The FIA has released the full findings of its specially-appointed investigation into Jules Bianchi’s life-threatening accident at the Japanese Grand Prix in September.
The investigating panel ruled, among a number of factors, that the Marussia failed to slow sufficiently to avoid losing control of his car before he collided with a trackside recovery vehicle that was removing Adrian Sutil’s abandoned Sauber from the Turn 7/8 gravel trap.
The accident resulted in major head injuries to the Ferrari Academy driver, who remains unconscious – but off life support – after being repatriated to France following several weeks of specialist neurosurgeon care at the Mie General Medical Center hospital near the Suzuka Circuit.
A ten-person select panel – which included former F1 team principals Ross Brawn and Stefano Domenicali, along with former Grand Prix drivers Emerson Fittipaldi and Alexander Wurz – conducted a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the accident and submitted a 396-page report to the FIA which outlines their findings and recommendations for improvements to avoid a repeat incident.
The panel ruled that a number of critical incidents and factors were apparent in the lead-up to and during Bianchi’s accident. Any combination of these factors may have caused the accident, although none alone was solely responsible.
An overview of the panel’s findings are as follows:
- The semi-dry racing line at Turn 7 was abruptly made narrower by water draining onto the track and flowing downhill along it. Both Sutil, and Bianchi one lap later, lost control at this point through the corner.
- Sutil’s car was in the process of being recovered by a mobile crane when Bianchi approached Sectors 7 and 8 – where the recovery was taking place – which were subject to double yellow flags.
- Bianchi did not slow sufficiently to avoid losing control of his car at the same point on the track as Sutil had a lap prior.
- If drivers adhere to the requirements of double yellow flags, as set out in Appendix H, Art. 18.104.22.168.b of the FIA Sporting Regulations, then neither competitors nor officials should be put in immediate or physical danger carrying out their duties.
- The actions taken by trackside marshals following Sutil’s accident were consistent with the regulations following 384 incidents in the preceding eight years. Ignoring the obvious hindsight afforded as a result of Bianchi’s accident, there was no apparent reason why the Safety Car should have been deployed either before or after Sutil’s accident.
- Bianchi over-controlled his car (which suffered an oversteer slide), such that he left the track earlier than Sutil had and headed towards a point “up-stream” along the barrier. Unfortunately, the 6,500kg mobile crane was in front of this section of the barrier; Bianchi struck and under-ran the rear of it with an impact speed of 126km/h (78mph).
- In the two seconds that it took for Bianchi’s car to leave the track and traverse the run-off area before colliding with the tractor, he applied both throttle and brake together, using both feet. The FailSafe algorithm is designed to over-ride the throttle and cut the engine, but was inhibited by the Torque Coordinator, which controls the rear Brake-by-Wire system. Bianchi’s Marussia has a unique design of BBW, which proved to be incompatible with the FailSafe settings.
- The fact that the FailSafe did not disqualify the engine torque requested by the driver may have affected the impact velocity; it has not been possible to reliably quantify this. However, it may be that Bianchi was distracted by what was happening and the fact that his front wheels had locked, and been unable to steer the car such that it missed the crane.
- Bianchi’s helmet struck the sloping underside of the rear of the crane. The magnitude of the blow and the glancing nature of it caused massive head deceleration and angular acceleration, leading to his severe injuries.
- All rescue and medical procedures were followed, and their expediency are considered to have contributed significantly to the saving of Bianchi’s life.
- It is not considered feasible to mitigate the injuries Bianchi suffered by either enclosing the driver’s cockpit, or fitting skirts to the crane. Neither approach is practical due to the very large forces involved in the accident between a 700kg car striking a 6,500kg crane at a speed of 126km/h. There is simply insufficient impact structure on a F1 car to absorb the energy of such an impact without either destroying the driver’s survival cell, or generating non-survivable decelerations.
- It is considered fundamentally wrong to try and make an impact between a racing car and a large and heavy vehicle survivable. It is imperative to prevent a car ever hitting the crane and/or the marshals working near it.
The report summary recommended that the FIA introduces new regulations for double-waved yellow flags, giving the Clerk of the Course the power to automatically impose a speed limit at any section of the track where double-waved yellow flags are displayed.
The panel also recommended that the guidelines governing circuit drainage be revisited, as well as recommending that a guidelines be established such that the start time of any race shall not be less than four hours before either sunset or dusk, except in the case of events sanctioned as night races.
The panel additionally recommended that the Formula 1 calendar is reviewed to reduce the risk of races taking place during local wet weather seasons.
The FIA is yet to formally respond to the Accident Panel’s report, although it has already confirmed the introduction of the ‘Virtual Safety Car’, which will automatically restrict the maximum speeds of cars through a double-waved yellow flag zone.
Image via WRI2