Revelations of Bianchi accident

Forensics

Now that the Bianchi family went ahead with launching legal action against the FIA, Formula One Group and Marussia, as it had been expected for months, perhaps it is time to revisit the circumstances of the incident that cut short the life of a promising young driver.

Suzuka track layout

Suzuka track layout

One element that rarely gets discussed in the Bianchi accident is the geometry of the Dunlop Curve. Charlie Whiting is on record, a week after the events and when the FIA was still in full-on defensive mode, that in those conditions — a stricken Sauber, a heavy duty vehicle and unprotected marshals barely 15m from the track, with a race proceeding under tropical rain conditions inside the eye of typhoon Phanfone — double yellows was the standard and correct safety response from the FIA and that the safety car was not needed:

“We put out double yellow flags, because we thought that given the consequences of the incident [with the Sauber car] we could deal with it without the use of a Safety Car. The next step would be, of course, sending the Safety Car onto the track, but because the car [of Adrian Sutil] was [quite] away from the track, this was a natural decision on our part in similar circumstances. We did not see the need to release the Safety Car on the track at that moment.”¹

While Charlie Whiting is certainly FIA’s Safety Delegate, this strikes as a load of self-serving excuses, so let us consider the impact of the track geometry on the entire incident and the implications on safety-related decision-making.

Many have made a fuss about the double waved yellows being replaced with green flags immediately after the tractor with the stricken Sauber had passed back the control Tower 12 (and seconds prior to Bianchi’s car submarining under the recovery vehicle). Now many experts (including Dr Hartstein) have made the point that this was an absolutely normal, business as usual operating procedure, since drivers look far off and by the time they’ve noticed the green flag and have had time to react, they’ll already be past the marshalling post. Generally this is probably a fair point.

However this is what doesn’t quite work out given the geometry of the Dunlop Curve. This corner, following the Esses, is a particularly hard to take corner where you always fight the car so as to not lose it, even in dry conditions. You need to very carefully apply throttle, and be very firm with the steering or else you risk losing the car. Taking it while driving in typhoon conditions must be as godawful as driving Monaco under torrential rain — with hindsight, it really is no surprise that in those conditions two cars lost it there within two laps… This is no doubt one complication that sets the Dunlop Curve apart from other “similar circumstances”.

Aerial view of the Dunlop Curve

The other point is that the way the corner flows, from the Esses to the Dunlop Curve, drivers have a clear sight of the marshalling post from very early on, when they’re still carefully managing throttle out of the Esses and prior to the full-throttle acceleration zone. If they spot the green flag at that point then the expected inclination of any racing driver would be to start accelerating in the natural acceleration zone for this curve, which is well prior to the Sutil and Bianchi skidding zones.

Earlier analysis by TJ13 puts the probable start of the slide at the point when Tower 12 is already visible to the driver:

Seeing a green flag will presumably make a driver understand that it’s time to accelerate…

Had this been on a straight, or in a braking zone before a tight corner, then putting the green flag on would have been the fine thing to do. But in such a complicated corner, at the point of full-throttle acceleration after the Esses, in those conditions, with a stricken car on a skidding trajectory, with marshals and a tractor operating at 15m from the track with precious little gravel on the escape road, putting a green flag right there right then was undoubtedly a very reckless safety-related decision by the FIA.

And of course we should not forget that a heavy duty recovery vehicle not designed for impact with F1 machinery makes for an iffy presence on an active track under any circumstances (near-misses having occurred on a number of occasions in the past), let alone in a tricky corner under atrocious weather conditions. In the memorable words of four-time world champion Alain Prost:

“I don’t want to make any polemics with the FIA, because I have a lot of respect for what has been done in terms of safety over the past 20 years.

“It is cars and tracks [that have been improved] and there was only one thing left: it was this f*cking truck on the track.

“You have the procedure, but the weather conditions were getting worse and worse with more and more water, so visibility was very bad.

