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Red Flags And Repercussions: F1's Horror Race In Suzuka-And Why It Should Never Have Happened

After the terrible events in Japan this weekend,SCOMO's Paul Wheeler asks if the race should even have started, looks at the aftermath, and prays for Marussia's Jules Bianchi

Justin Davies

It's a race that many are arguing should never have happened.

The events in Suzuka this weekend have once again thrown the spotlight on the side of F1 that fans, drivers and journalists would prefer to forget-the fact that when you have cars travelling at nearly 200mph and something goes wrong, bad things tend to happen.

F1 has made monumental safety strides in recent years-the numbers of huge accidents we've seen which have left bits of carbon-fibre and rubber scattered across tarmac like a yard sale on a motorway but seen drivers walking away are numerous-not least several involving Felipe Massa this season, including one horror collision at Silverstone that saw a Ferrari plough straight through the side of his Williams at 180mph and could have been far, far worse but for the lightning reactions of Kimi Raikkonen.

We've seen cars race in thundering downpours and carnage ensue (remember the infamous races in Malaysia in 2010 and 2012?) but we've never seen a race like Suzuka.

The signs should have been there. The track looked like a duckpond, with standing water all over the track. There were concerns expressed before the race, with track owners Honda being asked if they could move the start forward by four hours local time in order to get something of a safe race going due to concerns over the weather. They refused. By 3pm, with the rain hammering down, the cars could only start under a safety car onto a track that looked like a river in places:

Look at that track. That's a surface you'd think twice about driving a family car to the shops on, never mind flinging a racing car around at 100+mph in battle with 21 others.

During the early laps the warnings kept coming in. Marcus Ericsson spun his Caterham under the warmup conditions while gingerly accelerating out of the last corner, while Seb Vettel came over the radio telling his team he was aquaplaning (basically, his car was turning into a boat as the wheels lost grip with the track and rode on the surface water, robbing him of all control) while coming into corners at 50mph. Imagine the fear you'd have if suddenly unable to steer your own car, then imagine it happening at 150mph in an open-cockpit racer with your legs a few feet from the nosecone and your car heading for an Armco barrier.

Reports are conflicting on what happened next-some drivers, like Lewis Hamilton, were saying the track was "OK for racing"...others say they weren't even asked before the decision was made to race...amazingly since Hamilton also asked his Mercedes team "Tell Nico (Rosberg) not to brake hard in front of me because he's 20ft in front and I can't see him".

After ten laps under the safety car, the race was off and running, despite the dangers of aquaplaning, surface water all over the circuit and the kind of visibility that grounds jets at most commercial airports.

Then came pure horror. Adrian Sutil slid his Sauber into the barriers at Turn 8 after once again losing control on the wet track, and a routine car retrieval went very wrong indeed as Jules Bianchi lost control of his Marussia and slid uncontrollably into the back of the recovery tractor-a one-in-a-thousand chance but one that left the young Frenchman unconscious in hospital and fighting for his life.

The finish was almost an afterthought, with the race unsurprisingly being stopped-Lewis Hamilton took the win, but quite frankly, few people really cared.

The question is for many-why did the race start in the first place? With cars spinning under warm-up lap conditions, drivers warning that they could barely see and the cars simply weren't staying on the track, why did FIA's Charlie Whiting and his team send the drivers back out after the first two laps were once again brought to a halt under a red flag?

The answer is simple...they wanted the money. Niki Lauda and the FIA will argue until the cows come home that "the drivers wanted to race" and "we did everything right", but they could have played hardball with Honda and said "either we move the start at your track to 11am or we don't race"-they didn't. They could've had the cars go out for the two laps under safety car, listen to the evidence and feedback coming back from the majority of drivers and stop the race...they didn't.

They made the decision to start and have F1 cars run at racing speed in weather conditions basically caused by an approaching typhoon...a decision which is insane to anyone considering it rationally.

And as a result, the worst possible thing has happened, and a driver is now fighting for his life in a crash caused by conditions which should never have seen the race start in the first place.

Keep fighting, Jules Bianchi, and may whatever deities exist help you to recover. Otherwise, whether or not they can justify the start of the race with weasel words, the FIA will have blood on their hands from this race.