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GP Week : Issue 225
OPINION cHris LamBDen The gathering of drivers, in an arm-in-arm circle, with helmets – including that of Jules Bianchi – in the centre, was a poignant and fitting public tribute to the future star who finally succumbed to the terrible injuries suffered in his Japanese Grand Prix crash, last year. It was one of those rare moments when F1, as a community – so often absorbed in its ‘self’ bubble – came together as one to respect one of its own, so sadly taken. It’s entirely possible that the drivers took their cue from recent events in Australia, where a sporting tragedy of a different kind shook the country just three weeks ago. The popular and rising star coach of one of the nations top ‘Aussie Rules’ AFL football teams, Phil Walsh, was murdered in his own home. His own 26 year-old son was arrested within minutes. It was a family tragedy of the kind seen increasingly, it seems, these days – and it appears that drugs may have been involved. Walsh’s team was due to play 48 hours later. That game was cancelled, but the rest of AFL’s weekend fixtures went ahead. The first, at Melbourne’s iconic MCG, was literally on the Friday evening following the tragedy earlier that morning. Pre-game, there was a minute’s silence, but it was what happened after the game that brought a nation to tears. Organised by the two coaches and captains, the two teams – having smashed each other for two hours in only the way AFL players can – came together in the middle of the ground, circled, arm-in-arm, and again the MCG fell silent (pictured right). It was very, very powerful stuff. That post-match bond was taken up and repeated across the whole weekend’s games and, of course, the following weekend by Walsh’s team when it returned. Families all over deal with that sort of tragedy every day, but when a national sporting figure is at the centre, it becomes a national tragedy and dealing with it sensitively and appropriately is important. In this case, Australian Rules Football nailed it. And, quite possibly having seen the events in Australia, so did F1. Jules Bianchi was clearly respected as a future Ferrari star, and as a man, by his peers, and while his death has brought with it an obvious focus on F1 safety, I believe he would be sharing the increasing current frustration among drivers about where F1 is at – as exemplified by Fernando Alonso’s comments over the weekend that he “might look elsewhere in motorsport ...” The recent decisions to give Honda another engine, and adjust penalties etc do absolutely nothing to improve the core issue with modern F1 – that the cars are too easy to drive and that many of the tracks are now not challenging enough (yes, Sunday’s race was a thriller – on a decent, long-time-established circuit, but a one-off rarity in 2015). My support for significant power/fuel-consumption boosts have been aired before ... My personal frustration was increased when I saw the design of the revamped Mexican GP circuit the other day. People, the Politically Correct Track Police have done their worst. The brilliant Peraltada sweeper, last corner on the circuit, just like Monza’s Parabolica, has been bastardised, with the insertion of a right- left-right chicane – much like Barcelona’s. Yuk. Responding to criticism, Hermann Tilke (yup ...) says that there wasn’t enough run-off available to make the original corner safe. Bunkum, I say. Modern cars, plus modern tyre barrier technology, are up to it – look no further than Nico Hulkenberg’s high-speed exit on Sunday. Another ‘classic’ race track bites the dust. I must add that I did, however, get involved in a fair old email debate with one of my esteemed, long-time F1 colleagues on this. He was of the view that the old Peraltada was in fact too dangerous – he quoted the sad fatality involving 20 year-old Ricardo Rodriguez, who was killed in practice for his home GP there in 1962 when he hit the barriers at the super-fast Peraltada. Aside from the fact that it was over 50 years ago, my point is that, in a modern carbon fibre car, with all the inbuilt 21st century safety accoutrements, and the modern barrier systems, Rodriguez would simply have walked away from that crash with nothing more than a dented ego. As did Ayrton Senna, when he famously rolled his McLaren there in practice for the 1991 race. F1 is many, many, many times safer than it ever was, and the destruction of one more of the ‘real’ corners in F1 is symbolic of Political Correctness gone mad. In the week when F1 paid its respects to a young man, taken in the sort of million-to-one circumstances that could just as easily take you or I in day-to-day freeway circumstances, I’d hope those comments aren’t untimely or disrespectful. But, to be honest, I believe that Jules Bianchi, given his extensive racing family background, might well have been one of those lamenting the reduced challenges of F1 in the modern era. Adieu Jules Bianchi, and so long Phil Walsh. In the end, your respective sports were able to pay their respects perfectly. 17 GPWEEK.com // 17 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION respect and the end of peraLtada