The FIA has revealed details of Jules Bianchi’s accident, allowing us to piece together a clearer picture of how events unfolded at Suzuka.
Charlie Whiting began by showing CCTV camera footage of the Sutil and Bianchi accidents. Whiting said both involved the cars concerned straying slightly offline onto a wetter patch, but while the German spun the Marussia driver snapped sideways, over corrected, and then speared straight off the track.
Regarding the chain of events, Whiting insisted that it had not been necessary to put out a safety car for the Sutil crash.
“We put double waved yellows out because we felt the incident could be dealt with without using the safety car,” he explained. “The next stage up is a safety car of course, but because the car was well away from the track, against the tyre barrier, that’s the normal procedure for us to follow under those circumstances. We didn’t see any need for a safety car then.
“It’s routine procedure, we weren’t deviating from anything we’ve done in the past. So we didn’t really think it was necessary under those circumstances. The car was a long way off the track. If a car had been very close to the edge of the track, it would have been a completely different matter.”
Whiting confirmed that the tractor crane was used with the permission of race control, and it was at that stage that the yellow flags became double yellows: “The tractor was dispatched by race control. If a car’s off in the gravel it quite clearly needs to be picked up. It’s done immediately, the marshals would then be instructed to go onto the track, and pick the car up.”
One of the key questions is how much Bianchi slowed down when he saw the double yellows.
“We’ve seen the data from all the cars. A lot of cars came through the double waved yellow sector. Not everyone slowed down as much… There were some that didn’t slow down much, and there were some that slowed down a lot. I don’t think we need to go into the detail of exactly how much he slowed down relative to others, suffice to say that we do have that data. He did slow down, it’s a matter of degree, and that’s where we are with that.”
Whiting confirmed that race control did not at first realise that the Frenchman had gone off – in other words the video footage shown today was not witnessed live by Whiting or his colleagues. In addition the device on the car that transmits data about a high speed impact to the FIA’s chief medial officer in race control was damaged in the impact, so the warning signal was not sent.
“There was a small delay, simply because the car wasn’t visible. My first thoughts were this is taking a long time, it’s taking longer than I expected, because normally the marshals in Suzuka work very, very quickly. Then they said a car has hit the tractor – it was the Clerk of the Course, they got a message back from the post that a car has hit the tractor. I said what do you mean? I couldn’t see a car hitting the tractor. It took a little while to get another camera to focus, and then we could see that there was a car there. Again it wasn’t completely apparent, the condition of the driver – so it was, is the driver hurt, is anyone hurt?
“And when we found out we dispatched the safety and medical cars. Like I say you couldn’t actually see it, it wasn’t being shown in the live feed, and from the camera that we were looking at at the time – [track CCTV] camera 11 was facing the other way, camera 12 was focussed on the tractor, but you couldn’t see the red car, it was hidden. Once we moved the camera around we could establish that there was another car there. It did take a little while, probably no more than 20s, but nevertheless it was a little bit mystifying to know what had happened.”
Regarding the damage to the Marussia and what could be done in the future Whiting said: “Early indications are that the forces exerted on Jules’s roll structure were way in excess of test loads. We have to look very carefully at what the loads were, if we can estimate them, and then see if we can do anything about it. I have a strong suspicion that under those exact circumstances it might be very hard to find a solution.”
The medical helicopter was not used because it could not land at the hospital as the weather was deteriorating, but FIA rules allow for a race to go ahead if the hospital is within 25 minutes by road in normal circumstances. Bianchi was taken in a resuscitation ambulance, with a police escort, and the journey took 32 minutes.