Hamilton Wins in Suzuka But Bianchi Crash Brings Dark Cloud Over F1
The teeming and relentless downpour which hung like an ominous cloud over the sodden track at Suzuka on Sunday morning was a bleak and unwelcoming picture; it was to become a darkened, dank and drenched race day which, so sadly, was to end in both triumph and disaster.
The race was delayed to begin with, due to the pouring rain preceding Typhoon Phanfone, and race organisers were debating over whether the event would go ahead. Eventually, some relatively clearer weather appeared on the horizon and the race began with a safety car for the first two laps, keeping grid positions.
A red flag was then raised as the rain started to get heavier, and the cars were brought into the pits to await resumption of the race. At this point, Alonso faced an electrical failure on his Ferrari and was forced to retire for the second time this season.
The race resumed with grid positions still enforced and a safety car leading the way – Rosberg and Hamilton following closely behind. The spray from behind the cars was phenomenal, and the darkness caused by low cloud and the relentless rain made the race a very cautious one.
However, eventually the rain let up a little and there was some intense wheel-to-wheel racing, particularly from the Mercedes as Hamilton made an excellent pass on Rosberg to take first place, a move which the German could do nothing about as he suffered with a lack of rear grip.
Although the Red Bulls hadn't shined in qualifying, they had set up their cars for excellent wet race conditions and this paid off for them, as Vettel and Ricciardo came in third and fourth respectively, up from sixth and ninth on the grid (helped along by Alonso's retirement).
All in all, though, the race was run cautiously and safely; the spray from other vehicles and the lack of grip on the soaking wet track prevented close racing.Towards the end, the rain picked up and several drivers, most notably Felipe Massa, were calling over radio for the race to stop as they did not feel the conditions were safe.
Tragedy Comes to Suzuka
The tragic events of the race were triggered when Adrian Sutil, defeated by the horrific weather, spun off the track in the last ten laps and crashed into a barrier, his car aquaplaning off the circuit. Luckily, Sutil was unharmed, and a safety car was brought out while his car was being removed from the track.
Unfortunately, though, a safety car was not enough. Frenchman Jules Bianchi, the Marussia driver who earlier this season won the team's first ever point, and 25-year-old graduate of the Ferrari Young Driver's program, highlighted as a future prospect for the team, spun off in the same way as Sutil, on the same corner, one lap afterwards. His car collided with the tractor which was in the process of removing the Sauber.
Bianchi was immediately knocked unconscious by the force of the crash. Though F1's safety record has been improved recently, it soon became apparent that the unlucky Bianchi was the most serious casualty in more than two years.
When Marussia were unable to contact him on team radio, a medical car was rushed to the scene and Bianchi was driven by road ambulance to the Mie University hospital, as the helicopters were unable to fly due to 240km/h winds caused by the typhoon.
Celebrations on Hold
The race was red-flagged and immediately stopped, with Hamilton declared the winner after 47 laps and Rosberg and Vettel coming in second and third. However, after such a sobering accident, the race result seemed inconsequential even to the winners; Bianchi is well known and liked among his colleagues and all of them were more concerned for his welfare than the results.
Some drivers like Massa and Ricciardo have openly spoken out about the race not being stopped earlier, despite their calls over team radio.
Bianchi underwent emergency brain surgery and has been admitted to intensive care at Mie University hospital. His exact condition is as yet unclear as his family are unwilling to disclose details; it has been described as "critical but stable". He has not been conscious since the incident.
The whole F1 community has expressed sorrow and concern for the driver, and it has brought up speculation about what could have been done at Suzuka to prevent the accident. The safety debate has sprung up once more and it could be that we see more stringent precautions put in place regarding recovery of vehicles during races in the future.
With his race win Hamilton consolidated his slender lead and has now pulled 10 points ahead of Rosberg in the Championship. Driver changes already announced for 2015 added to end of season speculation has a number such as Jensen Button at McLaren fighting for their team positions or hoping for above par performances to place themselves in the shop window over the last four races. For now, though, in the aftermath, all our thoughts will be with Jules Bianchi and his family, hoping he recovers swiftly.
This report was written by F1 blogger Kerri Meyerhoff.
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