Pierre Gasly ‘grateful’ to be alive after crane on track at Japanese Grand Prix

Sport

The Formula One driver Pierre Gasly has said he was just metres away from being killed at the Japanese Grand Prix after he came close to hitting a crane on the track at Suzuka. His anger at the incident was echoed across the grid as almost every driver condemned the decision to use the vehicle on track.

The driver Jules Bianchi died as a result of the injuries he suffered at the Japanese GP in 2014 when his car hit a recovery vehicle. While the rules around the use of such vehicles has been changed since, once more cars were driving in heavy rain and limited visibility at Suzuka when a crane was deployed on track and it prompted a furious reaction.

AlphaTauri’s Gasly was catching up with the field behind the safety car at 200km/h when he passed the recovery vehicle on the racing line. “We lost Jules eight years ago in similar conditions, with a crane on track,” he said. “I don’t understand how eight years later we can see a crane on the racing line. I am extremely grateful that I am still standing. Still able to call my family, my loved ones, and nothing happened. I was two metres away from passing away today, which isn’t acceptable as a racing driver.”

The sport will be looking to the FIA to explain what happened. The crane should not have been deployed until the entire pack had been bunched up or until the race was red-flagged and all the cars had returned to the pit lane.

The decision to deploy recovery vehicles is in the hands of the FIA’s race director, with the international sporting code unequivocal on the subject. “No marshal or vehicle shall enter the circuit perimeter without permission from race control,” it reads.

Other drivers were equally angry they had not been warned the recovery vehicle was on the track as they circulated behind the safety car before the race was stopped. Sebastian Vettel, who was competing in Japan in 2014, had brought up the issue of recovery vehicles being employed on the track too quickly at the drivers’ briefing on Friday and he too was aghast at what had happened.

“Next time they should inform us if there is a frickin’ tractor on the road,” he said. “I know we’re under safety car but in turn 12, there’s this …”

The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, demanded an inquiry in to what had happened. “It is totally unacceptable,” he said. “We lost Jules Bianchi here and that [a recovery vehicle] should never ever happen so there needs to be a full investigation. It is extremely dangerous.”

McLaren’s Lando Norris was equally damning. “Wtf. How’s this happened!? We lost a life in this situation years ago. We risk our lives, especially in conditions like this. We wanna race. But this … Unacceptable”. he posted on Twitter.