The past race weekend has been one of many significant stories, but I think the one we all want to see have a positive outcome is that of Jules Bianchi. The Marussia driver who is currently in intensive care, was the innocent victim this weekend of what I believe was the result of the race organisers decision to stage the race too late in the day, given the constant weather warnings with regards to Typhoon Phanfone.
Whilst both the FIA and FOM pushed the race promoters to start the race two or three hours before its provisional time of 3:00pm local, it seems they were hellbent on making sure that spectators didn’t have to worry about travel arrangements, something which could have been resolved a week before the event and probably even in tandem with the travel organisations.
Frankly it reminded me of Korea’s debut. The visibility must have been terrible for the drivers throughout, and I must admit even though it looked drivable on the TV because of the lens filters FOM put on their cameras, I had my doubts about the recovery vehicle entering the track when they were retrieving Sutil’s Sauber. The echos of Martin Brundle’s recollection of his near miss at this very circuit in 1994, coupled with the thought of “If one can do it, they all can” in the increasingly worsening conditions, was on my mind the entire time.
Like many – including some commentators – I didn’t know Jules had went off at the same place. From the off board camera shots you couldn’t see a car, and whilst the timing screen showed him as “STOPPED” at turn seven, I was under the impression he just parked it with a mechanical failure. But of course that wasn’t the case.
Whilst I don’t want to downplay the severity of Jules’ impact – I have seen the images published online of the crash site – I’d just like to say that I’m glad no one else was involved. There so easily could have been a marshal or even Sutil standing where the Marussia hit the back of the truck. But thank heavens we didn’t see such a sight.
I thought the way everybody handled this was amicable and respectful to both Jules, his family, and the team. In particular I’d like to give the drivers some recognition because of how they handled the whole situation. The top three on the podium were clearly concerned for their fellow colleague throughout the whole ceremony, and I thought Sutil showed great composure in the media interviews having witnessed the entire thing play out.
The best possible thing we can do is learn from this. The FIA have already looked at the chassis before it got into the hands of the local authorities in their accident investigation, and I think with the footage and wealth of experience they have on the matter, they need to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen again. Whether that means making sure the Safety Car is out at any point when a recovery vehicle enters the circuit, or ensuring we have no more late starts to races is debatable.
But I think spending six unnecessary laps under the Safety Car in what were clearly racing conditions and not putting it out for something as obvious as the circumstances generated by Sutil’s off, makes me think the Stewards need to reassess how they go about deploying it, because we’ve seen too many instances this year where a car has been recovered under dangerous situations.
The next topic I want to touch on from this weekend is probably the news that Sebastien Vettel will be leaving Red Bull at the end of the year. It is the end of an era for Milton Keynes. With the effective retirement of Adrian Newey, the Renault works partnership, and the upstart talent coming from Toro Rosso, the team is transitioning from its former self to help cater for what is now an Engine Formula focused less on aerodynamic benefit.
It perhaps says a lot about Formula 1 today in terms of how teams are shifting to catch up with those who have had the benefit of a head start, but in many ways its a business refresh. There is no point staying the same, things need to be changed up. It might work for Red Bull or might not, but given their recent success with Riccardo and young prospect Daniil Kvyat, I can’t really see them not being the same competitive force they are today.
As for Vettel, his love affair with Ferrari has been brewing for quite some time now. His quotes in the media a couple of seasons back, buying his Dad a Ferrari over the August break. I guess we all expected it to come next year for 2016 rather than now when they are clearly the worst Power Unit out there performance-wise. But I suppose thats the challenge for him. He has that engine development background with Adrian Newey and the blown diffuser, and I think with the appeal of him emulating his hero Michael Schumacher, this for me is probably the right move.
Of course the big question is who is out at Ferrari? It wouldn’t surprise me if it was actually Raikkonen out this year and not Alonso. Everybody has been pointing the fingers at the latter with I believe to be concrete reasoning, but nobody has really questioned whether or not the Fin may want to continue after enduring a season about as bad as it was back in 2009.
Its an interesting angle, but for my reckoning, it looks like Alonso may be the one that makes the move to McLaren, which puts Button out of a seat for 2015. Its a shame for him because of his circumstances this year with his personal life and the car not being up to spec, but I really don’t think McLaren have a choice between the two. Alonso has got a podium out of what is a dog of a car this year, Button by contrast has got a lot of near misses on his CV this year, with one podium that he didn’t even get to spray the champaign to in celebration.
The final thoughts go to Max Verstappen. The 17-year old made his F1 weekend debut during Friday Practice with Toro Rosso, and he did a pretty good job. It was a shame that he had to end his session prematurely with Power Unit issues, but from the onboard shots he didn’t look too nervous behind the wheel. There was definitely that sense of hesitation that I got from his steering inputs; he didn’t look too confident in the car in places. But then again Suzuka is a very daunting track, and I’d say he excelled both when he was in the car and out around the garage.
With that, its on to the inaugural Russian Grand Prix. The enthusiasm of the whole event is naturally subdued, and rightly so. But thats the nature of the game I’m afraid. Nobody wants things like this to happen, but for some reason they do. Perhaps to serve as a reminder that we do follow a highly dangerous sport, and that there is still work to be done with regards to the safety of drivers on track, marshals, and above all spectators.
We’re all thinking about you Jules, you’re in good care now. But we want to see you back on a racetrack as soon as possible mate.