Monday, October 20, 2014

Has Formula 1 become complacent about safety?

After Jules Bianchi's awful crash in the Japanese Grand Prix a few weeks ago, I saw the headline I used as the title of this post - "Has Formula 1 become complacent about safety?". I found this to be a knee-jerk comment by an uninformed journalist. F1 doesn't like accidents. The governing body and the drivers association work hand in hand to ensure that F1 is as safe as possible but it is, in the final analysis, a motorsport, and motorsports are by their very nature, dangerous.
There hasn't been a death in F1 since Imola in 1994 - when Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna were both killed in separate accidents. Jules Bianchi's crash was the result of a series of unfortunate coincidences that happened to line up badly. The change in weather, the wear rate of the tyres, the locations of the cars on the track, the puddles, the prior accident, the presence of the recovery vehicle - nobody would ever predict that series of events aligning unless we'd seen it happen first-hand.
You can't make an F1 car capable of surviving the sort of crash he had because it's so rare - in fact it's the first time it's ever happened. How do you make a super lightweight F1 car capable of plowing into a 5 ton tractor without injury to the driver? You can't. You can attempt to mitigate the chances of it happening with new recovery vehicle rules, and modifications to the recovery vehicles themselves - for example adding skirts to the sides of the recovery vehicles so that the F1 cars can't submarine "under" them.
But to look at what happened to Bianchi and then come up with that headline, I thought that was irresponsible - flippant almost. That headline implied that something the driver's association, the FIA and Formula One Management did contributed to the accident and injury. Clearly it didn't - none of those three groups were involved in any decision that affected the outcome. It's not like they decided on some design decision of the vehicles that caused the accident, or contributed to it. It was a tragic accident - nothing more. Steps will be taken to try to ensure it doesn't happen again but nobody can predict every eventuality, and the simple truth of the matter is that F1, today, is as safe as it's ever been given the nature of the sport.