I'm sure you have heard of the term but for those that don't understand it, aquaplaning is when the tyres contact patch no longer supplies sufficient traction to adhere to the roads surface, owing to, too much liquid being present. In the case of this incident, Suzuka's topography creates localized rivers that run across the tracks surface, making it difficult for a driver to see and will trigger a decision making process, whereby the driver has to decide how to regain control. For anyone that hasn't suffered aquaplaning, you find the car initially understeers as the front tyres lose grip, forcing the car offline, which causes you to lift out of the throttle, and then oversteer can become a problem as the rear tyres lose adhesion.
Scene of the accident
As we know the visual flags waved by the stewards aren't the only warning that drivers receive of an impending situation with the dash system also providing the driver with warnings. This means that Jules should have entered turn 7 with the yellow lights flashing on the dash, although it appears from the F1 app tracker that Jules was still well above 150km/h through turn 7 (the reliability of this data can be called into question and so I only offer this information under warning that the official data could conclude otherwise).
Depth perception at speed becomes more difficult, add to that the conditions and difficulty level of driving a Marussia and we have to call into question a green flag being waved just after the Sutil crash site. Don't get me wrong the marshal as I've proved above was doing his job correctly, but does that mean the protocol he followed in the first place is correct? If like me as a youngster fuelled by speed your driving on the road was a little less reckless you may have (like me) sped up on the approach to a increased speed limit sign. Come in honesty we've all done it, those extra few yards at a higher speed mean you're gonna get there a bit quicker.. I try not to do it these days, those speed limits are there for a reason and you're probably speeding out of an area that had that speed limit in place for a reason (built up area etc). I'm not saying that Jules did that but the glimpse of a green flag as you round the exit of a corner could have the same aforementioned effect. (Again not to be considered conclusive, just moreover an observation based on experience)
Talking to my best friend last night and he also raised an important question, "Could the team tell him with the new radio restrictions?" Well the simple answer is yes as it is in regard to safety, the more complicated question is: what could they tell him without giving him driver training? This is where grey areas form and like my friend alluded to what if he wasn't told in the right way in case the team thought they'd incur a penalty. I don't know the answer as I haven't heard the team radio and so I'm not going to continue to speculate on the matter, however I did think it pertinent to raise owing to me being asked.
Track safety and driving standards
Formula One has been at the forefront of many changes to safety throughout the years, but that doesn't mean that it should abate owing to a job well done. The car's are rigorously safety tested to ensure maximum safety for the driver with quantifiable improvements still being made. Furthermore track safety has also improved significantly over the last couple of decades, with improvements still being made. The recent changes made at Parabolica (Monza) for instance didn't go down very well with the hardcore Formula One fans. They believe the challenge of driving the machines is being diluted, but as I have stated before it is a necessary evil, lowering the risk taken by the drivers as they step over the cockpits threshold.
Another positive move is the use of TecPro barriers, but owing to cost their use is sporadic at best, only seen as a vital component in previous crash hot spots. I have made comment twice already this season, first in Germany when Lewis Hamilton speared off the circuit, owing to a brake failure into a tyre barrier which lines a short run off section. Then again a race later when in Hungary, Kevin Magnussen found himself side on, in a tyre barrier at turn one. In both cases the drivers got up and walked away without too much kerfuffle but it could have been much worse, with head impacts a real problem in open cockpit sports. Now that's not to say I'm for or against cockpit canopies either, what I'm saying is that there is a product out there that is safer than a tyre wall but owing to cost we retain a product that is more prone to separation when deformed by a race car. Yes I know the tyre wall did their job in both cases, but moreover in Kevin's crash the severity could have been worse.
The other thing that has bugged me for years and becomes a prevalent topic owing to the latest incident is the machinery used to extract vehicles from the circuit. Motorsport (not just Formula One) spend millions on the vehicles that drive around circuits like Suzuka. The vehicles you see around circuits like Suzuka used to recover vehicles however are simple machinery, the type you would see on the local farm or construction site, with no real design consideration given to the environment they work within. That said, having rescue machinery on track whilst under racing conditions is also a sore subject, especially when there is no real protocol to what speed a driver must retain under a double waved yellow condition. This is a situation whereby Formula One can learn from WEC, their 'Code 60' procedure retains racing speed around the rest of the track but instead of the normal double waved flag scenario of the driver lowering their speed, they slow into the zone and utilise the pit limiter, with no overtaking. Just as in WEC it should retain a suitable race pace outside of the zone but enable the marshals to conduct their work.
Formula One and the race stewards are often lambasted for their eagerness to utilise the safety car, with the amount of flack I see on Social Media is vast. However as soon as they make what is deemed as an incorrect judgement call all hell lets lose in the other direction and so they are in a no win situation. For me recovery equipment on circuit should be an instant safety car (without F1 adopting 'Code 60') as in all honesty the stricken car might aswell be left on circuit otherwise. If you are going to hit something other than a barrier in a Formula One car it is going to catastrophic, however hitting another [stationary] F1 car would be roughly the same weight and so ballistically I'd expect the accident to be less catastrophic than hitting a 10 tonne recovery vehicle. Hindsight is a wonderful tool but I guess under fading light a safety car would have reduced the race by several laps and this was the initial thoughts of stewards, wanting to retain racing speed as much as possible.
I have said for many years now that if one of the best drivers in the world can go off the circuit, owing to changing conditions, it is just as likely that others can do the same thing. The wake up call has already played out on many occasions, with perhaps the best examples being Martin Brundle's eerily similar accident in 1994 at Suzuka, narrowly missing a rescue vehicle collecting another stricken car, but actually hit one of the track marshals. Then again in 2007, when at the Nurburgring no fewer than 5 cars aquaplaned off the circuit into the gravel trap, all narrowly avoiding a collision with each other. Wet weather provides a different challenge for the drivers and so why safety protocols aren't different is something that continues to irk me.
Extremely changeable conditions offer a challenge to F1 that differs from most other forms of Motorsport, with the tail end teams suffering at the behest of the weather most. Unlike in spec series' where only setup divides one team/driver from another Formula One is an evolutionary sport, with prototype cars that change from race to race. This of course leads to field spread where the wealthiest teams generally dominate owing to superior performance, the greatest equalizer to this is rain. That in part is due to the premium placed on aerodynamics, with the differing tread and tread depth of a rain tyre making a discernible change to how the air moves around the car. This invariably has the effect of changing the order slightly with some of the front runners dropping into the clutches of those behind, however for the teams at the back of the grid it invariably worsens their situation. With the aero balance shifted the car behaves differently, losing downforce and with it the opportunity to load the tyres in the same way. A loss in tyre load leads to a loss in temperature and in turn pressure, making the car even less predictable, putting an onus on the driver to correct the deficit to retain lap time. The start of the race in Suzuka highlighted this perfectly with Lewis Hamilton practically begging race control to release the pack from behind the safety car, whilst others still continued to struggle. This is the challenge of Formula One under wet conditions when you have such field spread as those at the back of the pack are who need protection, although it inevitably looks fine at the front.
I can only hope that the conclusion to this is that Jules is ok and wish him and his loved ones my utmost sympathy. Moving forward the FIA and those associated with Formula One need to take a step back and learn from this situation, rather than sweep it under the carpet as a freak accident as they have before. Yes it took a perfect storm for this scenario to play out, but it was an accident waiting to happen.