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Accident Panel finds Bianchi at fault for Suzuka crash

NEWS STORY
03/12/2014

The FIA's official Accident Panel investigating Jules Bianchi's crash at Suzuka has issued its findings.

The panel included Ross Brawn, Stefano Domenicali and Emerson Fittipaldi, in his role as President of the FIA Drivers' Commission and F1 Steward, along with Gerard Saillant, President of the FIA Institute and President of the Medical Commission and Alex Wurz, President of the GPDA.

The following is a summary of the findings of the panel's examination of the circumstances surrounding Jules Bianchi's crash at the Japanese Grand Prix on 5 October, 2014 in Suzuka.

On lap 43 of the Japanese GP, Jules Bianchi lost control of his Marussia in Turn 7, and struck a mobile crane that was recovering Adrian Sutil's Sauber, which had crashed the lap before. Bianchi suffered life-threatening injuries to his head, and was evacuated to hospital by ambulance.

The weather conditions at the time were rain and a deteriorating track condition, and the section of the track where the accident occurred was subject to double yellow flags, due to Sutil's crash.

A review of all the evidence and other information about the events leading up to Bianchi's accident has been carried out by the 10-man Accident Panel, appointed by the FIA. The Panel has issued a 396-page report on their findings with recommendations for improvements, many relevant to all of motorsport. This has been presented to the FIA World Motorsport Council.

Conclusions:

The review of the events leading up to Bianchi's accident indicate that a number of key issues occurred, which may have contributed to the accident, though none alone caused it:

1: The semi-dry racing line at T 7 was abruptly narrowed by water draining onto the track and flowing downhill along it. Both Sutil, and Bianchi one lap later, lost control at this point in T 7.

2: Sutil's car was in the process of being recovered by mobile crane when Bianchi approached Sectors 7 and 8, which include the part of T 7 where the recovery was taking place. Sectors 7 and 8 were subject to double yellow flags.

3: Bianchi did not slow sufficiently to avoid losing control at the same point on the track as Sutil.

4: If drivers adhere to the requirements of double yellow flags, as set out in Appendix H, Art. 2.4.5.1.b, then neither competitors nor officials should be put in immediate or physical danger.

5: The actions taken following Sutil's accident were consistent with the regulations, and their interpretation following 384 incidents in the preceding 8 years. Without the benefit of hindsight, there is no apparent reason why the Safety Car should have been deployed either before or after Sutil's accident.

6: Bianchi over-controlled the oversteering car, such that he left the track earlier than Sutil, and headed towards a point "up-stream" along the barrier. Unfortunately, the mobile crane was in front of this part of the barrier, and he struck and under-ran the rear of it at high speed.

7: During the 2 seconds Bianchi's car was leaving the track and traversing the run-off area, 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.

8: 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.

9: Bianchi's helmet struck the sloping underside 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.

10: All rescue and medical procedures were followed, and their expediency are considered to have contributed significantly to the saving of Bianchi's life.

11: It is not 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 6500kg crane at a speed of 126kph. 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.

Recommendations:

A number of recommendations for improvements have been proposed, relevant in many cases to all of motorsport. They include the following:

1: A new regulation for double yellow flags:

Proposed new Appendix H Article (possibly under 2.4.5.1 b):

The Clerk of the Course will impose a speed limit in any section of track where double yellow flags are being displayed.

It is proposed that a Working Group, made up of FIA Race Directors and Stewards should meet and draw up detailed regulations and guidelines for the application of this new regulation, in time to apply it in 2015 across international circuit racing.

2: Safety critical software:

A review of safety critical software and measures to check its integrity will take place.

3: Track drainage:

Guidelines on circuit drainage will be reviewed, to include drainage off access roads.

4: 4-hour Rule:

Article 5.3 of the F1 Sporting Regulations states that:

However, should the race be suspended (see Article 41) the length of the suspension will be added to this period up to a maximum total race time of four hours.

It is proposed that a regulation or guideline be established such that the Start time of an event shall not be less than 4 hours before either sunset or dusk, except in the case of night races.

It is also recommended that the F1 Calendar is reviewed in order to avoid, where possible, races taking place during local rainy seasons.

5: Super Licence

It is proposed that drivers acquiring a Super Licence for the first time should undertake a course to familiarise themselves with the procedures used by F1 in running and ensuring the safety of an event.

It is also proposed that new licence holders pass a test to ensure that they are familiar with all the relevant regulations.

