Whilst the life of the young and talented Jules Bianchi is hanging in the balance, there was a press briefing held in Sochi today. It was a weighty affair because the often invisible president of the FIA was in attendance. Others as part of the delegation included, Charlie Whiting, Jean-Charles Piette CMO & Dr Ian Roberts Medical Rescue Co-ordinator.
A screen had been set up and the tension was palpable amongst the assembled accredited F1 press. What were they going to be shown?
Well, the FIA apparently has no footage of its own of the incident, however, circuit CCTV cameras saved the day. Without much a do, the tragic visuals were on display.
Within no time at all, Charlie Whiting addressed the ‘leaked’ matter of Bianchi’s speed immediately prior to the accident.
“There were some that didn’t slow down much; there were some that slowed down a lot,” he said. “I don’t think we need to go into details about how much he slowed down relative to others, suffice to say we do have that data”.
Whiting did add in a coded fashion, “He did slow down, but it’s a matter of degree.”
There we have it, the implication that Jules was not playing strictly by the rules.
Without much a do, Charlie moves swiftly on to his big conclusion.“One of the most important things to learn here is that it is probably better to take the decision to slow down away from the drivers,” These may prove to be weasel words, but we’ll get to that later.
Regarding the post crash treatment of Jules Bianchi, the assembled troops were informed that the plan for such an incident was enacted within all the protocols set out by the FIA. The helicopter was not used due to landing difficulties at the hospital. The road ambulance took 7 minutes longer than had the helicopter been used.
Given the nature of Jules current plight, much of the damage to his brain would have been from secondary reactions following the impact, which may occur up to many hours following the initial trauma [editors note].
When asked whether there was a delay in race control knowing of Jules accident, Whiting replied, “It took an extra 20 or so seconds. THEY didn’t realise what had happened.”
Presumably Charlie is no longer part of this body.
Charlie Whiting confirmed that Jules Bianchi’s crash had not been seen live by race control, who were notified of the incident by a report from marshal post 12.
Apparently the images from the camera we saw in the fan video in the foreground were not relaying conclusive pictures for those viewing them back at race control so they couldn’t fully appreciate what had happened.
Further, the device on the Marussia which sends a signal when there is a high G-Force impact, was damaged by the crash and did not transmit as normal.
At present, there is no evidence at from Marussia or anywhere else that there was a mechanical failure on the car.
Interestingly, Charlie Whiting claimed that had there been no tractor there, Bianchi’s crash with the barrier would have been similar to one in Barcelona 2008. “Looking at the first estimates of the speed of the car, I would say it would have been – with three row tyre barrier and guard rail – very similar to Heikki Kovalainen’s accident in Barcelona. But that is a very rough estimate.”
Whiting did admit, that race control had no way of monitoring the progress of the tractor visually once it had been dispatched. He also asserted that “the race-start time is entirely unconnected to the incidents in question.” The implication is clear, he does not regard the failing light as a contributory factor.
Ideas such as the use of pit lane speed restriction technology, tractors with skirts and canopies were all presented as options to be investigated further in collaboration with the drivers and teams, though Whiting yet again casts aspersions on the Formula One participants trustworthiness to act in a safe manner.
“One thing that would worry me slightly is the fact that you can see how engineers and drivers push the limit for the pit lane speed limit,” a concerned Whiting confessed.
And we concluded the 75 minute gathering with the President of the FIA, being very presidential stating, “I fully trust the people around me,” and that “this can never happen again”.
Adam Cooper commented on twitter, “Full marks to the FIA, Charlie Whiting and Jean Todt for giving us a 75-minute Q&A session on Suzuka”.
Zero marks for those who are FIA press accredited; follow the sport around the world reporting it for the fans, for not asking the right questions.
Byron Young of the Daily Mirror tweeted after the event, “Charlie Whiting media briefing lasted over an hour. Very comprehensive and defused tension building among media needing more information.”
Will Buxton added, “The members of the panel spoke with authority and clarity. And, perhaps most importantly of all, Jean Todt stepped up as President. Never have I sat through a press conference like that. Incredible respect from all there. No blame, no pointed fingers as many had feared”.
