SUZUKA Japan (Reuters) - Jules Bianchi’s accident in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix has prompted questions over whether the Formula One race should have been started earlier to beat deteriorating weather conditions.
The Frenchman suffered severe head injury after his Marussia slid off the slippery track, drenched by rain brought in by the approaching typhoon Phanfone, and hit a recovery vehicle.
Adrian Sutil had crashed his Sauber at the same point a lap earlier.
There had been talk earlier in the week of bringing the race forward to beat the worst of the typhoon but the decision was to start as scheduled at 16:00 p.m. BST.
“We weren’t asked about our opinion so there is nothing I can say,” Sutil, who witnessed Bianchi’s accident, said when asked about it.
“It was clear it got more wet and it would have been quite easy to make the race earlier but it is not in my hands.”
Retired triple world champion and Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda agreed: “They could have started earlier, there’s no question about it,” said the Austrian.
“It was foreseeable. They could have started the race at one but I don’t take these decisions.”
The race started behind the safety car as rain drenched the 5.8 km circuit but, with conditions clearly too treacherous, it was red-flagged and the field led back into the pits at the end of the second lap.
Conditions gradually improved enough for the drivers to race on intermediate tyres, though the showers returned near the end with the light also fading.
“For me personally it wasn’t (that bad),” Mercedes race winner Lewis Hamilton said when asked how slippery conditions were near the end.
“There was more and more rain coming and... you started to see more reflections,” added the championship leader, who can count on a lot more grip in his car than Bianchi in his Marussia.
“But...I didn’t notice any difference so I was still able to maintain the same pace.”
Brazilian Felipe Massa, however, said he was “screaming for the race to stop” when the rain returned towards the end.
“I was screaming on the radio five laps before the Safety Car that there was too much water on the track,” said the Williams driver, who went to the Mie General Hospital to see Bianchi. “It was dangerous.”
Lauda said, however, that the FIA had deployed the safety cars at the right time to keep the race under control.
“There were safety cars put in and the race was run safe more or less to the end,” said the Austrian, who saw Bianchi’s accident as a combination of unfortunate events as well as a reminder that motor racing remains a dangerous sport.
“We get used to it if nothing happens and then suddenly we are all surprised,” Lauda said.
Editing by Alan Baldwin