Jules Bianchi “did not slow sufficiently” to avoid an accident during the Japanese GP; that is the ruling of the FIA’s Accident Panel.
Put together in the wake of Bianchi’s tragic accident at the Japanese GP, during which the Marussia went off the track on lap 43 and slammed into a tractor that was recovering Adrian Sutil’s Sauber.
Bianchi suffered severe head trauma and underwent emergency surgery. The Frenchman has, according to the most recent update on his condition, yet to regain conscious.
On Wednesday, the Accident Panel, chaired by Safety Commission President Peter Wright, delivered its 396-page report with recommendations for improvements.
The Panel declared that several factors played a role in the horrific accident, although “none alone” caused it.
On a wet track, following Sutil’s off and under double yellow flags – as there was “no apparent reason why the Safety Car should have been deployed either before or after Sutil’s accident” – Bianchi “did not slow sufficiently to avoid losing control.”
The Frenchman “over-controlled the oversteering car”, which resulted in him colliding with the mobile crane, hitting it at pace after Marussia’s Brake-by-Wire overrode an engine FailSafe setting.
The report added that “during the two 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.
“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.”
As for what can be done in the future to avoid a similar tragedy, the Panel ruled that closed cockpits or skirts for tractors and cranes would not be a solution as “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.”
There are, however, other ways such as a speed limit in any section of track where double yellow flags are being displayed, improving drainage at circuits including at the access roads and reviewing the safety critical software that the sport uses.
The Panel also addressed the late starting hour of the Japanese Grand Prix, saying that a regulation or guideline must “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.”
The report added that “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.”
The FIA Accident Panel