Indeed Will. If you ask someone accused of negligence to collect the evidence, analyse it and prosecute the hearing – that’s the result you get.
It appears our erstwhile F1 press pack have not joined up the dots. Questions raised by fans since Germany remain unanswered about the enforcement of double waved yellow flags as legislated by the Sporting Code.
Neither have the men in pork pie hats remembered or understood, that a Whiting directive as reported by Autosport in March had neutered this regulation, demanding that drivers merely slow 0.2 seconds for a yellow and 0.5 seconds for a double waved yellow flag.
@SomersF1 commented here yesterday. “What is clear is that Charlie’s FIA directive about double yellow waved flags could make the F1 stewards culpable for any mistake made under those conditions. The sporting code (appendix H) has this to say about double waved yellows:
Double waved: Reduce your speed significantly, do not overtake, and be prepared to change direction or stop. There is a hazard wholly or partly blocking the track and/or marshals working on or beside the track.
This is the unilateral FIA mandate for double waved yellow marshaling. The directive issued by Charlie undermines this and raises Formula One’s status beyond that of all of series (Bear in mind that the appendix already has several caveat statements within it that deal with F1, WEC & WTCC) calls into question whether the stewards have the right to make that change without a change to the sporting code / unanimous agreement from the WMSC”.
It could be argued this Whiting directive was actually an interpretation of the Sporting Code, but in fact this was a revision of substantive proportions which Charlie Whiting does not have the authority to enact.
To argue Whiting intended the drivers to still live by the spirit of the Sporting Code yellow flag regulations and that this direction was merely an indication of where the line would be drawn so that transgressions could be penalised, is tenuous to say the least.
Nobody is looking for the proverbial scapegoat for the sake of having someone to blame. Yet the FIA is responsible for safety in Formula One and the only indication we have from Whiting today that anyone may have been culpable is that drivers were speeding, and teams consistently attempt to push his regulations to the limit.
Hypocrisy. A 0.5 second time reduction over a safety section of around 300 metres, would result in a car reducing its speed to around 80% of the maximum.
Bianchi and others following the Sutil accident were travelling at over 210 Kph, and Whiting admits they had lifted off. Bianchi in those difficult conditions over the entire lap, had been averaging 50 metres per second, so a 0.5 second reduction in times through the affected sector would have resulted in ‘legal’ speeds of around 176 Kph.
Of course we must now believe, this directive from Charlie was appropriate and would have prevented Bianchi losing control of the car.
Better Whiting and the FIA had been enforcing for the season, double waved yellows means “Slow down…and be prepared to stop”, but they haven’t.
Cynics may observe, that most of the journalists have reported tortuous journeys to Sochi, via several countries and flights, and may well not have yet have had time to research matters properly or even be aware of certain information provided to the world outside the F1 circus. If so, this much lauded ‘speedy’ briefing and Q&A, may also have been an opportunistic move by the FIA.
The seeds have now been sown. Drivers were speeding. Jules is critically ill.
TJ13 has evidence it will publish soon which demonstrates that the data systems used by race control to flag the circuit, were not in synch with the actual marshaling flags being shown on the circuit. Whether this was due to misunderstandings during the marshal briefing due to linguistic problems, we can but speculate.
However, this raises another issue ignored today; a matter TJ13 has been campaigning on since our inception – the need for professional travelling marshals.
Of course we have the promised investigation from Todt, though if the right questions aren’t asked, the correct conclusions will not be reached.
If that is the case, once again, Formula 1 will draw the circle close, nobody wants a fuss – let’s all just learn from this – at Jules Bianchi’s expense.
The questions which must be addressed is is, have proper procedural regulatory changes been adhered to regarding changes to the sporting code and double waved yellow flags?
If not, why have the yellow flag regulations not been enforced properly by the regulatory body of the sport, Charlie Whiting and the stewards?
And this writer knows that had voices of concern been listened to earlier this year, Jules Bianchi – given Charlie’s example – may be now in a similar vein of health as was Heikki Kovalainen, 5 days after his brush with the barrier in Catalunya.
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