The Formula 1 community is in mourning following the passing of 25-year old Jules Bianchi on Friday night 17 July 2015. Bianchi had been hospitalised since suffering head trauma during the Japanese Grand Prix on 5 October 2014 and never regained consciousness after the crash..
In a sport that has made enormous developments in driver safety over the past few decades, it comes as a real shock that a driver can die as a result of injuries sustained in a crash during a Grand Prix. Bianchi’s death is a reminder of the inherent dangers in motorsport and the constant need to improve safety wherever possible.
Bianchi’s death marks the second tragedy to befall the Marussia F1 team, after the death of Maria de Villota in October 2013. De Villota was involved in a testing crash in July 2012, as a result of which she lost her right eye. Although she was released from hospital and resumed her public life, on 11 October 2013 De Villota suffered a cardiac arrest, which may have been related to her injuries of a year before. She was dead at just 33-years old.
It’s been 21 years since a driver died as a result of a crash on a Grand Prix weekend. The last driver to do so before Bianchi was, of course, Ayrton Senna. I remember watching Senna’s crash live on television and I remember vividly watching the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and fearing a similar fate for Bianchi. I’m sure the loss I feel in the wake of Bianchi’s death is but a shadow of the anguish his family is going through. My thoughts are with them at this very difficult time.
Jules Bianchi was a phenomenal talent. He won races in Formula 2, Formula 3, Gp2 and Formula Renault 3.5 before progressing to Formula 1, where he immediately impressed. He scored the first ever points (and only points to-date) for the Marussia F1 team when he finished 9th at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.
As a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Bianchi was frequently speculated to be in the running for a Ferrari Formula 1 drive, which could well have happened if not for his fatal injury. Bianchi was Ferrari’s test and reserve driver in 2011 and fulfilled the same role for Force India in 2012 before making his F1 race debut in 2013 for Marussia.
Bianchi was considered by many to be a future race winner and potential world champion. In that respect, and in terms of his clear skill behind the wheel of a racing car, comparisons can be drawn with the late Gilles Villeneuve, who is considered one of the great talents of Formula 1 but died without a championship to his name.
Early on Saturday morning 18 July 2015, the Bianchi family released the following statement:
It is with deep sadness that the parents of Jules Bianchi, Philippe and Christine, his brother Tom and sister Mélanie, wish to make it known that Jules passed away last night at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (CHU) in Nice, (France) where he was admitted following the accident of 5th October 2014 at Suzuka Circuit during the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix.
“Jules fought right to the very end, as he always did, but today his battle came to an end,” said the Bianchi family. “The pain we feel is immense and indescribable. We wish to thank the medical staff at Nice’s CHU who looked after him with love and dedication. We also thank the staff of the General Medical Center in the Mie Prefecture (Japan) who looked after Jules immediately after the accident, as well as all the other doctors who have been involved with his care over the past months.
“Furthermore, we thank Jules’ colleagues, friends, fans and everyone who has demonstrated their affection for him over these past months, which gave us great strength and helped us deal with such difficult times. Listening to and reading the many messages made us realise just how much Jules had touched the hearts and minds of so many people all over the world.
“We would like to ask that our privacy is respected during this difficult time, while we try to come to terms with the loss of Jules.”
Jules Bianchi, the young Frenchman who drives for F1 backmarkers Marussia, deserves a seat in a top team. More specifically, he deserves to drive for Ferrari.
Bianchi has impressed all the way through the single seater formulae. But since making it to Formula 1 at the beginning of 2013, he has consistently demonstrated the skill and maturity €required to merit a drive with Ferrari, the organisation that has backed his rise to Formula 1.
Bianchi is part of Ferrari’s Driver Academy, and therefore has the support of Formula 1’s most famous team as he builds his career in motor sport. While that’s a great position for any young driver to be in, it’s becoming more and more clear that the question needs to be asked: Why is Bianchi not driving for Ferrari?
A Formula 1 driver in a slow car has one major aim – to beat his team-mate. To say Bianchi has beaten his team-mate at Marussia is to make a quite ridiculous understatement. Bianchi has obliterated his team-mate – Max Chilton – since the first time he sat in the cockpit of a Marussia F1 car.
But more than that, Bianchi has put Marussia on the F1 map. Significantly, he scored the team’s first ever points at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix when he finished 8th (he was demoted to 9th as a result of a penalty incurred during the race).
Today, Bianchi showed his class yet again, by qualifying 16th for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix. 16th doesn’t sound particularly impressive, but consider that Bianchi was over a second a half quicker than his own team-mate in Q1 and matched the Q1 lap time of Sauber’s Adrian Sutil.
Whenever difficult conditions present themselves – like in today’s wet Belgian GP qualifying session – Bianchi performs extremely well. Whenever conditions are ideal, Bianchi generally outperforms his team-mate. More cannot be asked of a racing driver in any category.
Ferrari’s drivers in 2014 are Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Both are former world champions, which is very unusual for Ferrari – before signing Michael Schumacher for 1996, Ferrari had typically employed up-and-coming drivers and until signing Kimi Raikkonen for this season, Ferrari had never re-employed a former Ferrari world champion.
