Lewis Hamilton led home a Mercedes 1-2 at Sunday’s Grand Prix of Steiermark to complete a dominant weekend for Mercedes.
As the Formula One world mourns the loss of Jules Bianchi, important questions need to be asked around how such an accident could have taken place in an era where safety is paramount.
Two months after the accident in which Bianchi struck a crane recovering Adrian Sutil’s stricken Sauber at the wet Japanese Grand Prix, an investigation determined that the Frenchman “did not slow sufficiently to avoid losing control”.
But as compatriot and multiple world champion Alain Prost states, “There was a small misjudgment that cost very dearly. There was an accident, pouring rain and appalling visibility. There should have been a safety car to slow the race down before the recovery truck went on track – that’s the misjudgment.”
Bianchi may not have slowed sufficiently under the yellow flags, though, as Prost says, why was there a recovery vehicle allowed to be on track with the race ongoing in such treacherous conditions?
Also, Bianchi’s accident occurred while running on intermediate tyres in what were very wet conditions. According to Sebastian Vettel, “Currently the extreme tyre has a very narrow window and the intermediate is quicker. As soon as you’ve got rid of most of the water, you try to put the intermediate on, taking a lot of risk into account, just because it’s the quicker tyre.”
Staging races in the twilight has already come under the spotlight, especially in regions where weather is typically a factor like in Japan. Limiting visibility for drivers in those conditions in the name of a more television-friendly timeslot should never have been allowed.
Moves have already been made to slow drivers when safety crews are attending a stationary car. The Virtual Safety Car system now in place imposes speed limits to drivers when track conditions are deemed unsafe.
There were 21 years between fatalities in Formula One and as the sport considers its future regulations, safety must remain at the core of the rulebook.
As Prost adds, “They have done a lot for safety. We had not had a fatal crash in Formula One for 21 years; it means that a lot of work was done.”
“But like everywhere, there’s always a little bit more to be done. The only thing that still was to be done for safety was about this recovery truck that goes on the circuit.”