“So you cannot have the same decision according to the procedure if the weather was good or bad. That is why I say I am not convinced. In this condition, especially with all the experience they have in terms of safety, they should have zero risk.

“If it was my son, I wouldn’t want this type of accident with a truck on an F1 track. That is what I cannot accept.”

Conspicuously, the whitewash, two-page summary report investigating the circumstances of Bianchi’s accident had precious little to say about the presence of a recovery vehicle not designed for impact with F1 machinery on an active track…

 


¹ Normally the FIA publish every press conference associated with an F1 Grand Prix on their site in downloadable PDF format. In this instance, however they did not do so. The only complete record of what was said came from a Russian website that appeared to have been translated from English to Russian and back, cross checked with quotes from journalists who were present in Sochi. The quote in this article comes from TJ13’s translation of the Russian transcript of the press conference, without the intervention of Google translate. Apologies for any translation errors.

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25 responses to “Revelations of Bianchi accident

  1. “Seeing a green flag will presumably make a driver understand that it’s time to accelerate…”

    If you are a rookie or not cognizant of the rules and reasons for double yellow flags, I guess – but in this case the driver was experienced and knew why we put double yellow flags out, and so they should not expect to be accelerating until they had passed the incident – or until they left that sector.

    • The problem is, we have rules where they don’t have to slow down for double waved yellow flags which is just totally wrong.
      Was it Hamilton who nearly hit a marshal earlier that year in Germany because they weren’t slowing down for double waved yellows?? Hamilton has much more experience than Bianchi and he was accelerating in the yellow section!
      At least now with the VCS they have to slow down

    • Drivers are not supposed to know where an incident (or marshalling work) is precisely located. They’re supposed to follow the flags. Even under current enforcement of double-waved yellows drivers barely lift a bit from racing speeds, so when a competitive driver (i.e. ALL of them) sees a green flag all it means for them immediately is “back to full racing speeds — no more lifting monkey business”…

      • I had a rookie racer try to make that excuse – I suggested he should not have his license if he didn’t understand the concept of “sectors” between flag points. Seeing a green flag off in the distance is cool – because it means you have nice advance warning of where the yellow (double yellow) sector finishes… FINISHES. Until you reach that green flag you are under control of last flags you passed. Slow down, be prepared to stop or change direction. The circuit may be blocked, partially blocked and/or marshals may be working trackside. Why would you rate accelerate very least before you even if you passed an incident – because there may be TWO incidents.

        • While I understand and agree with the intent of the rules, I’m more focused on the actual driver behavior and enforcement of said rules. Drivers barely lift from racing speeds under DWY, and the FIA has done nothing to enforce appropriate DWY speeds across the years… In Hockenheim that year Hamilton effectively admitted he was at speeds where he was NOT “prepared to stop or change direction” following Sutil’s spin, yet the FIA hasn’t taken any measures against any driver for speeding under DWY that day. When DWY are barely followed because of competitive instincts and regulatory leniency (is there a single F1 driver that would sleep well at night if they were to lose 1sec in a yellow sector, against the competition? or indeed be expected to keep his job?), it’s hard to expect drivers to follow the “past the post is green” rule to the letter as well…

  2. I would also posit that this race shouldn’t have been running at all. We are talking about a hurricane/typhoon. The area should have been evacuated and the event cancelled or postponed. You will recall that they couldn’t get the medical helicopter to the track or to the hospital due to the high wind. These things are not something you should take lightly. For that one, I would call negligence (or even depraved indifference) on the part of whoever was in charge and/or the FIA in general.

    • The race was started once all safety precautions standards were confirmed in much worse conditions than that when the accident happened, and that included the confirmation that both the medvac helicopter inside the circuit and the stand-by one outside the circuit were confirmed able to take off from the circuit and from outside of it and able to land at the hospital.
      I wonder if all this negativity about the sports by some that follow said sports would have been like if instead of the tractor the Marussia had hit a marshal doing his duty to help retrieve the other car, as it very nearly did? would they have pushed for the marshal’s family to sue?

