Jules Bianchi crash: questions for F1 as driver fights for life

Marussia driver unable to breathe unaided after colliding with crane in heavy rain in Japan

Jules Bianchi
(Image credit: Mark Thompson/Getty)

F1 driver Jules Bianchi remains critically ill after suffering a serious head injury during the Japanese Grand Prix.

The 25-year-old Marussia driver was badly hurt in the 44th lap of the race when his car collided with a rescue vehicle that was by the track following an earlier crash at Suzuka. The race, which had been badly affected by rain, was abandoned after the incident with British driver Lewis Hamilton declared the winner.

However, Hamilton, like his colleagues, was more concerned about the condition of Bianchi than the race itself as the Frenchman underwent three hours of surgery after being taken to hospital while still unconscious.

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Bianchi is fighting for his life in intensive care and, contrary to some reports, is not breathing unaided, says Sky Sports.

What happened?

The whole race had taken place in wet conditions but after around 40 laps the rain began to get heavier. On lap 43 Sauber diver Adrian Sutil aquaplaned at the Dunlop corner, described by Andrew Benson of the BBC as "a fast uphill left-hander, which essentially forms the very last part of Suzuka's Esses, regarded by many drivers as the most demanding section of track in the world".

Sutil's car hit a tyre wall and a crane was sent out to recover it as race marshalls warned other cars with double waved yellow flags. However, on the following lap Bianchi also aquaplaned at the same spot and collided with the crane. "[He] effectively floated on top of the water on the track, which can easily happen with an F1 car. In such circumstances, there is nothing a driver can do," says Benson. "Pictures suggest the impact may have torn the roll-hoop off Bianchi's car, which is there to protect the driver's head."

How was Bianchi treated?

Medical teams were on the scene quickly and they were followed by an "extrication" team who helped remove Bianchi from the wreckage of the car. By now the race had been called off and an unconscious Bianchi was taken to the Mie University Hospital ten miles away by ambulance, accompanied by a police escort.

Usually injured drivers are airlifted from the circuit, and the Daily Telegraph says the FIA was unable to "fully" explain why this did not happen. "It seemed to be a combination of the weather and the fact that there was nowhere to land at the Mie General Hospital," says the paper.

He underwent a three-hour operation at the hospital to alleviate a subdural haematoma, caused by bleeding on the brain. He is now in a critical condition in intensive care and is reportedly breathing on a respirator.

Were conditions too dangerous?

With Typhoon Phanfone sweeping in from the Pacific, rain was an inevitability for the race. The Grand Prix began with a safety car because of the conditions and despite a let-up in the weather midway through the race the rain was falling hard at the time of the crash. William driver Felipe Massa, the last F1 driver to suffer a serious injury when he fractured his skull in 2009, said he was "screaming" about the conditions.

"I was already screaming on the radio five laps before the safety car that there was too much water on the track," he said.

The race was held in the afternoon and "could have been brought forward to avoid the worst of the conditions", says Paul Weaver in The Guardian. "The FIA is understood to have suggested this, but was blocked by the local organisers. Advancing the race by a day would have created chaos for race fans with flight and hotel bookings but starting a few hours earlier could have made all the difference."

Should the race have been stopped earlier?

"Sutil's spin-off at an infamous section of the track was a warning conditions were becoming hazardous," says Weaver. "And there was trouble on the same corner the last time a wet race was held here in 1994." But Daniel Johnson of the Telegraph says it was "not totally undriveable".

What else could have been done?

The BBC notes that the accident was caused by a combination of "worsening rain, fading light, a small run-off area, [and] a driver losing control despite waved caution flags". The two main issues appear to revolve around why the crane was so close to the track and Bianchi's head protection. "Cars are designed to be survival cells, yet there is a single weakness, a weakness so devastating and underlined so horrifically yesterday," says Kevin Eason in The Times. "It is a fact of single-seater racing that the only vulnerable part of the body is the head and this accident will quicken the debate over whether cockpits should be designed into future F1 cars."

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