Sunday, 5 October 2014

Japanese Grand Prix - The Race

A dark day for F1

I debated long and hard whether to still post this blog after Jules Bianchi’s terrible accident near the end of the Japanese Grand Prix but whatever happens (and we pray that Jules makes a full recovery) a motor race did take place, there was a winner, a 1-2-3 and points were awarded. These things are not hugely important while a man’s life hangs in the balance. The Japanese Grand Prix of 2014 will forever be remembered for what happened on lap 44 but the results of the race will still count. We can forget sometimes that Formula 1 is dangerous and whilst you can work to minimise the degree of risk that drivers are exposed to, you can never make it completely safe. It is 20 years since the last driver race fatality – Ayrton Senna, the best driver of his generation – but there have been some very near misses since then. So I decided to post my blog as a record of a race with sadly very tragic undertones.

I blogged while watching the race ‘recorded but as if live’ (avoiding all news, spoilers and Twitter). Apologies if the tone seems irreverent or flippant at times in light of later events. Like all F1 fans, I started watching the race in a happy state of anticipation and sadly by the time it ended we were all in a state of shock.

Thoughts and prayers are with Jules, his family, friends and the Marussia team.

Back to the start.

Sorry about the lack of blogging (life has an annoying habit of getting in the way – and also three little letters called ‘PTA’ and if you don’t know what that means then lucky you) but wow Singapore hey? Who knew Singapore could be SO exciting? Well that spiced things up nicely didn’t it. With just four races to go until the Boom or Bust Finale in Abu Dhabi. In a highly unusually prescient moment, I did say in my preview blog for Singapore that Lewis Hamilton was less than a race win away and a DNF for Nico Rosberg from leading the championship race. And guess what? Its game on. What a stupendously exciting season this is proving to be.

Last time out, Hamilton triumphed in Singapore

I am currently home alone with the 3 year old while the husband and the 7 year old have trekked off to some rugby tournament in another county. I actually got a comment yesterday from the husband "you are not a rugby mum are you". Erm let me think about that one. No. So I have Sunday morning heaven of coffee and the Japanese Grand Prix in a warm roasty toasty house.

Japanese GP races have been a little bit disappointing in recent years but still I love Suzuka and am so looking forward to this race: (1) Japan can give us epic races and has provided some of THE most dramatic and emotional F1 moments ever, (2) Japanese F1 fans are absolutely brilliant and (3) clearly it is all shades of exciting as the husband was frantically checking his phone every 2 seconds for updates just before he left on rugby-martyr-watching duty and he was only up to lap 26!

Apparently, we haven’t had ANY rain during a race so far this season or apparently had any rain during a race since the 2012 Brazil GP. Blimey. If ever a season needed some rain it was the Death-Defyingly Dull 2013 season. Puddles, rivers, reservoirs, oceans you name it, the Suzuka track has got the water equivalent. So not surprisingly the race is starting behind a safety car. I’m beginning to think I’m going to need something much stronger than coffee to get through it.

Martin is very surprised the race wasn’t brought forward and said he had a chat about it all with Charlie Whiting this morning. Charlie said the job of the FIA is to monitor safety and all he can do is to assess whether its safe to race at the times they are allocated. Whoever is to blame then for not moving the race it is not Charlie. It is all down to the Japanese organisers/promoters. Maybe they had their £££££ reasons hey.

The race gets underway behind the Safety Car 

It’s the first safety car start since Canada 2011 – and we all know how that race turned out?! 4 hours of pure F1 gold. So we’re off, albeit very, very, very slowly and already the drivers are struggling to get heat in their brakes behind the safety car. I pity the poor safety car driver being sent out in those conditions. When Vettel comes over the radio to report he is aquaplaning you know things are horrendously difficult out there.

Just as Lewis comes on over the radio to say he can’t see Rosberg in front of him the race is RED-FLAGGED. Maybe Charlie had a vision of the apocalyptic fall-out if Lewis crashed into the back of Nico. So all the cars are now parked in the pitlane and NOT the grid. The red flag came out before the leader had completed 2 laps. So are we into half points territory yet? No one seems to know. And Martin and Crofty are pouring all over the rule-book. I need another coffee.

