Imagine you’re driving at 200km/h. But you’re basically lying down with your bum about 10cm off the ground and your head poking up at about 90cm looking along the bonnet. There’s no windshield so the monsoonal rain not only goes straight on to your visor but the spray from the other cars means it’s impossible to see. All you can do is follow the flashing lights of the car in front.
It’s 2014 and you’re on lap 42 of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka in a Ferrari-powered Marussia. Not only is there spray but the light is fading.
You don’t know Sauber driver Adrian Sutil has just hit water flowing across the track, lost control and rammed into a retaining wall. Race officials send out a 6500kg crane to get the Sauber out.
You arrive at the same corner. You hit the same water. You lose control. You hit the brake and accelerator at the same time to activate the fail-safe that is meant to cut the engine. It doesn’t work.
Now you see you’re heading for the 6500kg crane holding the Sauber. Your car slips under the crane and it all goes dark.
Jules Bianchi, 25, was placed in an induced coma and died 10 months later.
Naturally, official reports blamed human error. Jules ignored double yellow flags. Double yellow means that something is wholly or partly blocking the track and marshals are working on or beside the track. A driver must reduce speed “significantly”, not overtake and be ready to stop.
But race officials hadn’t followed up two months before in Germany when drivers ignored the yellows and lapped at 250km/h.
Now it’s the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. The monsoonal rain and spray effectively means Pierre Gasly is driving his Alpha Tauri blind. Blind means at some times he can’t see the front of his car.
He doesn’t see the advertising sign ripped off the barrier and lying on the track. He hits it, damages the front wing and comes into the pits.
Unknown to Gasly, race officials had brought out the crane and a truck. When he finally sees them he doesn’t slam on the brakes. That saves him from repeating the crash that killed Jules Bianchi.
“What is this tractor on track? I passed next to it … this is unacceptable. Remember what happened. I can’t believe this. I could have f--king killed myself,” Gasly told the world.
So, what did F1 officials do? Apologise to Gasly because having a crane and truck out on the track in the rain meant they had learned nothing from Bianchi’s death? Say we screwed up? No readers. You know the go here.
They blamed Gasly, gave him a 20-second penalty and took two points off his licence. Seriously, who are these clowns?
“In 2022 a machine that weighs probably 15 tonnes with no protection whatsoever is plonked on the track in conditions so bad that the race is red flagged. How can that happen? It is a ridiculous situation and is in direct conflict with the safety advances F1 has made since Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994,” wrote former Jordan and Jaguar F1 technical director Gary Anderson in London’s Telegraph.
But wait there’s more.
Race officials pulled out the chequered flag a lap early. Mad Max learned he was world champ from a TV reporter.
Even the race commentators thought he needed one more race to get the title. Chuck Leclerc was hit with a five-second penalty for cutting the chicane but wasn’t able to give stewards his point of view.
As Autosport’s Irish editor, Alex Kalinauckas, wrote: “A week before the Suzuka race, it’d taken nearly two hours for the final result and Perez’s Singapore victory to be confirmed. This was due to the stewards giving the Red Bull driver the chance to argue his case.”
Then, the FIA’s annual review found Red Bull had spent 5 per cent, or $10m more, than it should have but classified the Red Bull breach as a “minor overspend”. And F1 is meant to be a professional sport.
In the much better organised Bathurst 1000, our fairytale ending didn’t come true with the Chris Pither/Cameron Hill PremiAir Holden coming 22nd (or to put it bluntly, third last), with the Mad Max of Australian motorsport, Shane van Gisbergen and his Fernando Alonso sidekick, Garth Tander, taking the race.
Last Saturday's Mazda MX-5 Cup (and who says I don’t like Mazda?) or as we call it these days, the Herring Family Benefit (I think there are four of them now … what do they put in the water on the South Coast?) had a record 25 starters.
Embarrassingly, your correspondent was in Car 69. Less embarrassingly, the old bloke is stuck in Adelaide waiting for us to star in next month’s Peter Malinauskas (another Irish person) Memorial Rally. I’m pleased to say a reader did suggest that Mick and I were GILFs (whatever that means).
Anyway, time for our car of the week. It’s not Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari F1 that RM Sotheby’s is selling (during the 2003 season, he won five times in it, got three pole positions, three fastest laps, and a further two podium finishes in Monaco and France, surpassing Fangio’s 46-year record).
Nup, to honour Holden’s last Bathurst, it’s the 2008 HSV W427 Sedan (Build No 58) from Shannon’s Spring Sale. Around $200k or the same price as a red Porker Cayenne GTS. $155k new, the W427 hits 100km/h in 4.7 seconds or about the same as the Porker. Anywhere from $160k on is a steal.