The FIA has for some years had a flagship policy of improving safety in Motorsport. Formula One fans will recognise the impact from a number of changes – including the large tarmac runoff areas that have replaced gravel.
A database has been devised to collect the data from some 200 accidents, where the specifics of each crash are recorded and compared with others in an effort to learn lessons.
The results of the investigation into Jules Bianchi’s accident are now coming to light and many specifics which have previously remained unreported are now in the public domain.
Jules lost control of his car at 213kph and collided with the vehicle recovering Adrian Sutil’s car just 2.61 seconds later. The speed on impact was 126 kph.
Of course it was not speed that killed Jules Bianchi, or even the G Forces suffered by the car on impact, which were measured around 60G. It was the force at which Jules Helmet was deflected by the underside of the vehicle, now revealed to be 248G.
Peter Wright, head of the security commission explains to AMuS, “This scenario could not previously have been imagined. That’s why it was very important to really investigate this accident to the smallest detail. We have never invested so much time and effort in an analysis.”
“You can not eliminate all risks… If the whole race is run behind a safety car, Bianchi would not have been hurt. We need to find an acceptable risk thus why it went in the Bianchi-investigation. Was the risk acceptable?”
Wright admits that the possibility of a car colliding with the marshals or their equipment is not acceptable.
Yet this is what happened. The tools available to race director Charlie Whiting to ensure this did not happen was the use of a safety car or double waved yellow flags. The latter is an instruction to the drivers to ‘slow down, be prepared to change direction and even stop’.
The section of the track where Sutil had crashed was in fact under a double waved yellow caution.
However for years, the FIA race delegates have failed to ensure that double yellow waved flags are observed to the standard required by the World Motor Sport Council. A few races earlier, the final corner in the German GP was under double waved yellows, yet the cars were travelling unpunished for lap after lap at speeds in excess of 240Kmh.
Researcher Andy Mellor for the investigation explains, this is why the FIA and race director Charlie Whiting have devised the third tool in the safety armoury – the virtual safety car. This apparently according to Mellor has reduced the risk of such an event occurring again to almost zero.
Yet anyone watching the British GP this year, just three weeks ago, would have seen the impotence of this new tool. Under the VSC, the cars passed the stricken Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz as they exited the corner onto the old pit straight and the speeds at which they were travelling, were in excess of the impact speed Jules Manor car had in Suzuka. Further, marshals were again exposed.
As intended, the VSC should be slowing the cars to almost a standstill if required – for the short section of the circuit where marshals and their equipment is deployed.
Yet the technology and drivers inability to safely slow down appears to have thwarted the FIA and Whiting, and so now the VSC is operating like a full course yellow in Indy Car.
The huge problem is that under the VSC, the F1 drivers only have to meet and average speed restriction over several hundred metres of circuit. This means they are still at times driving flat out and then slowing to ensure they hit the correct average speed and time.
It is true, even had the safety car been deployed following Sutil’s accident, the time this takes to pick up the leaders may still have meant Jules and others were travelling too quickly whilst passing the marshals on track.
However, in a sport where over $1bn is spent each year on developing racing technology, there is no excuse for the FIA continuing to fail to police its own regulations properly – and make the cars where necessary ‘slow down, be prepared to change direction and stop.’
Until this matter is resolved, inevitably the next serious incident is just waiting to happen.