FIA again breach Bianchi accident investigation report recommendations

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One of the unanswered questions arising from the Jules Bianchi accident investigation surrounded a proposed change of race start time for the fateful race in Suzuka in 2014. Allegedly, Charlie Whiting had asked on two occasions for the race to be started earlier than scheduled but the race promoter Honda and F1’s commercial rights holder refused to budge from their contractual arrangements. Starting the 2014 Japanese GP earlier would have moved it ahead of the meteorological forecasts of the major tropical storm, Phanfone, which swept across the circuit during the race.

Further, if it is true that Whiting made these requests wearing his hat of F1 race director, then why did he not switch hats and as the FIA’s F1 safety delegate simply sanction and enforce the earlier start time? Some believe Whiting was threatened with big money legal claims landing at the door of the FIA were he to have acted in such a manner.

Whether this would have prevented Jules Bianchi’s death, which resulted from his accident, or not can never be ascertained, but the FIA crash investigating committee recognised there were issues to be addressed concerning seasonal weather conditions when scheduling a race together with considerations about the light levels and the start time.

The FIA published a very brief summary of the report compiled by their Bianchi accident investigation committee and recommendation 4 states as follows:

Article 5.3 of the F1 Sporting Regulations states that:

However, should the race be suspended (see Article 41) the length of the suspension will be added to this period up to a maximum total race time of four hours.

It is proposed that a regulation or guideline be established such that the Start time of an event shall not be less than 4 hours before either sunset or dusk, except in the case of night races.

It is also recommended that the F1 Calendar is reviewed in order to avoid, where possible, races taking place during local rainy seasons.

The start times for the races scheduled for 2016 have now been released by the FIA and are as follows.

Start Time                           Local      UK          Sunset

Australian Grand Prix      16:00     05:00     19:31

Bahrain Grand Prix          18:00     16:00     NIGHT RACE

Chinese Grand Prix          14:00     07:00

Russian Grand Prix          15:00     13:00

Spanish Grand Prix          14:00     13:00

Monaco Grand Prix         14:00     13:00

Canadian Grand Prix       14:00     19:00

European Grand Prix       18:00     14:00     21:14

Austrian Grand Prix         14:00     13:00

British Grand Prix            13:00     13:00

Hungarian Grand Prix       14:00     13:00

German Grand Prix          14:00     13:00

Belgian Grand Prix          14:00     13:00

Italian Grand Prix            14:00     13:00

Singapore Grand Prix      20:00     13:00     NIGHT RACE

Malaysian Grand Prix     15:00     08:00

Japanese Grand Prix       14:00     06:00     17:27

US Grand Prix               14:00     20:00     17:31

Mexican Grand Prix        13:00     19:00

Brazilian Grand Prix       14:00     16:00

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix    17:00     13:00     DAY/NIGHT RACE

 

There has been much written over the scheduling of the new race in Azerbaijan which clashes with the globally watched motor racing event that is Le Mans. Jean Todt argues scheduling is a difficult matter and such clashes are at times inevitable. Yet as TJ13 has previously observed, Ecclestone at times schedules races in countries where there may be questions of civil unrest/media reporting on civil liberty infringements as the second of back-to-back races. This was the case with the Bahrain GP following the year it was cancelled. The inaugural Russian GP was treated in a similar fashion and scheduled the week after the fateful 2014 Japanese GP.

The 2016 race in Baku follows just 7 days after the Canadian GP on the other side of the world, and journalists will struggle to get there early enough to do anything other than report on F1 matters from the circuit.

A sceptic may reason that the start time of the race in Baku looks to have been manipulated to make it more palatable to a European TV audience.

Of course the Australian and Japanese GP also cause Bernie Ecclestone difficulties for this reason, because were they to start at the recommended time, this would be 4am in the UK (5am CET) and 5am (6am CET) respectively. Given the European TV audience is a Key Performance Indicator for F1 marketing purposes, the pressure on start times is understandable.

So almost 25% of the daytime races in 2016 do not comply with recommendation 4 of the Bianchi accident report, which many felt was light on content anyway. For many this merely serves to prove that the FIA internal investigation panel into the events around Jules Bianchi’s accident was toothless, and that one conducted by an external authority with a mandate to regulate for change was in fact required.

To this day, one of the key recommendations has never been implemented by the FIA because article 5.3 of the Sporting regulations as published 18/12/15 still merely states:

However, should the race be suspended (see Article 41) the length of the suspension will be added to this period up to a maximum total race time of four hours.

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3 responses to “FIA again breach Bianchi accident investigation report recommendations

  1. Let’s face it, Bianchi’s death was the result of his own mistake primarily and also the failure of Whiting for not deploying a safety car. Everyone is always afraid of telling it how it is if it means blaming the little people.

  2. There should have been a safety car on circuit. Bianchi was not the only driver still going at speed, drivers behind him were still going faster. Double waved flags do mean slow down, serious incident and no overtaking, but, also remember a race is still happening and the driver behind is still push to catch you.

    The death of Bianchi is on Charlie Whiting for not releasing the safety car like he knows he should have done (and did for less severe incidents during the rest of the season). This is the reason why there has never been a full and proper independent investigation into the accident…

    • Yes, but it’s also up to the driver to maintain control of his car and drive to the conditions. Not saying there shouldn’t have been a safety car, but there would have been hundreds of similar instances previously where there was no safety car and no one battered an eye-lid because none of the drivers went off.

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