We have had an announcement that ‘tents are allowed in the pitlane’. Ever tried to put up a gazebo in the rain? Hell on earth. But in a cram-packed pitlane? Still F1 engineers are made of sturdy stuff. I always find these random atypical moments in a race quite interesting – Christian Horner, Toto Wolff and Eric Bouillier all chewing the cud. Presumably like me they are dismayed that Mel B took Emma Bunton and not Geri along to the Judges Houses on X Factor.

The most expensive campsite in the world

Martin reads out to us the relevant provision – Article 41.2: If the race is suspended during a Safety Car intervention and if the Safety Car is directed into the pitlane, cars should stop in a line behind the Safety Car in the fast lane of the pits. So what has happened is totally spot on. I love a good legal type clause. I know I know Saddo Klaxon. But GOOD NEWS we are going to get some racing very shortly. The 3 year old has just looked up from her play-doh table and spotted Charlie Whiting on the TV and squealed “he’s not on holiday any more”. Ain't that the truth. That’s what I call a stressful job.

And we are off. Behind the Safety Car. Again. And we have a new Natural Hazard to contend with – the sun will set in around two hours and Suzuka isn’t exactly awash with floodlights. Oh Alonso has suddenly stopped with some electrical failure. Nooooooo. Bet he is thinking I won’t have to put up with this crap next year at McLaren.

Holy cow it has actually stopped raining. Some of the drivers reckon its time for intermediates. The Safety Car has been out for an eternity and Martin is seriously unimpressed. But on lap 9 we are told that the Safety Car is coming in at the end of this lap. Hallelujah!

And still the Safety Car leads the two Mercedes cars

Lap 10 and we have real proper wheels-turning-in-anger racing! So to recap its 1. Rosberg, 2. Hamilton, 3. Bottas, 4. Massa, 5. Ricciardo (who surely will be on the right side of team orders today given Vettel’s defection next season to Another Team Who Might Have Red Cars) and 6. Magnussen. Button has moved very early onto inters and now a lot of the cars are starting to come in and whack on inters as well. Lets hope there are no stray tent pegs lying around.

Button who was in 20th place a minute ago is now already in 8th place. Clever old Jenson and McLaren hey! So who will get the first pitstop nod at Mercedes? The race leader or the championship leader? Vettel meanwhile has pitted and rejoined just ahead of Ricciardo – wonder how long those positions will be maintained.

And its Rosberg who has got the pitstop nod. He slots back in 2nd place which shows just what a whopping lead the Mercedes had already built up. Button is now in 3rd place. Go Jenson! Right Lewis is now coming into the pits…..drum roll please….. and its Rosberg who retakes the lead of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Wet conditions, unpredictable conditions? Button is your man.

Massa has now been passed by both Red Bulls and the next Williams to be gobbled up by Vettel is Bottas. Vettel is now in 4th place and Ricciardo not to be outdone pulls off an exquisite move to pass Bottas himself. And now Hamilton is right on the back of Rosberg. Squeaky Bum Time to nick one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s sayings.

Ferrari is having a torrid day. Kimi pits and has a problem with the wheel gun and loses places to Kvyat, Bianchi and Ericsson. Dear god. And Hamilton is now only 0.289 seconds behind his team-mate. The Red Bulls are the fastest cars out on track, admittedly a VERY long way behind the two Mercedes cars but still there are 28 laps to go. Hamilton is swarming all over the back of Rosberg who is complaining of oversteer. Toto Wolff must be having heart palpitations on the pit wall.

Hamilton is pushing and pushing and has just gone wide. Good to know he is keeping it nice and steady as per his the team’s instructions! But he is clearly so much quicker than Rosberg and to my surprise apparently he has never won at Suzuka. Halfway order is 1. Rosberg, 2. Hamilton, 3. Button, 4. Vettel and 5. Ricciardo.

And on lap 29, Lewis Hamilton takes the LEAD of the Japanese Grand Prix after some very overly defensive driving from Rosberg. A defining moment in the championship race? We shall see.

Button pits from 3rd on lap 32 and has to change his steering wheel just like Magnussen (the McLaren electronics clearly like rain about as much as Alonso's car) and unfortunately as a result loses his place to Vettel who pitted a couple of laps earlier. Rosberg pits ahead of Hamilton who seems quite happy to stay out. But Lewis then comes in on lap 36 meaning that Ricciardo (who has not yet pitted again) leads the race.

