Jules Bianchi crash: Report opens way for F1 safety improvements

There is a sombre mood hanging over this weekend's inaugural Russian Grand Prix

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The sport’s governing body, FIA, on Friday agreed to examine new safety measures in the light of Jules Bianchi’s life-threatening crash at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

FIA race director Charlie Whiting presented his preliminary report into the Bianchi crash to the governing body’s president, Jean Todt, who pledged: “We have to learn from what happened. And we will because we  cannot be faced with such a situation again. Each life is very important.”

Ideas being considered are a mandatory speed limit under a yellow flag and for protective “skirts” to be attached around the sort of recovery vehicles into which Bianchi’s Marussia crashed, leaving him in a critical condition in hospital.

Todt has asked Safety Commission chairman Peter Wright to put together a panel of experts in order to comment on the report, and “to make proposals to ensure what happened on Sunday never happens again”.

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Nico Rosberg topped first practice, and can be seen here with tributes to both Jules Bianchi and Michael Schumacher

 

Whiting said that in that race Bianchi, like all the drivers, had slowed down for the waved yellow flags at Turn Seven at Suzuka as a recovery vehicle attended to Adrian Sutil’s stricken Sauber, but that some had done so more than others. He declined to say how much Bianchi had slowed down or whether his Marussia team had been warned twice to instruct him to do so.

“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, to have a system where it is clearer to everyone how much we think drivers should slow down,” Whiting said. The teams will hold a meeting on the subject on Saturday. “It would have the same effect as a safety car because if you slowed everyone down to the same pace they would hold position,” Whiting added.

He also confirmed that research into enhanced head protection for the drivers continues, despite the decision last year not to continue with enclosed cockpits, but conceded: “It’s very difficult to find something that is strong enough to stop an errant wheel and allows the driver to drive the car without being affected by the structure.” Extrication could also present problems.

 

As one of many marks of respect at tomorrow’s inaugural Russian Grand Prix, Marussia will run just Max Chilton’s car. Sporting director Graeme Lowdon explained: “It was difficult.The main thing we wanted was to do something useful and to support Jules and his family. We are lying ninth in the FIA Formula One World Championship, which is a very important position for us, and we are largely in that position because of Jules.

“He’s a racing driver and would want us to do the best we can and we thought the right thing to do was come here and take part in this event, but as a mark of support and respect to him and to his mum, dad and family we decided to withdraw the second car. I hope people understand what we’ve done and why we’ve done it.

“We did seek opinion from a lot of people to ensure that we made the right decision, and on a personal note I cannot speak too highly of the support the team and myself have had from Bernie Ecclestone right from the accident occurring.

“In these situations, which are incredibly difficult, it’s so reassuring to know that people care, and if I can sum up the support that we’ve had from Bernie, it’s that he cares. That has been extremely valuable and extremely helpful.”

On the track, Lewis Hamilton blew away his opposition with a practice lap 0.8 second faster than Kevin Magnussen of McLaren and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. They pushed ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg who was trying a radical new set-up that did not work out. “I like the new circuit; it’s got really good grip and great corners,” Hamilton said. “The car has been feeling really good today.”

But away from the race everyone’s thoughts will be with Bianchi, his fight for life supported by the legend on every driver’s helmet this weekend: #ForzaJules.

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