The world’s attention was turned to Japan on Sunday morning following the news of the horrendous crash in the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix where Marussia driver, Jules Bianchi suffered serious brain injuries after crashing into a recovery vehicle, sent on to the track to take another car off the Suzuka track. The accident occurred during a race badly affected by typhoon Phanfone, which due to the torrential rain, caused limited visibility for drivers on a wet, slippery track. Following Bianchi’s crash the race was rightfully brought to a premature end as all attention turned to helping the stricken Frenchman. Bianchi was eventually pulled out of his car by marshalls, and taken by ambulance to the local hospital. Still unconscious following the crash, Bianchi was immediately rushed into surgery and is now in intensive care as his family and the sporting world wait for news on his health.
Following the end of a Grand Prix, racing protocol dictates that the winner takes their place on the podium accompanied by the drivers who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. For drivers, the podium is a place for celebration, a platform above the race track where these elite sportsmen can celebrate victory in the same way footballers celebrate scoring a goal. Bottles of champagne are handed to the drivers and consequently are sprayed around the podium as the three drivers revel in their moment of glory. Only on Sunday, things were different. Sure race winner Lewis Hamilton was joined on the podium by racing colleagues Nico Rosberg (2nd) and Sebastien Vettel (3rd), and as usual the bottles of champagne were handed out to each driver. Only this time, there was none of the extravagance of celebration. There was no jumping up and down on the spot. There was no beaming smiles brought about from the elation of victory. There was no drawn-out celebration usually seen by drivers who look to take in the moment of glory. There was only an eager swiftness to get away from an awkward situation. The lack of emotion on the faces of the three drivers was a telling sign. The shock of the incident that had occurred just minutes earlier was evident on each individual’s face and the swiftness to get off the podium was something very rarely seen in the history of the sport. This was not a time for celebration and each driver knew that. The post-race interviews were carried out with many drivers visibly shook by the enormity of what had just happened, with the main concern being for the health of the 25-year-old driver. Felipe Massa, himself no stranger to injuries sustained in the seat of a Formula One car, gave an extremely emotional and passionate interview in which he claimed that prior to the crash he had been screaming down his car radio that conditions had become too dangerous and demanding that the race should be brought to an end. The question of whether the race should have started earlier in an attempt to avoid the bad weather was a topic of fierce debate in the paddock, with drivers and mechanics’ opinions split on the decision. As the Formula One season rolls on to Russia for another Grand Prix this weekend, a dark cloud hangs over the sport. The safety element of the sport will once again be brought into question by the sporting world, as drivers somehow try and find a way to move on from the horror of Japan with the unenviable task of getting back on the track.
Formula One is one of the most lucrative sports in the world. A global phenomenon, it takes a special type of person to step into the cockpit of a Formula One car and hurtle round a track full of bends at speeds sometimes exceeding 200 miles per hour. Courage or stupidity? Some believe, people willing to put their lives literally on the line in the search for some sort of fulfilment are mad. I prefer to look at F1 drivers as incredibly brave people who look to challenge the status quo, by looking to stretch the capabilities of the human body, mind and spirit. They are revolutionaries. The adrenalin rush that other sportsmen feel in scoring a try or a goal, racing drivers feel overtaking rival drivers at speeds of 200mph. The danger element is something that rather than quell their determination, inspires them to overcome adversity and inspire others to live life without fear. The idea that any person can do their job is both fanciful and ridiculous. It takes years of training and dedication to become a racing driver. It takes years of building a relationship between man and machine, so that the two can eventually trust in each other to work effectively together. Racing drivers remain arguably the most intelligent of sportsmen for this very reason, and it is this very reason why incidents such as Sunday are thankfully so rare. Although, unfortunately accidents still do happen.
The reaction of the drivers on Sunday shows once more that there is more to life than sport. It emphasises the importance of sport in bringing people together and equally the importance of the global sporting community. At the end of the day, in a sport as daring as motor racing, drivers are colleagues more than competitors. The safety of their fellow drivers remains a priority over personal triumph, a characteristic evidently seen after the race on Sunday. In a year when a fellow racing man Michael Schumacher fights his own battle against adversity, tribalism and rivalry goes out the window to make way for compassion and support for a fellow human being.
The next few days are crucial for Bianchi and as the sporting world agonisingly waits for news on his health, there remains only one thing to do……
Pray for Jules Bianchi.