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Racing for Jules : the guilt of working in F1

Events in Suzuka last Sunday have distressed everybody who follows Formula 1 and motorsport worldwide. The thought that somebody can be seriously injured or killed in the name of sport is at odds with everything that people love about competition and entertainment. We all knew it could happen but the dreadful series of events that led to Jules Bianchi’s accident last Sunday have left many whether we should continue to pour our efforts and passion into something that can be so cruely destructive.

I know that members of the Marussia F1 team who know and work with Jules will feel a very particular sense of shock and guilt at what has happened. Some of them may also feel a deeper sense of responsibility or even guilt. Jules is after all a human being, not just a racing driver. Those who worked with him, who designed and built his car that day have had an influence over the events that lead to the crash and cannot simply shrug off the outcome as an accident. Every logic says that they should not feel responsible but being human beings themselves they will not be able to help it. Could they have done more? Did they cut corners? Could they have made the car stronger, set it up better or given him better information? The inner turmoil will be difficult to live with.

Sadly, through my time in racing I have had to come into contact with death and serious injury several times. It has befallen drivers I have worked with and others I have passed in the paddocks and pitlanes on various occasions. When tragedy arrives it is always a deeply distressing thing to experience and the reaction within the teams and of fellow drivers is always much deeper and more heartfelt than it may appear on the outside. To earn your living, to enjoy and to take pleasure from a sport which can devastate lives feels wrong, feels selfish and can make motorsport and racing feel very soulless. The money, the resources and the time that goes into racing suddenly feels very wasteful and pointless. We channel so much of our energy into the pursuit of winning and yet a young man’s life hangs in the balance as a result of what we’ve done. For what gain ?

As the immediate media frenzy that followed the accident begins to subside, so begins a longer and more careful period of reflection within the sport about what can be done to prevent similar accidents and other freak events from happening again. At the same time, internal debate might be going on in the minds of the many hundreds of people who work in F1. Do I want to be associated with a sport that can kill ? Can I put my time and energy towards a greater good than making fast cars go round and round in circles? What is the point of racing in the end ?

It’s a debate I’ve had with myself before. I’ve questioned whether I could do cope if I made a mistake that led to the death of another human being, whether I am willing to shoulder the responsibility that a racing driver places on me every time he/she is strapped into one of my racing cars. I’ve felt that pressure many times, every time I design or develop a safety critical area of the car I ask myself “what if…?”

I felt sickened when I realised what had happened to Jules Bianchi. I did not expect him to survive. It became clear very quickly that this was not an ordinary accident and those old feelings of dread and guilt resurfaced as the realisation came over us that death may have returned to F1. We hope and pray that Jules will recover and the very fact that he survived the immediate aftermath of such a violent accident gives us hope. If Jules can make a recovery we may well have escaped tragedy once again but the lesson is clear – racing will always be dangerous.

It did not take long for me to decide to go back to racing on the Monday after Suzuka. It’s easy to say that it is what Jules would want but I’m sure in fact that it is true. Lewis Hamilton has been quoted this week as saying that he has never felt so alive as he does when he is racing in Formula 1 and I think that sentiment rings true throughout the paddock. The addictive nature of motor racing is an allure which outweighs the risk, evident by the endless line of young men and women who are prepared to expose themselves to that danger for the chance to experience the excitement. The thought of a life without racing holds more fear for them than the risk of a serious accident with it. It’s a risk they are prepared to take even after seeing what dreadful fates can befall their colleagues.

Racing is not a noble pursuit and it will not solve any of the world’s many problems. I know that. Racing however is a passion, a purpose and an escape for many from the stress that can otherwise affect them in their daily lives. It brings happiness, entertainment and release from day to day mundane life and ultimately life is there to be enjoyed whether it’s long or short. For me, racing has already defined my life and I still have a passion for it that I am not prepared to walk away from. Racing for Jules is a phrase that has been used a great deal over the past 2 weeks and I am not entirely sure what it means but I know that I am not prepared to stop just yet and I don’t on balance feel that I should. I’m prepared to take the risk that something dreadful will happen in order to experience the rush and the adrenaline that racing gives me. Events in Suzuka have made us all stop and give thought to what we do but life goes on and like Jules, Michael, Ayrton & Roland and the many others before them I don’t think anyone should be denied the opportunity to follow the life they crave. We just wish that Jules could be back with us to enjoy it.

Looking forwards

Earlier in the year I wrote about death and danger in F1 but even I did not expect such a serious accident to come this year. F1 is such an incredible sport and I know that Jules would want others to experience the amazing things that the sport had given him prior to Suzuka. I hope that his accident has not diminished your desire to get involved because for all its darker sides, a job in Formula 1 is still a truly fantastic way to make your living and to build your career. You may even be able to contribute to improving safety standards in our sport and help prevent a repeat of the unfortunate scenes we have witnessed these past weeks.

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(Photo courtesy of Marussia F1 and f1fanatic.co.uk)

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