The FIA have concluded their investigation into the recovery vehicle incident during the Japanese GP.
Formula 1 safety hit a low point at the Japanese GP. On the 8th anniversary of F1 Jules Bianchi’s death from colliding with a recovery vehicle during a wet, Japanese GP, an eerily similar incident nearly occurred with AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly.
The incident took place after Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz collided with the barrier on the first lap of the race. Following the collision, a tractor and a crane were sent to remove the Ferrari from the track. This occurred under a safety car, which the other cars closely followed. However, as the AlphaTauri driver had pitted, he was driving at a higher speed to catch the rest of the pack. This meant that Gasly encountered the recovery vehicles at a speed of 163 km/h and accelerated up to 250km/h for the rest of the lap, clearly shaken by the incident. Gasly made his feelings clear about the near-miss stating that he was ‘two metres from passing away’ and that it was disrespectful to his late friend Bianchi to have had a crane on track.
Following the Grand Prix, the FIA summoned the Frenchman to the stewards and awarded him a 20-second penalty for speeding under a safety and primarily placed the blame on the driver for the near-miss. However, many of the drivers and teams defended Gasly and questioned why the FIA had allowed a recovery vehicle to enter the track, especially given the events of 8 years ago. McLaren driver Lando Norris expressed his frustration at the situation and wrote on Twitter. ‘‘Wtf. How’s this happened!? We lost a life in this situation years ago. We risk our lives, especially in conditions like this. We wanna race. But this… Unacceptable.’
This sentiment was echoed by multiple drivers in their post-race interviews, with Williams driver Alex Albon even saying that Sebastian Vettel, the director of the GDPA (the drivers’ trade union), had mentioned the issue of having recovery vehicles on track during a drivers’ briefing earlier that week.
Despite the controversy, the FIA doubled down on their criticism of Gasly in their newly-released incident report. In the report, the FIA stated that the AlphaTauri driver was driving in a ‘reckless manner’ and was ‘ignoring the basic safety rules’. In addition, the governing body concluded that all race procedures were followed given that marshals and recovery vehicles were on track after the deployment of the safety car. However, the FIA has admitted that the AlphaTauri was not immediately detected in the pitlane and that it may have been better to delay the deployment of recovery vehicles. The report also outlines proposed actions to be taken, including an official messaging system to provide information to teams so that they can inform drivers about recovery vehicles as well as a monitoring window to display the status of all cars, both on track and in the pitlane.
Formula 1 has been a dangerous sport since its initiation. However, after the deaths of 4-time world champion Aryton Senna and more recently Jules Bianchi, many changes, such as the introduction of the halo, have been implemented to improve safety within the sport. Nevertheless, the Japanese GP has highlighted clear safety issues within the sport that must be fixed to protect the lives of both drivers and marshals. The proposed measures suggested in the FIA’s investigation will be implemented for the rest of the 2022 season with the hope that an incident like this never happens again.
Illustration by Isla Hibberd