Jules Bianchi is the ideal driver for Ferrari. He has talent in abundance – that much is very clear. He has shown maturity and determination in his performances in Formula 1 – indicating that he would do the same for Ferrari. Bianchi is also young and has no particular achievements that demand a high salary (he’s not a world champion or even a race winner yet, mostly as the result of not having a quick enough car) – which leaves more of Ferrari’s budget available for car development.
So why is Bianchi not driving for Ferrari? Honestly, I don’t know. If Ferrari don’t come to their senses and offer him a drive for 2015, it is likely that Bianchi will be winning races for one of the other top teams next season.
Max Chilton recorded his first ever Formula 1 retirement in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix. It’s probably the most important event that has occurred in his short F1 career thus far.
Chilton has had a monkey on his back for some time now. That monkey has been his reliability. He finished every race of his debut season in 2013 and followed that up by finishing the first six races of 2014 – a run of 25 consecutive race finishes, which is impressive for any driver in Formula 1.
The problem was it became his claim to fame. Chilton was the driver who finished every race. It’s certainly not a problem to finish races. Finishing is essential to results. But finishing is not a result in itself. Winning is a result. Finishing on the podium is a result. Finishing in the points is a result. Finishing ahead of your rivals is a result. Finishing ahead of your team-mate is a result.
While Chilton was notching up his impressive run of race finishes, his team-mate, the ever-impressive Jules Bianchi, was notching up results that displayed his immense promise as a Formula 1 driver. He comprehensively outperformed Chilton in 2013 (the debut season of both drivers) and most recently scored the Marussia team’s first ever points by finishing 9th at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Where do Chilton’s 25 consecutive race finishes rank next to Bianchi’s 2 point in Monaco? Nowhere. Nobody cares that Chilton has been reliable to an unlikely degree. It’s results that count, not race finishes.
And that is why it’s crucial that Chilton had to retire from a race. After 25 consecutive finishes, it’s likely that he felt some pressure to make it to the finish line simply so he could avoid failing to finish. But that’s not the point of racing. Results are the point of racing.
Chilton can now focus on results. He starts with a clean slate at the next round in Austria. It’s a neutral venue, in that it’s not his home race, nor is it the home race of his team or any major partner of his team. There’s no specific pressure. It’s just another race where he gets to go out there and do the best he can with the car his team prepares for him.
Perhaps we’ll see Chilton really start to challenge Bianchi in the near future. Until now, he’s hardly done so. But the freedom that comes with getting that monkey off his back can only do him a great deal of good.
The first day of pre-season testing for 2014 Formula One cars has come and gone. It included a few red flags, a crash (for Lewis Hamilton) and a some modest mileage for a few of the teams.
What day 1 of testing in Jerez did not include was a Marussia F1 car. The following statement appeared on the team’s Facebook page early in the day, explaining the delay:
“After encountering a small but frustrating technical glitch with the MR03 during its sign-off, we are very pleased to inform you that the car is now well on its way from our Technical Centre in Banbury, bound for Jerez. The garage here is ready and waiting and we look forward to seeing the car arrive tomorrow. Thanks for all your support!”
Also absent from the test was the Lotus E22. Lotus decided some time ago to skip the first test, which means that the first running of their new car will take place in Bahrain on 19 February.
It was expected that the first day of testing would be relatively quiet. With all-new power units in the cars, the complexity involved in this year’s testing is significantly greater than was the case last year. And teething problems are inevitable. There were plenty of those.
McLaren did not run their new car, the MP4-29, at all, after electrical problems hampered their efforts throughout the day. Caterham managed only one lap with their new driver, Marcus Ericsson. Sebastian Vettel covered just three laps in the Red Bull RB10 and did not set a lap time.
It was only a matter of time before someone crashed in testing, and the first man to damage his car on track was Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes W05. To be fair to Hamilton, it really was not his fault at all. The front wing of his Mercedes failed at high speed on the main straight, which effectively prevented him from slowing down enough to take the first corner. Hamilton went off into the tyre barrier at the end of the straight in an accident very similar to that of Fernando Alonso in Malaysia last year.
Fortunately, Hamilton was unhurt and the damage to the car did not appear to be too extensive. Mercedes nonetheless decided not to run again for the rest of the day in order to investigate the cause of the front wing failure.
Until his accident, Hamilton was comfortably the quickest driver of the day and looked set to cover more mileage than anyone else. As it turned out, Kimi Raikkonen went on to set the standard for the day in both respects. He covered 31 laps in the Ferrari F14 T and set the fastest time of the day, seven tenths of a second quicker than Hamilton’s best effort.
Lap times in testing seldom mean much, as it’s difficult to know exactly what the teams are testing at any given point. With brand new cars that are as different to their predecessors as this year’s F1 cars, lap times on day 1 of testing mean nothing at all, so there is very little point in analysing them.
What is perhaps telling at this point is the amount of mileage the teams were able to cover. Ferrari did more than twice as many laps as any other team aside from Mercedes. That is the result of a measure of reliability, which will please the team greatly. It remains to be seen whether or not the F14 T will continue to run without problems in testing. The car did stop on track on its very first installation lap in the morning, but Ferrari reported that the stoppage was “precautionary.”