A huge round of applause for Kevin Magnussen who unlaps himself by passing Ricciardo in audacious style. Just sometimes he shows us exactly what McLaren saw in him. Vettel is having a lively time out on track and Jenson Button is now starting to play catch up. Can he snatch a podium with 14 laps to go?

It is raining a lot more once again. And is it just me or does it look very dark out there? Button is now embroiled in a full on battle with Ricciardo and is using every ounce of his considerable guile and experience to keep him at bay. For now. The rain is tippling down and DRS has been disabled which is good news for Jenson. The 3 year old has just asked “is the red car winning?”. Bless. For reasons I haven’t quite ascertained, Alonso is her favourite driver. Not that I am questioning her excellent judgment but she might need to rethink her allegiances next year. For her the redness of the car is pivotal.

In the ever deteriorating conditions, Sutil appears to have emplanted his car into a barrier. Mad Gamble Alert. Jenson is now pitting for FULL WETS. His call apparently. And it’s the return of the Safety Car. Oh dear a medical car is out on track. Presumably for Sutil. And a stream of cars head into the pits for new tyres. Poor old Jenson. He could not have timed that pitstop any worse.

Martin has just said those awful words “something is not good up there” and then it went eerily quiet in the commentary box. Feeling very, very worried now. They have just spotted another car in that incident – the Marussia of Jules Bianchi. Oh how terrible. Sutil is definitely ok but we don’t know anything else.

Poor Adrian Sutil looks on in horror at the scene of the crash

There is now an ambulance out on track and on lap 46 the race has been red-flagged. Because of the ambulance on track? Or the track conditions? Or something worse? It is now so dark that surely the race won’t be restarted. No news is being made public about Jules Bianchi’s condition but Ted just said there was no response from Jules when the team radioed him.

The cars once again are all lined up in the pitlane. And I can’t help but wonder what the drivers know or don’t know about Bianchi’s accident. I am trying to push Imola thoughts out of my mind but it has that same terrible wall of silence feeling about it. Perhaps I am just over-analysing but Martin, Crofty and Ted sound very sombre – which of course is entirely understandable and appropriate even if they don’t know much more than all of us sitting at home. But I fear that they do know more than they are able to tell us.

We are told the race will not resume. Ted says its complete chaos in the medical centre and the FIA’s press delegate is having to force open the door to let in Bianchi’s team members and his manager (who is the son of the FIA president).

Lewis has won the race in what must be the strangest win of his race career. It doesn’t seem at all important with the uncertainty as to Bianchi’s condition but it finished: 1. Hamilton, 2. Rosberg, 3. Vettel, 4. Ricciardo and 5. Button.

A sombre Lewis Hamilton on the podium

Rosberg has clearly just passed on an update to Hamilton in the Green Room after speaking to Herbie Blash and a few moments later very quietly and very discreetly Lewis does the sign of the cross. Every single F1 person looks shocked and devastated. It has transpired that Bianchi's car hit water and aquaplaned off at exactly the same spot where recovery vehicles were attending Sutil’s car that had crashed the lap before. Bianchi suffered a severe head injury and has been transported to hospital where he is now in surgery.

Such a desperately shocking and tragic end to the race.

Forza Jules.


  1. Dear Liz,

    Hi, my name is Christina and I am Nigel's Waites's wife and your dads new neighbor. He was over at the house for tea during the holidays and he told us about your blog. Needless to say, both Nigel and I were super impressed with your blogging subject and mutual love for the F1 world.

    I am more of a casual admirer, Nigel being the heart and soul life long die hard fan!

    If I may, I have a question for you that you may or may not be able to answer (no worries if you can't) or perhaps extend some pointers in the right direction??. This year is Nigel's BIG 50 birthday and it has been a life long dream of his to go to the F1 Monaco Grand Prix. Do you have any recommendations as to how one might go about purchasing tickets and any ideas about where to stay while there?

    I have looked at a few sites on line, this being one of them: but I thought I might ask a more informed person before making any conclusive decisions.

    On another note, when you are in the neighborhood please come by the house for coffee. Our home # is 01732452011.

    Thanks so much Liz and seriously cool to know a fast lane petrol head mum!!
    Oh and Shhhhh, this is ALL a secret, so Nigel cannot find out!


  2. Hi Liz,

    Just realized that I sent this anonymously and you would not have my email address. It is
    Thanks again.