  3. “Heavy duty recovery vehicle (to retrieve a car 15m away from the racing tarmac) not designed for impact with F1 machinery” as also are marshals 15m away from the racing tarmac (a recovery vehicle alone will not retrieve a car) not designed for impact with F1 machinery. That is exactly why double waved yellow flags mean SLOW DOWN, DANGER AHEAD, BE PREPARED TO STOP.
    Or are we going to start all over again on this subject?

    • No one here is arguing what double waved yellows mean by definition – that’s black / white obvious, it’s written in the rules.

      We all get it. There are rules. People need to follow the rules for the safety of themselves and others. There’s no argument there either.

      You need to let it go up to that point.

      The argument begins here when you get people involved – spiky, argumentative, flawed, competitive, contrary, sneaky, cheeky, bitchy people.

      See and appreciate the glorious array of human frailties on display each race day. Then please acknowledge that rules mean absolutely nothing without effective monitoring and enforcement.

      Have another read of “Lord of the Flies” and ponder the consequences of leaving a group of ostensibly reasonable people without the calming, discipline-imposing influence of an Alpha / Enforcer. Rules inevitably go out the window in preference to a straight competition for position and dominance – which usually means that things are broken and people are hurt.

  4. I like the piece, landroni. But I don’t agree with it all. It’s all good to point fingers at the Fia. Yes that recovery vehicle is an enormous factor in the accident. But it’s there because sutil went off. So even when the vehicle wasn’t there bianchi would still go off and hit sutil car. No matter how you put it, bianchi has some (much) blame in it too. What is the primary reason that someone goes off? They’re pushing beyond the limit at that moment. Sure his impact would be of a very different kind, one his car was made for. But then we would have had a dead marshal or two… and believe you me, then the fuzz would be half as much as it is now. Remember the marshal in Canada? Or monza? Those cases didn’t get half the attention they deserved, when compared to bianchi ‘s accident.

    • Absolutely agree, Bruznic. Had this been a marshal, or a De Villota, we wouldn’t hear half of what’s been written about Bianchi…

      One of the main goals of the article was to highlight just how irresponsible of the FIA was not to introduce a Safety Car immediately after the Sutil shunt, in worsening rain and visibility. The primary goal was to highlight, as other commenters have mentioned, how incredibly idiotic of the FIA was to go ahead with the race while inside the very middle of a tropical storm, instead of say evacuating the premises and making sure people were in safety… Had either of these no-brainer safety calls been taken by the FIA, any and all impact by any car would have been of far less severe consequences than what we’ve witnessed. At least this part of the blame has literally nothing to do with “Bianchi was speeding”.

      • So true. After all they are the governing body of the sport…
        As for your other example, de villota, I even forgot about her. To give my first comment even more power.

  5. years ago we had stationary yellow flag (danger ahead be prepared to stop racing. no overtaking). waived yellow great danger be prepared to stop racing immediately. a stationary was used if car well of circuit driver out of car behind barrier and waived if car in track or driver in car with marshals in attendance. now double waived for all incidents so drivers noy sure what to expect

  6. Bianchi made a mistake, otherwise he would not have crashed. To me a big contributing factor is that due to what became custom and practice drivers did not slow down enough during waved yellows. This behaviour has been allowed to continue by the FIAs lack of punishment for not following waved yellow to the actual rules.
    So in my mind, while Bianchi must take some blame so should the FIA.
    Waved yellows should automatically trigger pit lane speed limiter on all cars in all sectors.This would mean all gaps are maintained and for marshals it’s a decent compromise between no cars on track and cars driving too fast to stop if necessary.

    • All sectors is maybe a bit much. Why doesn’t the Fia use their own system that works at le mans. Slow zones. Let them race at the parts of the track where all is clear and make em slow down at the part where something happened. They can’t exceed 60kmph. And when the accident was to big still opt for the safety car. It can’t be simpler than that.

