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GP Week : Issue 212
21 GPWEEK.com // 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: When the fine people who control the finances and guide the politics of our sport weren't embarrassing TV viewers by abjectly bowing and scraping to Russia's stone-faced President at sochi over the weekend, at least they seem to have been doing something useful by studying ways in which we may be able to avoid a repeat of Jules Bianchi's nasty accident a week earlier at suzuka. FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting had compiled a thoughtful report on the crash,which he presented to the press on Friday. Although it helped to dampen down some of the journalists' justified resentment against the FIA for its failure to keep them adequately informed at Suzuka (not Charlie's fault, of course), the suggested changes in safety procedure are only provisional at present. The evidence, which Charlie quite correctly read out without comment, indicates that Bianchi lost control in a sector of the track where double yellow flags were being displayed. Because the unfortunate Bianchi is in no position yet to explain whether he saw the flags or not, we can only speculate about it. Far too many people, not all of them pressmen, have unwisely waded in with their own theories. Needless to say, most of them are profoundly unhelpful. I do not intend to add my own contribution. One factor which cannot be denied, however, is that it was getting dark at that late stage in the race. Despite heavy rain having been confidently forecast for the Suzuka area, the organisers had resisted calls to bring forward the start time from 3pm. They had good reasons for doing so, too. Suzuka is surprisingly remote and thousands of spectators, committed to long-standing railway reservations as part of the ticket price, could not change them at such short notice. The race was therefore started at the programmed time, albeit in heavy rain and under a Safety Car, because any delay would have taken it perilously close to being overtaken by darkness, which falls very suddenly in Japan at this time of the year. Although the rain soon abated, the wet track surface forced much-reduced speeds. Then, with a long Safety Car period, the race was already close to hitting the two-hour limit when it was red-flagged for Bianchi's crash. And although Jules cannot speak for himself, it is worth mentioning that Adrian Sutil, whose Force India was already in the tyre barrier at the very spot where Bianchi went off, stated that by then the light was so poor that he couldn't distinguish the wetter parts of the track from those that were merely damp. It is hardly as though we are ignorant of Japan's extreme weather. The country's very first championship GP, at Fuji in 1976, was started under even worse conditions. An indignant group of drivers warned their teams before the start that they would retire rather than risk their lives: four of them, most notably Niki Lauda, did exactly that. Without one man, that famous race 38 years ago would probably not have started. That man was Bernie Ecclestone, who felt it necessary to point out, as the Japanese organisers dithered over what to do, that their contract with him required them to pay the full amount due, regardless of the weather. You might suggest that Bernie demonstrated unforgivable cynicism that day, but it should also be pointed out that the 1976 Japanese GP was destined to be an all-time classic and to provide the climax to a terrific Hollywood movie. Bernie, I think, would point out that nobody got hurt, although he might also concede that only a near-miracle could explain that. Among the heavy responsibilities which Bernie carries on his shoulders is the task of compiling the F1 calendar. Generally speaking, he does it as efficiently and dispassionately as you might hope for, although I am not convinced that there wasn't an element of spite against his enemies in the organising club at Silverstone when he scheduled the British GP for the rainy month of April in 2000. In compiling the calendar, perhaps Bernie places too much weight on commercial and political considerations, not only when allocating race dates but also race starting times. For a man whose compassion tends to be strictly rationed, he pays a surprising amount of attention to ensuring that starting times are more convenient for TV viewers in Europe than in any other market. I worry, for example, about the blinding late-afternoon sunshine which the drivers must cope with in Melbourne because of the artificially late race start for which he's been pushing in recent years. He has also demonstrated a casual attitude to geothermal conditions and the consequences they can have on his races. To give just one example, only divine intervention has saved the Malaysian GP from having to be called off on many occasions as the entirely predictable late- afternoon heavy weather rolls in to Sepang. Of course, nobody dares argue with him. Surely somebody should. If nothing else does, I hope that Jules Bianchi's crash gives Mr E pause for thought. ShOULD BERNIE ALLOCATE ThE CALENDAR BETTER? OPINION OPINION MIKE DOODSON ABOVe Does it makes sense for ther Japanese (and Malaysian) races to be scheduled so meteorologically badly?