“I would have died”. Those were the words of a livid Pierre Gasly who feared for his life when he went past a recovery truck and a marshal in the early stages of a wet Japanese Grand Prix.
Whatever you think of Gasly being too quick at that part of the track, there is absolutely no reason for crane to be on a track. The fact it was actually on the tarmac itself makes it worse.
All of the tracks for it to happen at, Suzuka, in the wet, eight years on from Jules Binachi‘s fatal accident which was the first death in a Formula 1 race for two decades, we are fortunate to not be talking about something else right now.
Gasly also in the wrong
There were double-waved yellow flags, then a red flag when Gasly was going through the middle sector, going too fast according to the FIA when trying to catch the pack.
He was given the equivalent of a drive through penalty which demoted him from 17th to 18th, and two penalty points which takes his tally to nine out of 12.
“After passing the scene of the incident, Car 10 continued under the red flag situation, at speeds which exceeded 200 km/h on multiple occasions, and which reached 251 km/h at one point,” read the stewards’ verdict.
“The driver conceded that he now understood that there could have been marshals or obstacles on the track and admitted that he was too fast.
“However, in mitigation of penalty, we take into account that although the speed could not be any measure be regarded as ‘slow’ as required in the regulations it was slower than the maximum speed that could be achieved in these conditions.
“We also take into account the shock the driver experienced on seeing a truck on the racing line in the corner of the incident.”
The penalty is right because even if there wasn’t a crane there, Sainz‘s car was as well as marshals and a damaged barrier.
Gasly would have known there was an incident on that part of the track as he collected the advertising board that ended up on the circuit from Sainz‘s accident.
Surely his team should have informed him too so it was a mistake and we have seen the FIA penalise drivers for speeding through yellow flags before.
The key difference with Sunday’s and the unfortunate events of 2014 is the safety car was deployed straight away in Gasly‘s case, whereas race control allegedly made a mistake of just having yellow flags when Bianchi went off the track.
That’s a big difference and Gasly was still going very fast after long past Sainz and the crane which was a big mistake with hindsight.
What was a crane doing out on track?
More important though is having a crane out on track in very wet conditions with low visibility whilst cars are still going around.
Whoever made the call to deploy the crane can breathe a big sigh of relief.
As Gasly explains, even if he was travelling at a third of the speed he was doing, going slightly off line and losing control of his car at a slow speed, only to hit a stationary, heavy vehicle could have led to something horrific.
“We lost Jules already,” Gasly told Sky Sports. “We all lost an amazing guy, an amazing driver, for the reasons that we know. Eight years ago, on the same track, in the same conditions, with a crane.
“How? How today can we see a crane, not only in the gravel, on a race track, while we are still on the track? I don’t understand that.
“Obviously I got scared. Obviously if I would have lost the car in a similar way Carlos lost it the lap before – it doesn’t matter the speed, 200kph, 100 – I would have died, as simple as that. I don’t understand.
“It’s disrespectful to Jules, disrespectful to his family. All of us are risking our lives out there. We are doing the best job in the world but what we are asking is to at least keep us safe, it’s already dangerous enough.
“Today I just feel it was unnecessary. We could have waited one more minute to get back in the pit-lane and then put the tractors on track.
“I’m just extremely grateful that I’m here and tonight I’m going to call my family and all my loved ones and the outcome is what it is. I passed two metres from that crane, and if I was two metres to the left I would have been dead.”
He had every right to be outraged, as do the other drivers who also expressed their displeasure.
“In any conditions which should never see a crane on track while the cars are out there,” Sergio Perez told the press.
“You do not really know what can happen there. It doesn’t matter [about] the conditions. It should just never happen and I really hope that this is the last time we get to see in any category the recovery vehicles on track while there are cars out there.”
Race control should have waited until all of the cars were in the safety car queue, so they could at least all pass through the scene of the recovery at slow speed, or red flag the race, which they did, then recover Sainz‘s car.
Even at the 2018 Azerbaijan GP, on a sunny, dry day in Baku, Lewis Hamilton questioned why the race wasn’t red flagged when the driver slowly had to pass by a big recovery truck that was dealing with Romain Grosjean‘s Haas.
The FIA are conducing a full investigation into the incident on Sunday and whatever conclusions they come to, this must not happen again.
F1 was very lucky and they need use that fortune to ensure no racing driver goes through what Gasly experienced.