Written by Joshua Buck (@OfficialBUCKTV)
Jules Bianchi, born on 3rd August 1989 in Nice, was a young prodigy rising through the ranks in the Ferrari driver academy. He was widely tipped for success and even made history as the first ever Formula One driver to score points for Marussia. However, that was all about to change at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
Bianchi started racing in 2007 in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 at the age of 18. The Frenchman eventually made his way to GP2, one of the stepping stones to Formula One, in 2010. Finally, in 2013, he made his Formula One debut in the opening round at the Australian Grand Prix. He was signed by the Marussia F1 Team. Marussia acted as a sort of Ferrari B-team in those days, much like Toro Rosso does for Red Bull today.
He drove 19 races in his first season, and the 15th race in his second was at Suzuka, Japan.
The day was 5th October, and it was raining heavily in Japan. The Safety Car had been deployed due to unsafe weather conditions right at the beginning of the race. While trying to heat up his tyres in the 43rd lap, Bianchi lost control and slid off the track and crashed into a parked crane that should have been behind barriers. As Bianchi headed towards the crane, he attempted to correct the steering and applied the brakes, locking his wheels in the process.
The crash impacted the engine cover causing various parts of the car to fly towards the driver, including the roll hoop and air box. Bianchi sustained severe head injuries and the race was ended early because of his accident.
At first Bianchi was rushed to Yokkaichi Hospital but was later moved (after being taken out of an artificial coma) to his hometown of Nice in November. Doctors said his survival straight after the crash was “a miracle”.
Tragically, though, Bianchi would later pass away 9 months later, on 17th July 2015. He became the first Formula 1 driver to be killed while racing after the legendary Aryton Senna died in 1994. Countless tributes, including from the Grand Prix Driver’s Association, followed soon after. His race number, 17, was also retired from active use.
Safety in F1 since then
Since Bianchi’s death the FIA, Formula One’s governing body. have implanted many safety precautions to the sport. These have often been controversial, with fans debating if they make the sport less exciting. These include:
- A calendar review – making sure races aren’t held during local rain seasons.
- Better drainage on and off the track – this would prevent accidents like Bianchi’s as the water on track won’t be as torrential as it was in Suzuka in 2014.
- Double yellow flags – if these are shown, all drivers keep to an assigned speed limit. More recently, the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) has been deployed. This is where, if there is an incident but the actual Safety Car is not needed, a VSC is deployed and the drivers must stick to a certain speed limit.
- The Halo – perhaps the most controversial. The most recent change in this list, the halo was added in the 2018 season to protect the drivers from serious head injury. At first fans of the sport were sceptical of the halo as the design was ugly – many fans preferred the ‘shield’ tested by Red Bull at the Russian Grand Prix practice session. However, since the introduction of the halo, drivers such as Fernando Alonso (of McLaren) have experienced first-hand how the halo can save lives after his crash in the 2018 Australian Grand Prix.
The safety regulations that have been put in place in recent years since Bianchi’s accident all tied in with what happened that fateful weekend in Japan. Especially precautions such as the VSC, which has been seen so many times at multiple race weekends including the most recent. The 2018 Japanese Grand Prix weekend kicked off exactly 4 years after Bianchi’s fateful death, and the VSC prevented a lot of unsafe driving and untoward incidents in Suzuka.
Arguably, the safety implications put in place since the death of Jules Bianchi have been good even if they look bad. The results have spoken for themselves – we have seen this in multiple races since the crash itself and the passing of Bianchi. In conclusion, the changes in safety have been an excellent thing for Formula One.