good with safety, but today they dropped the ball, and a talented young driver is fighting for his life, and may never race again. I ask again, why wasn’t the race canceled? Racing is a sport where safety can mean the difference between life and death. For this event to have been held in these conditions is beyond unacceptable!
I’ve been following racing for 24 years, I’ve seen too many talented drivers killed in racing for me to be quiet about this! Safety should always take precedent in auto racing. I’m calling out Charlie Whiting, Bernie Ecclestone, Herbie Blash, anyone directly under them and the promoters of Suzuka Circut in Japan. What happend today is beyond unacceptable, and I want explanations for why the race was allowed to run in these conditons! Why did this have to happen when it could have been easily avoided? Who made the decision to run the race in very unsafe conditions? After today, I really don’t care if Charlie Whiting gets sacked. In fact I would like someone involved to get sacked because the ball was dropped.
Jules Bianci is in my thoughts and prayers, as is his family, and I ask the same of my readers. I really hope this story has a happy ending, and I know you do too. I really hope I don’t have to call out another sanctioning body for something like this, but if it happens I will.