      • Only reason I suggested whole track at pit lane speed is that then there is less slowing and speeding up at entrance and exit of a zone. Thus trying to limit any effects on everyone’s gaps.
        If FIA already have a system in le mans than they should have lots of data and surely it would be easy to implement in F1. Seems like such an easy solution.

      • Exactly. They can even EASILY amend the existing VSC and make drivers hit the PL inside the affected zone, while following a predetermined delta in the remaining part of the track. This way they can even slightly increase the speeds in other sections of the track so as to avoid cars losing temp and pressure.

      • And i know Le mans is a whole other track, the total length makes it easier to maintain the whole slow zone concept. But they do it for 4 different classes, all of them at different speeds, driving a different race. F1 has, at best, 3 different classes. Intern. But without the massive difference as the wec has. Fia just shows us how incompetent they are sometimes…

        • The negativity spouted towards the sports by some that follows said sports is incredible. If this kind of negativity is coming from someone that had his ass kicked hard by the FIA the motive would have been understandable, but coming from those that claims to follow the sports for the love of it, it can only be described the destructive nature of some.

          • To put it in your own words, do we all have to follow the official press about it and can’t think for ourselves? You don’t know half of how hardcore I am about f1. Yet you see it fit to attack my love for the sport. In the last 20 years I’ve only missed 3 races live. Twice for a funeral and once for a wedding. believe you me they were recorded, back then on VHS, and watched the min I got home. But my love isn’t any less today then it was back at any given year during the years that I watched. I’ve get up in early mornings to see f1. I’ve made my life revolve around f1. I’ve cancelled numerous occasions on real life happenings because it was f1 on the telly. I’ve been to imola, Nürnbergring, and I’ve been to spa so many times I can’t count it anymore. Please tell me again how I don’t have love for this sport? All my desktop wallpapers, be it on the computer or the phone, have always been f1. When I was a boy nearly all my posters were f1. When I got older I got an f1 tattoo, in the form of a ferrari. I’ve been roaming the Internet fora on f1 since the first time Internet came to our household. You can’t make any observations about my love of f1… you’ve been coming here for what? 2 months… please. And when you come here you’ve been nothing than negative. If I even know what you are on about. Half the time you just spout pure nonsense. Want to make me or all the rest of tj13 take you serious? Write an article yourself. See how much fun it is for people like you, always criticising, to comment on your article. Bringing you down without any real arguments. As I mentioned before, you don’t have the balls to do that. Just like you don’t have the balls to explain yourself to people after you made a loud negative comments to get some attention. Because that’s all that you want. Attention. You don’t come here to discuss f1. You just want people to notice you. And anytime people do discuss, you come in with your jibberish… if you don’t have anything to say that has anything to do with the real article or the discussion at hand don’t day it. You’re only making yourself look ridiculous. How I see it you’re just some 17 year old punk, watching f1 for the second year because suddenly you have someone to cheer for and you can’t handle anything of a real convo. Even if it doesn’t include you. Again, want to be taken seriously? Write an article. Want me to take you seriously? Don’t tell me how much I love f1. F1 is the biggest part of my life.

          • Perhaps we love the sport so much that we’re driven to criticise when it lets us down.

            The alternative is mute acceptance of BS? Or maybe we should all cheer loudly as the sport speeds towards the S-bend?

            If friends / family let me down I let them know, as well 😉

          • And as I see it you, salvu, still have an open invitation to my twitter account. But it seems you’re not ready to defend your stance. @bruznic. Hit me up there and you can explain me all your problems

          • Oh sh!t…. Bruznic just went H.A.M on your ar$e…..

            Drops mic and walks off stage…. BOOM!!!!

  7. Wow wow wow mama mia what a tirade, looks like for sure I have hit upon the negativity and speculations pushing forward nerves!

    • Well the fact that you, again, give an avasive answer only shows that you are still nothing more than a scream without any real content. I’m not ashamed I am negative. That’s who I am. As for the speculation I still don’t know what you are talking about. But since even you can’t explain your own allegations, I am only to believe that even you don’t know what you are talking about.

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