Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
It’s a long lonely vigil in the middle of the night, waiting to see the shape of the tragedy. 4:21 EDT and there is yet no word on the condition of Jules Bianchi, aside from the brief FIA statement that he was unconscious and sent to hospital.Sometime between lap 42 and 45 the Marussia of Jules Bianchi ran through the tyre barrier and into the side of the digger that Brundle himself barely missed in 1994.
The first clue was the emergence of the Safety Car on lap 44 followed by the Medical Car, odd given the fact that Sutil was out of the car and moving. It was Brundle himself who spotted the bodywork first; his voice hushed and in shock given his own narrow escape in eerily similar weather.
Having seen it before there is a cadence to the slow drip of news, the race red flagged and gradually information filtering through the paddock and Twitter, but the one answer everyone is desperate to hear is still far away and by no means guaranteed. Thus a race that was full of overtakes, championship implication and strategic considerations was brutally put into its proper perspective; the hushed demeanour of the waiting room and library voices of the commentators reinforcing the seriousness of the incident and frivolousness of the rest.
Hamilton got his overtake and win, Vettel scored a podium and up and down the field there were breathtaking passes in the wet with only Alonso missing out, as his car mysteriously shut down after the first race restart on lap 3.
AS the night deepens, questions continue to rebound and echo through the commentariat. Honda’s insistence on an afternoon race and the use and deployment of cranes and recovery vehicles on track as well as the FIA’s insistence that there was nothing to be done will all be in play in the days ahead.
Pouring bands of rain greeted the drivers as a sodden Suzuka soaked the fans. As is the case with tropical storms, bands of alternating heavy and light rain assaulted the tarmac, with the pitlane resembling a slip and slide and the riverboats plying their trade on the service road behind the grandstand. The parade went off without incident and as the repercussions of Vettel’s move continued to be debated throughout the twittersphere it was Vergne who added to the penalty phase of the season by opting for his 6th ICE after Max “the Kid” Verstappen blew up one of his last engines.
Despite what the drivers say in public, the prospect of spending several hours in an open cockpit in this weather can’t entirely be rainbows and unicorns. Full Wets were the order of the day during warm ups and the track was full as the formation lap approached. Hamilton was told to watch the rivers in the Esses and the buildup on telly was almost unnecessary as the weather itself provided the impending drama.
The installation laps provide the first hint as Perez was off twice, in the Esses and Spoon, that a Safety Car start was imminent. Hembery was on to spout the fact that the full Wets clear 65 litres a second and it’s during the interview of Chilton that official word filters through that it was to be a Safety Car start.
AS the cars prepared to launch the rain could be heard bouncing off the mics. Immediately Hamilton was on the radio asking the Safety Car to add speed as the cars trundled round hopelessly trying to get temps and tyres up to snuff. Vettel radioed in aquaplaning at 80 kph and Ericsson did all a favor by spinning off and convincing Whiting to temporarily pull the plug whilst Lewis told the team to let Nico know he had no visibility and to be careful with stops.
With the cars snaking into the pitlane, where after some discussion it was allowed they were supposed to be, discussion turned to whether or not points were on offer as technically the field made the third lap through the pit lane, but the red flag fell in the midst of lap 2. Thankfully, it was all fairly pointless as no sooner did the drivers begin poking around for some dry kit then they were told it was to be a race restart in 10 minutes as the rain had lessened.
The cars resumed lap 3 behind the safety car and as the race engineers began to do their best meteorologist impersonations Fernando Alonso pulled his Ferrari over and parked it with a suspected electrics failure that is certainly not at all related to his current contract status with Mattiacci. The rest of the field trundled on and Mercedes told Hamilton to ignore his brake sensors as they were not working properly but he seemed to be thinking that they were right. Rosberg, too, was having telemetry problems though not much was broadcast.
By lap 8 the drivers were getting increasingly antsy to kick it off and equally creative in the lines they were taking in order to keep their tyres wet. Fortunately the Safety Car was in and after bunching them up Rosberg led them away through Turn 1. Rather than chase round, Button made the call to pit for inters and as Vettel harried his teammate Button emerged serenely and began turning laps almost as fast as the Mercs up front. Kvyat passed Perez for 9th and by the 11th lap it was clear that Inters were the way forward.
Though the Mercs stayed out the best of the rest pitted though Vettel stayed out opting to keep track position for the moment. Bottas led Ricciardo out of the pits and into 9th and 10th trailing Button who had swiftly moved up to 8th with much of the rest of the field pitting out of his way. The following lap saw Massa and Vettel in – with the Williams just maintaining its edge over the Red Bull on exit. Rosberg was told that the Inters were slower, but that was likely ‘relative’ as he was pitted 2 laps later since it was becoming increasingly apparent that the Inter was the best tyre to be on. Vettel continued to harry Massa as Ricciardo trailed him with all three being within a second. Hamilton boxed lap 15 and his in lap was looking very good till a mistake in Spoon cost him all his hard work. He emerged 1.2 seconds behind Rosberg and set about chasing down his teammate, who was complaining on the radio of brutal oversteer.