6: F1 risk review

Consideration will be given to a review of F1 risk, in order to ascertain whether there are any significant holes in the safety defences, such that an unforeseen combination of circumstances could result in a serious accident.

7: Tyres

It is part of the challenge of a racing driver to drive his car as fast as possible given the track conditions combined with the characteristics of his tyres. Although the characteristics of the wet weather tyres provided by Pirelli did not influence Bianchi's accident or its outcome in any significant way, it is recommended that provision is made for the tyre supplier to develop and adequately test wet weather tyres between each F1 season, such that it is able to supply the latest developments to the first event.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Slowcoach, 08/12/2014 18:32

"@Hardliner - You state "Sutil had no warnings (yellow flags, etc.) but he walked a way uninjured. The same "track" conditions for both drivers, but Sutil didn't have a crane to run into."

The track conditions were far from the same.

As you pointed out in the first sentence, "Sutil had no warnings".

Bianchi was driving under double waved yellows, a warning that is only 1 step down from a Safety Car and 2 steps up from the conditions 1 lap previously when Sutil went off.

Mr Brundle frequently reminds us in his commentary that double waved yellows mean that drivers should "slow down and be prepared to stop"."

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2. Posted by F One, 06/12/2014 16:11

"I saw the footage and called it at the time. He really was going way too fast. It makes it no less horrible though."

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3. Posted by flashpete, 06/12/2014 1:25

"Conclusions 3 and 4 are crucial, namely:
"3: Bianchi did not slow sufficiently to avoid losing control at the same point on the track as Sutil.
"4: If drivers adhere to the requirements of double yellow flags, as set out in Appendix H, Art. 2.4.5.1.b, then neither competitors nor officials should be put in immediate or physical danger."

Emotive comments, such as that from FormerF1Fan, are totally inappropriate. "

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4. Posted by ape, 05/12/2014 15:05

"very very clear .
..
And yes motorsport is dangerous.
"

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5. Posted by scf1fan, 04/12/2014 23:34

"@Hardliner . . . So how is one going to come to a decision between "subjective choice" and the absolute limit of physics? It can't be done . . . A "workable" speed for the conditions in one corner, on one lap, for one car might be totally inappropriate on the next lap; or even for the next car. When conditions are changing so rapidly, the organizers must error on the side of caution but they will never be able to be ahead of that curve.

All in all what the FIA/organizers should do in the wet is exactly what they try to do in the dry; minimize the situations where a driver might be injured from some miss-chance. Whatever the cause! Drivers can and will crash, whether in perfect conditions or in the wet. (Obviously when it gets to monsoon conditions, they should be parked! Though even then, they would have to go through some transition period.) Performing on the limits will always have those risks or it would not be the racing that we know. But, over the years, barriers have been move back, OBSTRUCTIONS HAVE BEEN REMOVED from the racing area, probable areas for "offs" have been identified and addressed by being paved and/or re-contoured . . . All this has been done in order to improve the chances for the driver to escape some miss-chance without injury.

Notice the part I capitalized though. That is exactly the opposite of what was allowed to occur at Suzuka, and allowing that recovery vehicle into the racing area is what explicitly magnified Bianchi's injuries many, many times.

Certainly Bianchi was going too fast for those conditions at that corner at that time; but how is the FIA (track stewards, or whom ever) going to determine a "safe" speed in real time and then enforce it? This would be a difficult technical challenge under the best of circumstances. (What would they do if a driver's throttle was stuck, or the car's brakes had suddenly failed?) If the answer is to make the cars go so slow as to be "safe" under all circumstances (in which case the cars would probably balk at the speed) then the race should be red flagged. Then, and only then should recovery crews be sent out to do whatever else is needed. History suggests that this is the safest thing to do; just look at Raikkonen's most recent crash. Or more tellingly, Sutil's crash just moments before. Sutil had no warnings (yellow flags, etc.) but he walked a way uninjured. The same "track" conditions for both drivers, but Sutil didn't have a crane to run into.

For this problem, the FIA shouldn't need more than a page or two to address the issue, but in the end, it will still come back to someone making a judgment call. That means that there won't be any guarantees, because mistakes, like crashes, are not totally avoidable. In this case, the mistake was in sending out that particular recovery vehicle (IMHO ANY recovery vehicle) at that time under those conditions. Defining (to the best of their ability) those conditions is what the few pages should do. It wouldn't have prevented Bianchi's crash, but it would have limited the extent of his injuries."