Here are the lap times and lap count for each team from day 1 in Jerez:
1. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1m 27.104s, 31 laps
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes , 1m 27.820s, 18 laps
3. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1m 30.082s, 7 laps
4. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1m 33.161s, 11 laps
5. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1m 36.530s, 15 laps
6. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, 1m 42.257s, 7 laps
7. Sebastian Vettel , Red Bull, No time, 3 laps
8. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham, No time, 1 lap
Cosworth is a current engine supplier to Formula One. Its customers are Marussia and HRT, the teams that came second last and last in 2012. It seems, however, that HRT’s days in Formula One are over, which halves Cosworth’s F1 customer base. How long will it be before Cosworth disappears from Formula One altogether?
Formula One is in the midst of an engine freeze. Until the end of 2013, the engines run in Formula One cars must largely be free from alteration. But for 2014, the situation changes dramatically. Gone are the current 2.4 litre V8 engines, which will be replaced by turbocharged 1.6 litre V6 powerplants. For the major engine suppliers (Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault) the change in engine regulations has already resulted in a significant amount of investment and testing. But for Cosworth, it might just be a waste of time.
Cosworth’s only current Formula One customers finished last (HRT) and second last (Marussia) in the 2012 Formula One World Constructors’ Championship. Neither team scored points, and the highest finishing position by a Cosworth engine this season was 12th for Timo Glock’s Marussia in Singapore. If both teams seemed able to sustain long-term relationships with Cosworth, then development of a new engine could make sense. But HRT are in the process of liquidating, which creates problems for Cosworth.
Developing a new engine for Formula One requires an enormous amount of work. The engine must be designed and tested to perform in the most demanding of environments – the back of a Formula one car. So it is not an exercise to be taken lightly. Cosworth must believe that they stand to benefit from the new engine before they even begin to develop it. In the case of their 2014 Formula One engine, the benefits are looking quite small at the moment.
Each of the other engine manufacturers supplies at least three teams, and none of those relationships looks like breaking down, which gives those engine suppliers incentive to dedicate resources to 2014 engine development. But in the case of Cosworth, with only back-of-the-field Marussia to worry about, what’s the point in going to the trouble of developing a new engine that is unlikely to be in a competitive car? They may as well focus their attention on their already successful involvement in other forms of motorsport.
There is the possibility that Cosworth could be handed a lifeline. With HRT gone, there are only 11 teams left in Formula One. The Concorde Agreement that governs the sport allows for a field of 13 teams. That leaves two spots open for potential new entrants. If the FIA can find two new teams, Cosworth would be the obvious source of engines for the newcomers, as the other engine suppliers already have quite enough on their hands. If, however, the FIA chooses to keep a field of just 11 teams in 2014, then Cosworth could well decide to pull out of Formula One.
Marussia will mis the last pre-season test, after their car failed the last of the FIA’s mandatory crash tests. That means the team will arrive in Australia (assuming they can correct the issue and pass the test) with absolutely no mileage on their car.
Driving a Formula One car is dangerous at the best of times. The acceleration, braking, and corning abilities of the cars are staggering. The very idea of participating in a session on a grand prix weekend in a car that has never hit the track is ridiculous. At best, the car will be slow. At worst, it is a death trap.
A slow Formula One car is about the most dangerous thing imaginable. The closing speeds of the cars under braking are mind-blowing. A Red Bull could be braking 80 metres later than a Marussia in Melbourne in three weeks time. The potential exists for accidents like that of Mark Webber at Valencia in 2010, where he ran into the back of Kovalainen’s Lotus because he was surprised by how early the Lotus had to brake.
This is not the first time that a team is arriving at the first race with no testing. HRT have done it for the last two years. In 2010, they ran their cars for the first time in qualifying for Bahrain. In 2011, with the 107% rule re-introduced, they failed to qualify for Australia, to the surprise of no-one.
The regulations do not require a car to run in testing before it can take part in a grand prix weekend. In that regard, the regulations are woefully indequate. The FIA needs to wake up and realise that, by allowing this to happen, they are deliberately creating an unsafe environment for racing. Formula One is dangerous enough already. Why make it worse?
Marussia (previously known as Virgin) have announced that their 2012 car will not make use of KERS. In doing so, they have effectively relegated themselves to the back of the grid.
KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) works by harvesting energy under braking, and then using the stored energy to boost engine power for a few seconds a lap. The system is thought to be worth around three tenths of a second per lap.
All of the other teams will be running KERS this season, which immediately puts Marussia at a disadvantage. Formula 1 is largely a technical battle. The best car generally wins. By not using KERS, Marussia are putting themselves behind everyone else by three tenths per lap. Those three tenths have to be made up somewhere else. Considering that all of the other teams will be working to improve all aspects of their cars all the time, the chances of Marussia making up that difference are virtually nil.
So it seems that Marussia will spend another season as also-rans. Hopefully they can prove otherwise, and make good progress aerodynamically, but they are starting on the back foot.