The next lap saw Magnussen in as the Vettel-Massa-Ricciardo show continued. Finally, Vettel found a way past up the inside at the Hairpin as Ricciardo tried to follow him through at Spoon then up the inside at 130R and couldn’t quite pull it. As Seb disappeared up the road, Ricciardo was left to wrestle with the Williams. It didn’t take him long to figure it out as he took the outside into Dunlop and made it stick for good. The 18th lap saw the gap at the front starting to narrow as it appeared Hamilton’s car had the better balance in the wet. Vettel continued his assault by getting round Bottas, this time choosing the outside line through the hairpin. One lap later Ricciardo had caught up to Bottas and again he used the outside move going into Dunlop to take the spot away from the Finn.
Halfway to full points on lap 20 and the lead of Rosberg was down to a second and the running order of the top 5 was Rosberg, Hamilton, Button, Vettel, and Ricciardo – with Button’s strategic gamble having paid off spectacularly. Button continued to match Vettel’s pace as the Mercs were running slower than the midfield for once, gradually watching their cushion of time evaporate.
By lap 25 with DRS finally enabled the long slow duel between the Mercedes teammates to begin it’s culmination. AS Lewis pushed ever closer Rosberg was again on the radio complaining of oversteer and it looked as if his tyres were really starting to go. With the pass all but made, Lewis ran off at Turn 1 at the start of lap 27, victim of a self-inflicted wound, in this case a late DRS release that caused the car to snap violently when the slot closed. Fortunately for Hamilton fans he lost little time and when he next had Rosberg in his sights 2 laps later he executed a beautiful pass round the outside into Turn 1. Clear of his teammate he quickly took flight, but both cars were potentially in danger as their duel had allowed the cars directly behind them well within their pit window.
Vettel boxed the next lap as Lewis pulled the gap out to 3 seconds and Perez took 10th place handily off Gutierrez. By the end of lap 30 another second had been added to Hamilton’s lead and it was becoming clear the Nico would have to come in soon. Mercedes left him out and Lewis continued to add to his margin. Button did box, however and had a painful 7 second stop that saw him also receive a steering wheel change. With the way now clear Vettel began to push through clean air towards Rosberg and Lewis began to encounter serious traffic as he began to pick his way through the backmarkers
Mercifully Mercedes brought Rosberg in to cover Vettel on lap 33 with Magnussen violating the track limits pretty thoroughly at Turn 1, apparently a popular place for sightseeing. Hamilton had a brief chat and seemed happy with his tyres, but the strategists were getting concerned with the times and brought him in lap 35 as he caught up to Gutierrez, who also pitted. Back out he was behind Ricciardo, but still well ahead of Rosberg. Heavier rain was reported in the pit lane as Lewis began to carve his way through the backmarkers whilst closing in on Ricciardo. Magnussen, determined to have some fun despite an earlier mechanical issue punting his race, decided to unlap himself on the outside around Ricciardo, prompting the Colgate Kid to come in for some fresh tyres.
Heavier rain continued to fall and the circuit darkened. Lap 38 saw both Vergne and K-mag off into Turn 1 in replay and worsening conditions. Vettel followed up with an off-road experience of his own, collecting some gravel on the excursion. Ricciardo, having emerged behind Button, began to thoroughly chase him down. Lewis got a warning from the team about Turn 1 and to keep it in the black stuff as he had been turning fast laps. Meanwhile Ricciardo was throwing caution to the wind and had a serious go up the inside at the Hairpin on Button, who fought back and held him off. Not helping his cause, DRS was disabled the subsequent lap. Magnussen came in for full Wets and in the steadily worsening rain the stopwatches came out.
AND just like that it was Sutil into the barrier and Button, trying to get away with it again, having snuck into the pits for a set of full Wets while everyone circled under yellows. Back into 5th he was set for the end of the race. Kvyat passed Raikkonen and then that was it; the Safety Car was out with the Medical Car. Consternation was immediately apparent in the voices of the commentators, as Brundle had gone off in the wet and very nearly been taken out by a digger used to recover cars. He then spotted the Marussia of Bianchi that had spun off and struck the recovery vehicle being used to extract Sutil’s Sauber from the barrier. The rest unfolded quickly. Whiting red-flagged the race as the cars sat parked in the pit lane and Lewis was declared winner, followed by Rosberg and Vettel on count back. Not that anyone cared so much.
AS the moments stretched an eerie and awkward podium took place, perhaps most jarring the music played at the end of the ceremony, entirely out of place. The drivers took their ceremonial swigs and wandered off subdued as the world that watched became ever more anxious. Bits and pieces emerged, no helicopter, ambulance. Voices dropped to hushed tones and as the sun came up on the East Coast there is still no definitive word, aside from the fact that Bianchi was removed unconscious, from the car and sent to hospital. The long vigil continues for his family, friends and fans, and as the rest of the world starts to roll on, still they wait for that one word.
Next updates may be several hours and will come from the Hospital following the conclusion of the current medical procedures being undertaken.