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6. Posted by FormerF1Fan, 04/12/2014 13:29

"Oh for heaven's sake. The safety car should have been brought out, but wasn't because there had already been far too many SC laps at the beginning. Pure and simple. A bit like a football ref compensating for a previous bad call. I see that in this court, even the kangaroo wasn't allowed to speak."

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7. Posted by kenji, 04/12/2014 11:10

"the report is a clinical dissection of the events and as such needs to be addressed in the same 'clinical' manner. causality was the prime responsibility and to this end they have delivered. the rules for driving under double waved yellow is clear and unambiguous. 'be prepared to stop'. a driver who ignores these conditions is solely responsible for any problems associated with his decision. that is really the beginning and the end. all other matters are of secondary importance in ascertaining 'causality'.

i have watched the GPS app many many times and from my interpretation it would appear, 'prima facie', that bianchi did not in fact reduce his speed at all! i may well be wrong as the time phasing of the app is hard to interpret. what would help would be to read the full report. is it available or under lock and key? that report should nail the actual speeds in minute detail."

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8. Posted by Hardliner, 04/12/2014 8:15

"Good thorough analysis, as you would expect, and quite quick, although 396 pages sounds far too long. The key change is to remove the driver's subjective choice of what constitutes 'slowing down' and 'a safe speed' so that the car is manifestly not racing, just like 50 mph cameras do on motorways when there is construction going on. They are not blaming Bianchi, I think everyone agrees that it was an unfortunate accident, they are just saying that his speed was too high to keep reliable control of the car, and that this was a factor under his control. If the GPDA thought this was an FIA whitewash I'm sure Wurz and Fittipaldi in particular would have wanted to add an appendix to the report."

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9. Posted by Mike1882, 04/12/2014 2:11

"Bull---- they had a piece equipment in the area of danger . "

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10. Posted by scf1fan, 04/12/2014 1:31

"Was Captain obvious voting on this commission?

Bianchi was in the car and not unconscious; check! There wasn't a mechanical break down; check! Some other driver did not impair Bianchi's ability to control the car; check! Bianchi's car wasn't going slow enough not to skid; check. No other obscure distraction happen (jack rabbits, men in kilts, earthquake!! etc.); check! So therefore the blame goes to Bianchi for the crash . . . Ok, so other than how was Bianchi to know the "safe" speed for going through that corner at that moment under those conditions . . . say I buy that Bianchi was at fault for the crash.

Now who is responsible for his injuries?

Did Bianchi cause Sutil to go off the road to cause the incident; nope! Did Bianchi order the recovery of Sutil's car when the track was not under control; nope! (In no way am I saying that I feel Sutil was responsible!) Did Bianchi aim his car at the recovery vehicle; nope! Did Bianchi have any say in the suitability of the recovery vehicle as to its compatibility with an F1 car's dimension; nope. (Or the "safe" dimensions of an f1 car; nope) So, would Bianchi's injuries be anywhere near as severe as they are if the recovery vehicle had not been ordered onto the track area; NO!

As far as there not being any hindsight to indicate the need for a safety car . . . Everyone, either at the track or just watching the race were could see, and indicated, that the track conditions were deteriorating rapidly. Hindsight wasn't necessary, common sense would have been very helpful. A safety car wouldn't have been needed if they hadn't tried to recover Sutil's car, or, if they had waited until they had total control over the track. (However they might have achieved it!)

Hopefully there will be some improvements to the "system" regardless of whom they point the finger at; because it was primarily the system that failed, not the driver! (If it was the driver's fault, then Sutil, (excepting for some miraculous occurrence!) should be in the same condition as Bianchi; the other race conditions between the two accidents were pretty much the same.)"

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11. Posted by Stitch431, 03/12/2014 22:46

"Well I believe it is rather the combination of the circumstances that are at fault, together with the fact, that in the heat of the moment, being a bit bit more behind than he wanted, going a bit too fast, it was the water flooding the road in T7 in combination with the Wet tyres of Pirelli that due to the fact that they have not been able to test them properly last winter and the sorry fact that the failsafe did not work and then the truck that was right in his path. These are all facts that added up to the accident and looking at this it is a bit strange to say that the comittee found Bianchi at fault. Yes a tiny part might be but it is all the facts that added up that lead to the ultimate event. That is, after reading it all very carefully is my opinion."

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